5 minute read
In January, College Board (the company behind the SAT) announced that beginning in July 2021, the SAT will no longer include the optional Essay section. Now that the change is taking effect, here’s what we imagine the SAT Essay section would say in a farewell letter to past and future SAT-takers.
As I move into this next phase of my life, I’ve been thinking back to before I made it to the big leagues: being part of the SAT on students’ desks around the world.
It has been an honor to have a place in the SAT experience. Back in 1994, I came close to making my grand entrance on the national stage as an addition to the SAT, but my time had not yet come. It was nearly ten years later, in 2005, that I finally made it – I was an essential part of the newly named Critical Reading section. And me, the little old SAT Essay section, was mandatory and worth up to 800 points! I was on top of the world.
This time is what I like to call The Classical Age of my life. I felt like an ancient Greek philosopher, posing questions to be answered with opinions and evidence. Questions like, are people more likely to be happy if they focus on goals other than their own happiness? Is there a value in celebrating certain individuals as heroes? Or, have modern advancements truly improved the quality of people’s lives? I can’t be sure that students always shared their true opinions, but the answers were always unique and interesting.
I began the next phase of my life in 2016, when I was made optional instead of mandatory. I didn’t take it personally; I knew that I wasn’t every student’s cup of tea. My prompts were changed to better reflect the kind of literary analysis skills that students used during the school day, which was for the best, but I missed the students’ opinions. If I’m really being honest, the hardest part of the change was my score being reduced from up to 800 points to up to 12. The change made sense because I was going to be scored separately from the rest of the test, but I felt like I lost a bit of my magnitude.
And now it’s time for me to retire, which will be a gift to students with more, let’s say creative, handwriting. To students who encountered me on the SAT with dread – I wish you well and hope the bubble sheets are kinder to you than my graders! To students who are sad to see me go – I hope that you will remember me through these tips from the grading rubric when writing any other essays in your future:
- Outlining always pays off. Nothing brought me more joy than students who outlined their essays. They were less stressed while writing, rushed less at the end of the time limit, and wrote clearer and more logical essays. It made me so proud.
- Conciseness is the best policy. Great writers get to the point quickly and clearly. Unless you’re aiming for a high word count, opt for fewer and more descriptive words.
- Good grammar and punctuation will only help. Although most graders won’t take points off solely for technical mistakes, good grammar and punctuation give a grader the best reading experience. If you’re not sure how to use a colon or semicolon, just leave them out!
- Make a central argument, and be sure it answers the prompt. An excellent essay makes a central point and then uses a few paragraphs to fully explain that central point. And most importantly, make sure your central point directly answers the prompt given. Read it a few times if you have to!
Knowing that the critical thinking and analysis skills needed to answer my prompts still live on in the Reading and Writing sections warms my metaphorical heart. (But not too warm – I am, after all, made of paper and highly flammable.) And now, onto relaxation. I’ll be joining my old pal SAT II’s, who retired in January, on a beach with a cold glass of iced spearmint tea. (It just may improve memory and learning, you know.)
Forever yours in reasoning,
The SAT Essay section
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