Testing, testing (seriously)

Contributed by
Mar 7, 2007
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Via the Freakonomics blog (yes, the same as the book, which is a really interesting read), comes this astronomy test for 7th graders (link is to a MS Word document).

Take a look. The questions are not ridiculously hard -- though they aren't trivial -- but somehow the terse, harsh phrasing of them makes the test seem harder than it is. I suspect that most Americans would do abysmally on it. As usual with such tests, you need to read the instructions carefully so you know precisely what they are asking.

I had to laugh at this question though:

A display of arcs, lights, and streamers in the polar regions is called the auroras. The light is produced as charged particles come in contact with the Earth’s magnetic field. These charged particles come from

A. star particles in outer space. B. the solar wind streaming from the sun. C. the hot core of the sun. D. fragments of meteoroids burning as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.

Besides the horrific grammar error in the first line, the question is technically wrong. The light is produced when the particles stream into the Earth's atmosphere and ionize it. The particles are accelerated by the Earth's magnetic field, so radiation is emitted, but it's in the radio wavelengths. The visible light isn't emitted until they slam into the air.

Tip o' the beanie to Joshua Zucker for the link to the Freakonomics blog.