Shot in the Dark

I am really confused these days. This is not about the Second Pink Panther movie, but rather about the current state of SAT’s these days. The essay in particular has a lot of folks turning somersaults. This article gives a slightly different view of the same ideas:

Don’t sweat the essay; it doesn’t take much effort to end up just fine
By Daniel Shar

With a college-acceptance letter in hand, I think that it might be time to expose the essay portion of the SAT for what it is – a meaningless joke. To anyone yet to take the SAT who dreads the idea of writing a two-page essay in 25 minutes, read this and relax.

My friend David Orr and I took the new SAT the first time it was offered. We were faced with the same prompt as to whether or not the opinion of the majority is a poor guide based on examples from our reading, studies, experience or observations. Both of us argued against the opinion of the majority, only I did so like an articulate sixth-grader and he played the role of historian.

Somehow, we both received eight out of the possible 12 points, with scores of four from each reader. According to the College Board, “A score of four demonstrates adequate mastery, although it will have lapses in quality.”

I wouldn’t exactly say I demonstrated any kind of mastery.

My main supporting paragraph was based on the Michael Jackson child-molestation case and the idea of a jury of select individuals deciding his guilt rather than a majority having the final say. David’s main supporting paragraph was all about James Madison and his Madisonian Majority, which makes for a significantly less stupid-sounding argument than my E! True Hollywood Story approach.

The next time we both took the test, the prompt read: “Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience or observations.”

Taking the test this time so I could improve my critical-reading score, I decided not to strain myself on the essay. David, on the other hand, was unsatisfied with his overall writing score and went in with more focus and determination. I received an eight, which you shall soon see is preposterously high. David received a 10, which was probably fair, but not when compared to my eight.

Forgive the length of the following excerpt, but to fully grasp the injustice to David – and countless others, I’m sure – you must see all of my stupidity. (The College Board allows students to log into the Web site to view their scores. There is also a copy of their essay that they can print).

The heart of my essay read: “For evidence that supports the notion that a person cannot and will not learn from his or her past without looking back at his or her memories, look no further than Michael Jackson, who is currently on trial for child molestation. If he had sat down and reflected on all that had happened in previous years, he wouldn’t be sitting in a courtroom worrying about his future cellmate. He should have taken all of his memories from previous trials and said to himself, ‘You know what, Mike, don’t share beds with little boys. Make catchy music and get richer.’ Had he just done that, he would be in a much happier state right now.”
That was pretty bad, but this is where I really took it to another level.

“The last time that I took the SAT, I wrote a very bad essay similar to this one, and because I was able to rely upon my memory of that, I was able to integrate past and present in that I used Michael Jackson as an example in both. Terrible, I know.” My focus in the essay then abruptly shifted toward Sept. 11, and I ended dramatically with, “Dare we forget?”

David scored only two points higher than me despite using Martin Luther King Jr., Hester from The Scarlet Letter and Captain Ahab from Moby Dick to support his arguments. His points were well-presented. If his score was a 10, my essay should have been a two at most.

Here then, College Board, is a more appropriate prompt that you might wish to institute on a future test: “Air is believed by many to be more important to human survival than porridge. In an essay developed to whatever ability you feel like, write about whatever you want. Just put commas where you need them and periods at the end of every sentence. Use whatever you can think of to support your argument (should you choose to form one, totally up to you, dude). Do that for the full two pages and we guarantee you a decent score.”

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