As you might surmise, I spend an inordinate amount of time every day thinking about both birding and blogging. Perhaps we’re alike in that. Where we may differ substantially, however, is that those thoughts are often crowded out by more pressing considerations of the fine art of SAT and ACT instruction. As the owner of what has been called (by me) western New York’s leading test prep organization, I have to meticulously analyze every aspect of these crucial college entrance exams. In fact, since this is such a busy season for us, the only way I can spare the mental bandwidth to indulge in bird blogging at all is to somehow incorporate test prep. Consequently, I give you the IATB SAT

The SAT undoubtedly deserves the title of America’s most terrifying test. But like anything else we’re afraid of, the exam becomes a lot more manageable once you’re armed with knowledge and strategy. For example, one of the iconic SAT question types was the classic Analogy:



(A)  eagle : hidden
(B)  warbler : yellow
(C)  bunting : up-close
(D)  plover : piping
(E)  gyrfalcon : cool


How did you do? The key to answering an Analogy question is to find the relationship that is always true in the prime pair, and then determine which answer choice has a similar or analogous relationship. In this case, clearly eagles aren’t always hidden, warblers aren’t always yellow, buntings aren’t always close-up (alas), and plovers aren’t always piping. But just as snipe are always cryptic, Gyrfalcons are always cool, even when they’re not ice cold like the ones in Nunavut!

Unfortunately for those of us who make a living helping students master brain busters like these, the College Board jettisoned Analogies from the SAT back in 2005. Fortunately, they kept the question type that launched a million vocabulary flash cards; behold the Sentence Completion


2. Flushed with pride over his first-of-year Northern Harrier photos, Kirk strutted about in  —— manner, much like a —— .

(A)  a fastidious . . Long-tailed Parakeet eating tropical mistletoe
(B)  an erudite . . Buffy-crowned Wood-Partridge in Costa Rica
(C)  a cacophonous . . White-throated Dipper in a Swedish stream
(D)  an insipid . . Roseate Spoonbill among feathered friends in Florida
(E)  a belligerent . . Ring-necked Pheasant in a cock fight


Again, the answer is (E). The first four choices might better be described as gluttonous, surreptitious, sprightly, and resplendent respectively. Fighting pheasants, on the other hand, can sometimes be as aggressive as birders bragging about hot shots of sweet raptors (not that Kirk would ever do something like that!)

The SAT, along with its equally anxiety-inducing rival the ACT, has always tested students on long reading passages. However, removing those problematic Analogies added room for short passages on the Critical Reading section. These passages may seem manageable but still challenge students to understand the many choices an author must make.


This passage is excerpted from a work by Douglas Coupland
Mom said that people are interested in birds only in as much as they exhibit human behavior—greed and stupidity and anger—and by doing so they free us from the unique sorrow of being human . . . I told Mom my own theory of why we like birds—of how birds are a miracle because they prove to us there is a finer, simpler state of being which we may strive to attain.

3. The author most likely uses the phrase “a finer, simpler state of being” to imply that:

(A)  one should always keep a flask of whiskey handy in case of a Snakebird, which one should also keep handy.
(B)  the struggle to survive is savage, as survivors of both the Colorado sparrow shakedown and Tandayapa nectar wars can attest.
(C)  it’s hard to soar with the hawks at a distance when you’re surrounded by turkeys.
(D)  setting up an eBird Recent Sightings Google Gadget may be the next best thing to being there
(E)  birds in the wild have concerns, too, but they can be reduced to one thing: the blood-pumping, oxygen-sucking urge to stay alive and nurture new life.


Yet again, the answer — eloquently phrased by Vanessa Mickan — is choice (E); the ability to infer meaning while reading is tested again and again on these exams. The other choices are, as we say in the business, distractors!

If you enjoyed this look into the past and present questions found in SAT Critical Reading, may I suggest you have your head examined? Even better, US college alums should research the test scores their alma maters currently ask for from prospective students; rampant competition at every tier has turned last generation’s safety schools to this year’s reach schools. You’re better off birding!

Now that this brief lesson into why you’re lucky you’re not applying to an American college or university these days is done, let’s give a big hand to all of the outstanding contributors to this 147th edition of I and the Bird. Be sure to visit every link and let them know how much you admire their style!

If you’d like to be recognized for your bird blogging style, why not contribute to the next I and the Bird? Lucky us, we’re headed to India with our hostess with the mostess, Ambika Chandrasekar of Madras Ramblings. Please send a link to your best recent blog post about birding or wild birds to me (mike AT 10000birds DOT com) or Ambika (ambikach2002 AT by 4/12 for the 4/14 edition.

Written by Mike
Mike is a leading authority in the field of standardized test preparation, but he's also a traveler who fully expects to see every bird in the world. Besides founding 10,000 Birds in 2003, Mike has also created a number of other entertaining but now extirpated nature blog resources, particularly the Nature Blog Network and I and the Bird.