Les Perelman, director of MIT's director of the Writing Across the Curriculum program, continues to call attention to the absurd premises that underlie the recently-added essay section of the College Board's SAT. The high scores of a student who prepared for the test with Professor Perelman's guidance suggest what the College Board values in writing: big words ("myriad" and "plethora" are said to be favorites), weighty examples (whether or not they're relevant or accurately stated), and the magical five-paragraph formula.
Which is to say: the standards for the SAT essay run counter to everything a competent college teacher tries to make clear to students: that big words are not the key to good writing, that details and examples need to carefully chosen and relevant and grounded in fact, and that the number of paragraphs in an essay must be dictated by the writer's ideas and purpose. (There is no magic number.)
Here's an excerpt from the essay that Perelman's student wrote to test the test. I'm assuming that all the errors are intentional:
American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting 'the only thing we need to fear is itself,' which desdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success. In the end, the American economy pulled out of the depression and succeeded communism.Two College Board scorers gave the essay a 5, the second highest score possible.
Fooling the College Board (Inside Higher Ed)
Essay by Perelman's student (Download, 26 KB .doc file)
Words, words, words (Previous blog post on Professor Perelman's criticism of the College Board)