Congress far from exemplary in SAT word proficiency


(This post was prepared in collaboration with Dan Drinkard)

If you do well on your SAT test, then you will ____ your chance of becoming a member of the U.S. Congress some day.

A. Vindicate

B. Scrutinize

C. Compromise

D. Discredit

E. Enhance

While the correct answer should probably be E (Enhance), the reality is that it might be closer to C  (Compromise) or D (Discredit).  At least, when it comes to the 112th Congress, top SAT words are far and few between.

We find that only 10 members of Congress have used at least 20 of the Kaplan 100 Most Common SAT Words so far in the 112th Congress, and that only 92 members of Congress have used at least 10 of these words. More than half of the members of Congress have used five or fewer. And 32 members did not use a single Kaplan 100 word, while 52 members only said one. In total, 0.046% of all words spoken in the Congressional Record were Kaplan 100 words.

For an analysis of how Congressional speech has dropped by a full grade level since 2005, click here.

Among the Kaplan 100, the word spoken most frequently in Congress is “compromise.” It had been uttered 1,820 times this Congress as of the end of April, far more as an aspiration than a description. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) has uttered the word 142 times, more than anyone else. Unfortunately, speaking it does not make it so.

Likewise, the other top words – prosperity (923 times), integrity (883 times), and exemplary (582) – also seem far more hopeful than reality-based. Table 1 (below) shows the Kaplan 100 words spoken most frequently in the 112th Congress.

Table 1. Top 20 most-spoken Kaplan 100 words, 112th Congress Of the Kaplan 100, 14 words are missing entirely from the Congressional Record for the 112th Congress so far. They are: abbreviate; conformist; enervating; evanescent; florid; hackneyed; haughty; hedonist; ostentatious; perfidious; pretentious; querulous; sagacity; submissive.

For the full list of the top 100 words and how much they’ve been spoken and by whom, click here.

Who’s used the most unique SAT words in the 112th Congress? That distinction belongs to Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), who, as of April 2012, had used 27 of the Kaplan 100, putting him just ahead of fellow Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who has verbalized 26 of the 100 words so far, and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who has uttered 25. Leahy has also used Kaplan 100 words a total of 127 times, also just edging out Durbin, who used the words 122 times.

Rounding out the top ten list for most unique Kaplan 100 words spoken are Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Rep. Steve King (R-IA), Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), and Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). All have got there by speaking at least 100,000 words so far in the 112th Congress. Of the top ten list, Snowe has both the highest grade level for her speech (14th grade), and the highest number of Kaplan 100 words per 100,000 words spoken: 76.5.


Table 2. Members who speak the most unique Kaplan 100 words For a full list of how all members compare, click here.