The graph shows a histogram of the scores for the essays entered into the Blogger SAT challenge. It’s really a pretty nice distribution, with an average score of 2.899, a standard deviation of 1.28, and a standard deviation of the mean of 0.123 (so I’d make my students write it as “2.9 +/- 0.1″). The median and mode were both 3.
(Well, OK, we cheated a little on the stats to make life easier– the scores were averaged and then rounded up. If we keep the half-integer scores, the mean drops to 2.7 +/- 0.1, and the distribution looks a little more lopsided. Click here to see it.)
How does this compare to the students who took the SAT for real? The College Board reports the sum of scores from two graders, so the officially released average score was a 7.2 out of 12. We can do the math to put it on the same six-point scale we used, which turns out to be a 3.6 out of 6.
So, we have scientifically proven that high-school students are better writers than bloggers, right? Well…
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I don’ think I’d really call these results a significant blow against blogger superiority. After all, we were asking people to take twenty minutes to write an SAT-style essay, with no real preparation or practice. We also had a fair number of people more or less blow the whole thing off– one person just pasted the instructions into the essay box, and left it at that (we didn’t publish that one on the site). At least a couple others wrote flippant one-sentence responses. That probably doesn’t happen on the real SAT.
(Excluding the handful of zero grades from the sample doesn’t raise the score all that much– from 2.9 to 3.0– but there were a lot more blow-off answers than just those four.)
I think these results do support my original point, way back when this whole thing started: it’s a lot harder to write a good short essay on demand than you might think when you have the chance to look at the question at leisure. Even bloggers, who spend a lot of time writing short essays of their own free will, don’t do all that well with a set topic and a tight time limit.
I’ll post a few comments from the graders a little later on, so you can see what the experts really thought…