The New York Times recently published sample top-scoring essays from the new written component of the SAT test in order to show the type of work that was likely to score highly. Several bloggers, as well as the Times itself, have noted that the writing isn’t exactly compelling.
In fact, I’ve been carrying on a bit of a debate with Chad Orzel, of ScienceBlogs’ Uncertain Principles on this very subject. Chad argues that it’s unfair to put a microscope to the the highschoolers’ prose, written in just 25 minutes based on a prompt they had never encountered before.
In the comments, I expressed surprise:
I’m sorry, that was just painful to read. These are really the best? I do understand that these writers got only 25 minutes, on a topic they hadn’t prepared for, but still, the best?
laid down the gantlet threw down the gauntlet:
Somebody ought to get a bunch of bloggers together, and give them the writing SAT under timed conditions, and see what they come up with.
I think you can figure out where this is headed. Chad and I have set up a test for you to use to find out if you can do any better than a bunch of highschoolers.
We’re especially interested in finding out if bloggers, because of their regular practice in short-form writing, might be able to perform well on the test. On the blogger’s side, they’re used to cranking out pointless rants on a moment’s notice. But highschoolers are well-practiced at responding to their teachers’ inane writing prompts. Bloggers get to choose their topics, so blogging may not transfer well to the SAT’s writing prompt. Who can perform better on the SAT test? There’s only one way to find out.
So, without further ado, we present the Blogger SAT Challenge. We’ve prepared a (relatively) controlled environment where our
victims volunteers can respond to a sample SAT question.
Then the test will be scored in up to two ways: (1) ideally, if we get enough volunteers, we’ll grade the test according to SAT guidelines, (2) we’ll create a special blog where our readers will rate the essays on the 6-point SAT scale. We’ll then analyze the results to see how bloggers compare to college-bound highschoolers.
You can take the test at your leisure, but there are a few rules:
- Don’t reveal the question until we’ve closed the test (at 11:59 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, September 20). You don’t want to give your competitors an unfair advantage, do you?
- You will have just 20 minutes from the time you click on the link below to complete your response (actually we’re giving you 21 minutes so that you have a chance to read the instructions and fill out the identifying information). There won’t be a clock visible on the test page, but you are being timed, and essays that go over the limit will not be scored. Yes, this is less than the 25 minutes than the highschoolers had, but they also had to handwrite their essays, so we think is the fairest compromise.
- The text box that our software provides is rather cramped, so you may want to compose your response offline using a text editor, then copy and paste your response. Just make sure you leave the survey window open while you work.
- You will have a chance to eliminate your essay from consideration after you complete your response. But please, for science’s sake, use this option sparingly. We promise not to identify the authors of the essays.
- However, if you’re pleased with your work, we will provide a way for you to link to it from your own blog after the study is complete. You’ll even get a nifty badge that you can post on your blog to proclaim your madd writing skilz. But don’t reveal your answer until we let you know it’s okay, after scoring is complete — we don’t want to bias any of the judges.
Oh, and one more thing: we *do* need volunteers, preferably college English teachers, to help score the exams. So, if you’re interested in that, please let us know, either via email or in the comments.