Who’s Afraid of the SAT Essay? (Part II)

Who’s Afraid of the SAT Essay? (Part II)

By | 2017-05-22T07:10:37+00:00 June 23rd, 2014|ACT, College Admissions, SAT, Test Prep|2 Comments
SAT Anxiety_Part 1

Who’s Afraid of the SAT Essay? (Part II)

Every few months, the College Board conducts research to evaluate the validity and predictive quality of its tests, ostensibly to convince colleges and universities that the SAT is a unique predictor of college readiness.  In Part I of this blog, we talked about how the skills needed for the essay are unique in that they require the test-taker to actively compose an argument, a task which cannot be successfully executed through guessing and elimination.  Is it necessarily true that just because you can correct and complete sentences, determine the purpose or main point of a passage, and edit a paragraph, you can actually write and think critically?  Not necessarily, because you can guess and eliminate your way to correct answers, and in doing so you might give a semblance of skill-possession. 

On the other hand, it is much more likely that you possess superlative reading, writing and critical thinking skills if you can compose an essay from scratch that will convince a reasonable stranger of some position on an issue.  Because in order for you to compose an essay, you need to exhaust your skill set by doing the following:

    • Interpret the prompt
    • Take a position
    • Provide examples to support your position
    • Address counter-arguments
    • Transition smoothly between ideas
    • Write with correct grammar and an elegant style

This is where the College Board’s report titled “The SAT Essay and College Performance: Understanding What Essay Scores Add to HSGPA and SAT” helps us.

The report evaluates how predictive of college success the Essay might be, and the results can be seen in the graphs on the report that can be accessed here.

The report clearly shows that the Essay score correlates well with First-Year GPA: the higher a student’s Essay score the more likely it is that he or she will do well in his or her General Education classes that typically require a lot of writing and critical thinking.  So, alas, the Essay section does measure the kind of critical rigor needed for college, and preparation for the Essay can help build these skills.

So, how does the College Board grade the Essay? To answer this question, let’s analyze the Essay rubric criteria given below for each score:

Score of 6

An essay in this category demonstrates clear and consistent mastery, although it may have a few minor errors. A typical essay:

  • Effectively and insightfully develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates outstanding critical thinking, using clearly appropriate examples, reasons and other evidence to support its position
  • Is well organized and clearly focused, demonstrating clear coherence and smooth progression of ideas
  • Exhibits skillful use of language, using a varied, accurate and apt vocabulary
  • Demonstrates meaningful variety in sentence structure
  • Is free of most errors in grammar, usage and mechanics

Score of 5

An essay in this category demonstrates reasonably consistent mastery, although it has occasional errors or lapses in quality. A typical essay:

  • Effectively develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples, reasons and other evidence to support its position
  • Is well organized and focused, demonstrating coherence and progression of ideas
  • Exhibits facility in the use of language, using appropriate vocabulary
  • Demonstrates variety in sentence structure
  • Is generally free of most errors in grammar, usage and mechanics

Score of 4

An essay in this category demonstrates adequate mastery, although it has lapses in quality. A typical essay:

  • Develops a point of view on the issue and demonstrates competent critical thinking, using adequate examples, reasons and other evidence to support its position
  • Is generally organized and focused, demonstrating some coherence and progression of ideas
  • Exhibits adequate but inconsistent facility in the use of language, using generally appropriate vocabulary
  • Demonstrates some variety in sentence structure
  • Has some errors in grammar, usage and mechanics

Score of 3

An essay in this category demonstrates developing mastery, and is marked by ONE OR MORE of the following weaknesses:

  • Develops a point of view on the issue, demonstrating some critical thinking, but may do so inconsistently or use inadequate examples, reasons or other evidence to support its position
  • Is limited in its organization or focus, or may demonstrate some lapses in coherence or progression of ideas
  • Displays developing facility in the use of language, but sometimes uses weak vocabulary or inappropriate word choice
  • Lacks variety or demonstrates problems in sentence structure
  • Contains an accumulation of errors in grammar, usage and mechanics

Score of 2

An essay in this category demonstrates little mastery, and is flawed by ONE OR MORE of the following weaknesses:

  • Develops a point of view on the issue that is vague or seriously limited, and demonstrates weak critical thinking, providing inappropriate or insufficient examples, reasons or other evidence to support its position
  • Is poorly organized and/or focused, or demonstrates serious problems with coherence or progression of ideas
  • Displays very little facility in the use of language, using very limited vocabulary or incorrect word choice
  • Demonstrates frequent problems in sentence structure
  • Contains errors in grammar, usage and mechanics so serious that meaning is somewhat obscured

Score of 1

An essay in this category demonstrates very little or no mastery, and is severely flawed by ONE OR MORE of the following weaknesses:

  • Develops no viable point of view on the issue, or provides little or no evidence to support its position
  • Is disorganized or unfocused, resulting in a disjointed or incoherent essay
  • Displays fundamental errors in vocabulary
  • Demonstrates severe flaws in sentence structure
  • Contains pervasive errors in grammar, usage or mechanics that persistently interfere with meaning

If you start at the first criterion and trace how it evolves from a 6 to a 1, you’ll see the bigger picture. An essay that scores a 6 “effectively and insightfully develops a point of view,” but an essay that is scored a 1 “develops no viable point of view.” For each of the rubric’s criteria, the difference between a 6 and a 1 is much clearer than the difference between a 6 and a 5, and our next blog will discuss how we prepare our students to think the way the essay graders do by providing students with specific examples of sentence and templates that result in high scores.  Before our teachers help students learn to organize their essays, they analyze the Essay rubric with the students so that the students understand the nuances of words such as “insightfully, clearly, varied” and so on.  That’s really the LA Tutors difference with all our teaching strategies: we empower the students by making them cognizant of what and how they will be evaluated, and in doing so we provide students the intellectual and emotional strength they need to actively argue positions and support them.

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