The Boston Globe reported last week many top American universities are ignoring the writing portion of the SAT exam when deciding whether or not to admit high school students into their programs of study.
The rationale behind dropping the writing exam as a measure of intelligence and duty to study appears to be a feeling the task is not deeply reflective enough of a student’s true potential:
Georgetown University, Smith College, and MIT are among the schools that ignore the writing score altogether, while Wellesley College, Tufts University, and Harvard take varying approaches, with none placing high importance on the score. Students get only 25 minutes to read the essay question and answer it, too little time to produce a valuable writing sample, said Deborah Shaver, Smith’s director of admissions. “This is not great writing,” Shaver said. “These aren’t higher-level learning measures.”
I find this trend unfortunate. The Boston Globe article continues to explain the writing portion of the SAT has become “formulaic” with a five paragraph essay consisting of an introduction, three paragraphs of support and a conclusion.
University admissions officials appear to argue the writing exam is either too hard or too easy for students to construct in the 25 minute writing window. I argue a 25 minute essay exam is a fine reflection of any student’s ability to write a logical and convincing essay.
A five paragraph essay is a terrific structure to test and stretch the talents of any writer. If you cannot make your point clear in 25 minutes, how can you expect to be convincing in the real world of immediate emails and other written virtual interactions like online text conferencing, real-time discussion areas, blogging and mega-media creations?
I know most students despise restrictions on their writing. They think everything flowing from their fingers is made of gold. Students want to write stream-of-consciousness pieces that adhere to zero form and structure — and therefore cannot be critiqued or require revision — and that sort of selfish writing is appreciated and understood only by them and their small circle of like-minded friends.
Writing is about the clear communication of ideas and dreams against a fuzzy and dark world. You must choose the right words to be succinct and cogent in a scholarly essay argument. It takes time, practice and dedication to write a precise essay and there is nothing wrong with testing that ability on the SAT — the problem is rubbed raw when universities refuse to consider the talent of the essay author in their admissions decision.
The mission of a university education must be to learn how to express your passion and magnitude in writing so others beyond you may understand your consciousness and appreciate your point-of-view — even if they do not agree with you — and for elite universities to drop the consideration of writing as a marker of excellence is disappointing in the supreme and embarrassing in the sublime.