After the grading was finished, a few of our volunteer graders made general comments about the essays they read. One thing that really jumped out at me about this was the way that the problems they described sounded like exactly the sort of thing you would expect from a bunch of bloggers:
(Continued after the cut.)
I’ll leave the names off, to be polite, so here’s Grader One:
I was struck by the number of people who wrote essays without apparently thinking the directions applied to them. They made assumptions about the assignment, or decided that they were better judges of what the assignment should be, and then wrote what they wanted to write rather than produced what they were asked to write.
I smiled, but I wondered why do they think a scorer (and after all, pleasing the scorer is what matters much more than self-respect when taking a test) cares about their opinions?
I was struck by the number of writers who felt that musing about some aspect of the question, or one of the words in it, or one of the stories it reminded them of, was a reasonable way to respond to the directions. Another
thing that really jumped out at me was the word drift in the essays. I was amazed at how quickly the words
in the prompt-“overcoming obstacles” and “struggle”-became “working hard”, “trying”, “staying
up late to study” or “having a good character”, and the lines of logic followed suit. Sometimes (more
often than I would have thought), the drift continued across paragraphs.
This ties in with the all-too-frequent poor organization of so many of the essays. I realize this was very much a “first draft” sort of exercise, but I expected more of adults. Right now I work on writing mostly with 8th and 9th
graders, and to be perfectly honest, the organizational skills on display in these essays was very reminiscent of that level of work. Ideas were denser, sentence structure, vocabulary,etc. better, but organization was tepid, people seemed reluctant to flat-out state their position, and meaning was often implied rather than explicitly stated.
Overall the quality of the essays was not far above that of high school students writing their first practice essays. The biggest differences I noticed were in grammar and diction: most of the entrants wrote in complete, generally grammatical sentences, and there were fewer awkward turns of phrase and poorly-chosen “vocab words” than I see in student writing.
The organization and logical flow of the essays, on the other hand, was on the whole surprisingly sloppy. Many people seemed not to understand that the assignment was to write a persuasive essay *with a clear point of view*. Often writers tried to be clever with roundabout ways of coming at the question, but it only made my job as a grader more difficult, and grumpy graders don’t give fives and sixes.
If anything, the bloggers were *worse* than high school students in getting to the point and staying on topic. They also tended to equivocate more, to argue the merits of both sides, which, though it might mark you as a reasonable person in normal discussion (in real or online life), actually hurts your SAT score.
As I said, they sound like… bloggers. Given the people in our sample, I would’ve been surprised if they hadn’t opted to argue with the premise of the question, and go off on weird tangents…
Anyway, thanks again to our graders. This was a lot of fun to do. It’s not remotely scientific, and it’s not like we’ve discovered anything revolutionary, but it’s been really interesting to see what people did with the Challenge.