Asked to write an essay about reality TV on last week’s SAT exam, students are complaining that the prompt — “How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” — favors TV junkies. From the New York Times:
“This is one of those moments when I wish I actually watched TV,” one test-taker wrote on Saturday on the Web site College Confidential, under the user name “littlepenguin.”
“I ended up talking aboutand how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively,” he wrote, invoking the 19th-century social reformer. “I kinda want to cry right now.”
The goal of the essay prompt is to “give students an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills,” not to show off their knowledge, said Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program.
This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students, and had gone through extensive pre-testing with students and teachers. “It’s really about pop culture as a reference point that they would certainly have an opinion on,” she added.
An exam has to “engage” test takers?
The full prompt contained “everything you need to write the essay,” said Peter Kauffmann, vice president of communications for the.
Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular.
These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled.
How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?
Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?
The test designers apparently see writing as an isolated skill with no content knowledge required. The student who’s never watched American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Jersey Shore or Kourtney & Kim Take New York can’t cite examples to prove a point or use details to enliven his writing. He has to hope that Jacob Riis doesn’t cost him too many points.
If I faced this prompt — and I’m thankful my test-taking days are over — I’d have very little to say. I don’t think “most people” believe reality shows are authentic and I don’t think it matters. Do people benefit? No. Are they harmed? No.