It seems to be the writing test that has made the number of perfects plummet. While the math and reading sections each had more than 8,000 top scores, only 4,102 students were rated perfect on the writing test, the only part of the exam where girls outscored boys.
Most of the writing test — and three-quarters of the writing score — consists of multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage. But most of the anxiety among high school students centers on the 25-minute essay, graded on a scale of one to six by at least two readers, who spend about three minutes on each essay. Their two scores are added. And, the College Board said, the reason so few students won top marks on the writing section is that so few — less than one percent — got sixes from both readers, for that perfect 12.
The SAT Scoring Guide says an essay gets a six if it “effectively and insightfully develops a point of view on the issue,” “demonstrates outstanding critical thinking,” “is well organized and clearly focused,” and “exhibits skillful use of language.” Grading is holistic, with no points off for spelling errors or small linguistic flaws.
Last week, when the board released 20 top-scoring essays, all on the topic of whether memories are a help or a hindrance, it was impossible not to notice that many were — what’s the right word? — awkward:
“Memory is often the deciding factor between humans and animals,” one started.
“It is a commonly cited and often clichéd adage that people learn from their mistakes,” wrote another.
“We reason only with information, that is, reason is the mortar that arranges & connects pieces of information into the palace of understanding,” said a third.
Ed Hardin, who helped develop the writing test for the College Board, has an explanation: “Someone has to get a six,” he said. “Student writing, over all, is not very strong, which is the reason we added the writing test to the SAT. We hope they’ll get better.
After analyzing the results, the board had these insights for the next crop of SAT-takers.
¶Eighty-four percent of the essays took up more than one page, and longer essays were more likely to get a high score than shorter ones. (Two pages is the limit.)
¶Most essays were printed, but those written in cursive got slightly higher scores.
¶About half the essays were written in the first person, but those that did not use the first person got slightly higher scores.
“You can certainly write a first-person essay and get a six, but it’s also true that a lot of very low-performing students write first person,” Mr. Hardin said. “What we tried to show, in releasing these top-scoring essays, is that lots of different things can work. You can select any style, any approach that you think suits your strengths as a writer.”
And on the essay, at least, it’s possible to get a six without coming anywhere near perfect.Continue reading the main story
While it might seem silly, the quality of your handwriting can have an impact on your SAT score. If you don’t have the neatest handwriting, there’s no need to panic—your handwriting doesn’t have to be the most beautiful thing in the world. That said, the grader does need to be able to read what you’ve written in order to score your essay. Here are some tips for ensuring that your handwriting is legible:
Tip #1: Write more slowly
It’s hard to write neatly when you’re trying to write as quickly as possible, but if you slow down and take the time to really process your thoughts, you should be able to keep your handwriting nice and tidy.
Tip #2: Change your grip
Try tightening up or loosening up your grip if you find your handwriting really illegible. Perhaps the way you’re holding the pencil is preventing you from writing as neatly as you can. Another suggestion: try holding the pencil further down or further up if your writing is still not neat enough.
Tip #3: Write bigger
This might seem silly, but it can be easier to write neatly if you use larger print. Don’t worry about running space in your testing booklet and just increase the size of your handwriting. There’s a reason they make easier to read books in larger font!
Tip #4: Space out your letters
Instead of cramping your letters next to one another, try spacing them out. Your writing doesn’t need to look pretty, but it will be easier to read if you create more space between your letters, even if it’s chicken scratch.
Tip #5: Don’t write in cursive
Even if you usually write in cursive, try to write in print for the exam. Many people have difficulty recognizing cursive lettering—even if someone has textbook-perfect cursive writing—so you might be better off to stick to regular old print.
Tip #6: Practice if you need to
If your handwriting is especially atrocious, you might want to practice writing neatly prior to your exam date. It might seem like a weird thing to practice, but it could pay off in the long run!
Ella is a student at Washington University in St. Louis. She is currently accepting students via chegg.com.