SAT Essay Scoring
SAT essays are scanned and distributed to scorers via the Internet. Two scorers, who are high school or college writing teachers, read each essay. They are trained to spend two to three minutes on each, considering it holistically. That means they're not reading it as one of your teachers would; a few minor errors in grammar or spelling won't count against you, nor will a few factual errors. They're reading for an overall impression, rather than to pick it apart.
Each reader assigns a score of 1–6 (although an essay that is written off topic gets a 0). A score of 1 shows writing incompetence while a 6 demonstrates clear and consistent competence. The two scores are then added, bringing the total to 2–12. If the graders disagree by more than a point, a third reader is brought in. The College Board reports that fewer than 5% of all essays require a third reader.
Although scores are based on a holistic impression, readers are trained to respond to certain key areas including: meaning (your ideas), development (how well you support your ideas), organization (how one idea flows to the next), and language use or mechanics (word choice, grammar, and punctuation). The College Board website has a detailed explanation of these areas and how they relate to each score.
When the SAT Writing section was introduced in 2005, it was met with plenty of skepticism. Many colleges announced that they would not consider scores from the new section until they had a chance to determine whether performance on this part of the test correlated with college-level writing ability. There was also some criticism. One MIT professor was, and remains today, particularly vocal in his opposition. He studied the essay examples that were made public and found that he was able to guess their scores simply by looking at how long they were (the longer the essay, the better the score).
The College Board responded that longer essays were generally more well written and developed than shorter ones but that length alone was not a scoring factor. However, if you check the sample essays in the College Board's Official Study Guide, you'll see that every 5 and 6 essay is more than one page. Use this information to your advantage. Whichever side you're on, the message is clear: Develop your point of view with at least three examples that you explore in separate paragraphs. Use details and evidence as support. Follow that advice, along with what you'll learn in Chapters 3 and 4, and you'll end up with an essay of at least one and a half pages.
THE RUMOR MILL
Because the sat is such a high stakes test, and the process of creating and administering it is not completely transparent, it lends itself to rumors. One long-standing rumor says that a representative from a test prep company revealed that the computers that scan sat essays are programmed to score those that are very short and/or are broken down into very few paragraphs anywhere from a 1 to a 3, without the benefit of a human reader. Whether it's true or false, this rumor highlights the very real fact that longer essays tend to get higher scores than shorter ones. When you develop your point of view and support it well with examples and evidence, you'll end up with a longer essay. you'll find more on that in Chapter 4.
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