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SAT Scoring August 17, 2006

Posted by marvinx in School.
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It isn’t what you’d expect it to be. Karin Klein, a Times editorial writer, was trained as an SAT essay reader “to find out what the new SAT essay is like.” As it turns out, graders are not allowed to take points off for what kind of evidence is used to support an argument. Klein writes that:

In the SAT essay, it’s OK to write something that lacks a factual basis.

Later in the article, she explains:

Readers are supposed to score essays based on whether the writing is organized, well reasoned and written with logical and writerly complexity. Readers are supposed to overlook minor errors in grammar and spelling. Varied sentences and vocabulary are good, and smooth transitions help. We’re supposed to overlook the /kind/ of examples students use to back up their arguments — personal anecdote is as valid as a riff from Renaissance history. Nor does it matter if there’s any truth to the example used.

This means that how you write it is more important than what you write. Any made-up evidence is fair game. As long as you word things right, you have little to fear. Even so:

though the Pearson folks will protest mightily that it’s not so, higher scores seemed to go to writers who made sure at least one or two of their anecdotes were not personal

So use of personal anecdotes is fine, just be sure to use one or two which aren’t.

Depending on how you view things, it can either be good news or bad to know that your essay is not graded according to some rigid and strict rubric every grader carries with them. It’s more about the “overall impression” gained from the essay, from which a score between 1 (lowest) and 6 (highest) is assigned. As Klein writes:

I had learned the rules: Read quickly, read once, don’t stop to analyze

What can you do, then, to raise your grade? Here are some tips Klein suggests.

Length doesn’t always mean a better score, but I would advise any kid: Write at least a page and a quarter. Nobody who got one of the top scores wrote one page or less.

If I had to prepare my children for this test, I’d say: Prepackage some thinking. Get familiar with a couple of Greek myths or literary classics that would work for multiple themes. One of the very few essays to score a “6” . . . used “Madame Bovary” to illustrate the harm secrets can do. . . . Remember, most of the scorers are former or current English teachers — suckers for literary stuff.

Prepare a few highly burnished words that can be applied to almost any situation. . . . One essay struck me with its well-wrought line: “It may be the case, then, that secrecy has its own time and place in our vast world.” I was dazzled by the calm maturity of that sentence — until I realized it could well have been composed in advance. Ritual has its own time and place in our vast world, as does protest, passion, tomfoolery — even testing. . . . With so little time to write . . . no one can afford to spend time actually /thinking/.

And if you’re still worried:

students who fare extremely well on
the multiple-choice part of the writing test can get a perfect or
close-to-perfect score without hitting a “6” on the essay.

My conclusion? The SAT isn’t nearly as hard as most people make it out to be.

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1. Arick - August 18, 2006

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