23 June 2008

Can I Get A Ruling from the Judges?

On my most recent certification test, there was a question that asked something akin to "Which planet has the longest year?" The answer choices were Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Pluto.

As I see it, the "right" answer to this question comes down to two things: (1) When was this question added to the test bank? and (2) What is the definition of "planet" being used here?

If the question is pre-2006 vintage (which is entirely possible, considering the time frame of test development), then "Pluto" is the right answer. If not, then Earth would be the best choice (considering Pluto's demotion to "dwarf planet").

For the record, I picked Pluto. I figured that what the test-makers were really after was whether or not I understood the relationship between length of orbit around the Sun and the items listed. However, I'm left wondering if this is one of those times when I should have reported this "bad question" to the testing service. Is it possible that some test-taker somewhere is going to be denied passage because s/he read the question differently? "Earth" is technically the correct answer in this day and age...but I doubt that it is the one the machine will want to see bubbled in on the score sheet.

So, should I...

a. Contact the testing service and let them know about the question
b. Assume someone has already alerted them to the issue
c. Let some schmo whose score may hinge on this question deal with the problem
d. Do nothing because I'm not the schmo.



Toritopia said...

I think you should choose A and contact the service. I would hate to be the schmo who picked Earth and ended up failing due to a faulty question. Plus, once you get your score, you can't really go back and argue for the extra points due to errors with the questions.

Roger Sweeny said...


As for b., if someone has already contacted them, you make at least two--which should make them that much more likely not to penalize people who put Pluto or Earth.

Which brings me to c. and d. You don't actually know which answer they were looking for. They could well have been testing your knowledge of the relationship between distance from the sun and orbital time. But perhaps they're testing your current event knowledge, that the major professional group of astronomers has decided to demote dear, strange Pluto to the status of "dwarf planet."

hschinske said...

If Pluto is *not* the intended answer, the question is incredibly badly written. You are *supposed* to be able to take their word for it that something is a planet if they say it is a planet. You don't get ETS questions like "Which is the smallest number? A. 2/3 B. -0.5 C. a manatee D. a googleplex E. zero"

Definitely report. I see no reason at all *not* to.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Clearly, the answer is (a.), and that indicates a need to attend professional development summer school for putting the most obvious answer first (unless, of course, you were trying to fool us and get us to second guess what you meant, based on what we thought you knew about what we think we know. Right? ;)

I would have answered "Pluto" as well. The question is about the length of planetary year and the testers forgot that Pluto had been demoted. If it was a "trick question," someone ought to report them to a higher authority. :)

Clix said...

*stretch* This whole Pluto thing still has me confused. Cherry tomatoes, grape tomatoes, and Roma tomatoes are all still, yanno, TOMATOES. But a dwarf planet is not a planet. Right? *sigh*