How to write an SAT essay

A reader who works for a test-prep company writes that the new SAT is more coachable than the old version:

As someone who’s been teaching and writing materials in test-prep programs for almost a decade, I can assure you that analogies were the question type on which it was hardest to raise people’s scores.  The strategies were catchy and easy to illustrate on the board, but the vocabulary and thought process weren’t always easy to transfer.
The essay is so coachable it’s absurd.  In my experience (carried over from the SAT-II Writing), it goes like this:
1.  Shove a list of six versatile historical, literary, and current events examples at the kids
2.  Have them memorize a template of transition words, along with the mindset of developing the most skeletal expository essay imaginable
3.  Nag them about timing, pacing, and penmanship
4.  Watch their scores shoot up
5.  Congratulate self on test-prep studliness with double Scotch

Writing is a useful skill, he observes, and it’s not a bad idea to test students on it. Just don’t expect it to hurt test preppers.

In this story, an SAT tutor says his students are getting much higher scores for writing than reading, which he thinks is strange.

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  1. SuperSub says:

    I think a large basis for the switch to essays is the gaps in achievement of different social groups on the SAT’s. Analogies require a large literary/vocabulary foundation, and are highly discriminating.
    Also, my main concern with the new essays is the grading… that in the end it relies upon the opinion of a random English teacher somewhere within the US. The experiences of the teachers with their own classes will influence their grading. Also, as these essays have been designed to accomodate a wide variety of experiences and backgrounds, its impossible to establish a clear grading rubric for content. In the end, the grading becomes subjective.

  2. Analogies require a large literary/vocabulary foundation

    Um, shouldn’t a person taking the SAT have such a foundation? And, if they don’t, wouldn’t revealing that mean the test was doing what it was designed to do?

    and are highly discriminating.

    That’s the whole point of testing(especially the SAT): to discriminate between those who do and do not have the necessary knowledge.

  3. SuperSub says:

    AndyO… I feel that the analogies should have been kept in, and agree with everything you said. I was merely explaining my beliefs as to why they decided to alter the format.

  4. TypeKey victim Mike McKeown writes:

    I always thought that the analogies were one of the best parts of the Verbal SAT. They require a wide array of connections for both the word that is the prompt and the answer words. They require reasoning skill based on this knowledge. Given that the connections one makes to a word are far more than a simple definition (see Hirsch), and that logical skill from known concepts and connections is critical, the analogies were critical.

    Dick Atkinson went nuts as UC President. He became enamored with his power and thought that he could fix a perceived social problem by changing the SAT. Unfortunately, after making all that money selling Psych I textbooks, he failed to know anything about cognition or prep for college. His remedies are exactly opposite of what he wants.

    If we are trying to find students who are ready for college in spite of the disadvantages of their situations, then the old SAT was a way to find them. It did not depend too much on the quality of the school. The new SAT, with its emphasis on what the kid has learned focuses more on school quality than ever before. Dropping the analogies for formulaic essays focuses more than ever on a teachable skill and less than ever on the possibility of success in spite of hardship.

    BTW – Atkinson was appalled to find schools practicing verbal analogies. Tough. This could be a pretty good way to develop all the kinds of connections that an analogies test tests. Such connections are valuable no matter what one thinks of the test.

    End of rant.


  5. So, since the secret is now revealed, I’m sure that every HS English teacher will be following this format to ensure their students also get the best education and chance to attend better colleges! Yippee!