James Brown feels good. The Stones can't get no satisfaction. You've got mail. Ten items or less. Got milk?

Butchered English has begun to play a leading role in today's pop culture, and a new grammar section on SAT exams could be bad news for some students in the college entrance race.

Who's guilty for popularizing poor English? Some fingers point to instant and text messaging shorthand, hip-hop terminology and celebrity-coined phrases that would make copy editors and English teachers shudder.

"What up," "that's wack," "dawg," "punk'd," "CU l8er" are just a few examples on a long list of English language offenders.

But the SAT is introducing a 25-minute multiple-choice section testing grammar, usage and word choice. The new test, in effect next March, will look a bit more like the ACT, which is more curriculum-based and already has a grammar section.

"There will probably be a lot of trepidation and discomfort around such a test change . . . as grammar has been absent from most public school core curricula for years," said Jon Zeitlin, general manager of SAT and ACT preparation for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions.

The test is similar to the current SAT II writing exam that students applying to more selective colleges are sometimes required to take. And those in the business of test preparation say it might be challenging for some students.

Jill Snyder, secondary language arts supervisor for Davis School District, said that in the past 30 years grammar education has done somewhat of an about-face.

Years ago grammar was taught in isolation through diagramming sentences, mapping out subject-verb agreement and other tedious activities. But later educators found that was not an effective method, and grammar needed to be tied more closely to writing and literature.

Thus in many schools, isolated grammar instruction was lost in the shuffle and eclipsed by other aspects in the language arts program.

"It's still in the state curriculum — we just don't teach it like we used to," said Snyder.

Nonetheless, the new test will address specific areas of grammar directly. It will include:

• An essay (for which about 20 minutes will be allotted) on an assigned, but general, topic.

• A multiple-choice grammar section in which students specify the part of a given sentence that contains an error.

• A multiple-choice syntax section in which students select the most well-constructed sentence or the best-organized paragraph from several options.

The new test will be worth a total of 2,400 points. Zeitlin said the grammar section will account for more than 500 points — which can make the difference between a student's first-choice college versus a backup school.

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Shelly Bennion, Kaplan's Utah/Idaho director, said most Utah students to take the ACT to get into state schools, though most colleges across the United States will accept both.

"But students have been researching more and more and coming into our centers and taking practice exams to find out what their best option is — whether it be the SAT or ACT — so that they can take the test that best fits them," Bennion said.

Zeitlin said that last year nationally 1.2 million students took the ACT and 1.4 million took the SAT. The changes to the SAT were approved by The College Board, which writes the test.


E-mail: terickson@desnews.com