Is The SAT Writing Section Helping Anyone?

Ask any high school student preparing for college about their biggest stresses, and the SAT will surely be mentioned. Generally accepted as one of the most important stepping stones on the path to college, the SAT has for years been the starting point for the evaluations of all college admissions officers. Well, brace yourselves for some bad news: the SAT’s writing section only measures the ability to make things up on the fly and has very little in common with the sort of writing skills students need to be successful in college.

Now, some of you may say, “Isn’t making stuff up the whole basis of writing something?” Well, yes and no; it really depends on what type of writing you’re doing. For example, writing poetry or fiction stems directly from a person’s imagination, so from that point of view, “making stuff up” really is all you need. However, the type of writing the SAT focuses on is evidence-based, where a student receives a prompt and must make a point and offer evidence to back up their stance. This is a common type of writing found in both high-school and college classrooms, and students usually respond with the standard five-paragraph essay.

This is where the problem rears its head: given 25 minutes to write a coherent essay, it’s my opinion that students will simply jot down as many big words and made-up facts that they can think of, in hopes of filling the page with something legible that reads like a smart essay. These tests are scored by real people, but the graders are so pressed for time that students know length, bigger words and even quotations can net them a higher score based on the quick glance their essay will get. Again, as Slate points out, the test is not an accurate gauge of a college-level writing skills, and “for those trained in the five-paragraph, non-fact-based writing style that is rewarded on the SAT, shifting gears can be extremely challenging” once they reach a professor’s classroom.

Thinking on your feet and being able to improvise is definitely valuable as a life skill, but what these students will realize, once they make it to a college class, is that last-minute writing with imaginary facts will get them nowhere fast. It’s time for the SAT to revamp the writing section so it can accurately measure a student’s writing ability and provide meaningful admissions information for colleges.

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