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But the exam itself is brutally bad, an example of the limits of testing articulated by sociologist William Bruce Cameron, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.” At its inception in 2005, it is a timed, handwritten essay, written from a prompt following a short reading that raises an “issue.” Outside research is forbidden.It asks students to produce writing under conditions they would never face in the real world.
“In fact, trying to be true will hold you back.” As I argue in the book, the SAT essay exam asks students to produce a writing simulation, rather than wrestle the real problems associated with writing.
If we believe writing to be an act of thinking – and we should believe this because it’s true – these sorts of assessments have been conditioning students to think in “wrong” ways about writing.
It’s a question which students have not prepared for, and yet if they’re thinking like writers, they can answer it.
They know where evidence intended for one audience may not meet the needs of another.
Not even on an essay exam in college would they be required to write on a topic dropped from the blue with which they quite possibly had zero previous familiarity.
When you add in that the resulting essays were assessed by temps required to spend no more than three minutes per essay in order to meet production quotas, you get a perfect recipe for bad writing.A timed, canned exercise like the SAT essay exam is simply bogus.The standard college admission essay isn’t especially authentic itself, and is subject to all kinds of inequities to boot.You know the ancient saying–if you want to pass the test, you need to understand the grader. Carry on.) These readers read your essay thoroughly and, based on a number of criteria, assign your essay a score out of 6. Or better yet, wouldn’t it be nice to know how your essay will be scored? (Note: “interweb” is a slang term, and you probably shouldn’t use it in your essay.So my approach is to get students thinking like writers as quickly as possible, doing rhetorical analyses on everything they read and write, completing audience analyses which assess their audiences’ needs, attitudes, and knowledge.Fairly quickly, they grasp the kind of thinking they’re being asked to do, though often, the writing they produce from that thinking lags behind in terms of quality and coherence.Last week, Yale announced it was dropping the requirement for applicants to submit either the SAT or ACT essay test.This comes after Harvard made the same choice this past March.When some students get the help of college admission consultants charging up to five figures, it’s hard to see a way to provide the resources necessary for all students to compete on an even playing field.Portfolios which collect student artifacts produced in the normal course of their high school educations may hold some promise, though we’re likely to see many of the same inequities reinforced with this approach as our current system.