Editor’s note: After hearing of the topic for the March 2011 SAT essay we at Bell Curves decided to have our intern, a recent SAT test taker, write his thoughts about it. We love you to share your thoughts in the comments!
The essay was introduced as part of the writing section of the SAT in March 2005. It was in response to the increasing demand of college admissions personnel for more proof of a student’s writing and critical thinking abilities. These essays usually ask about general themes (e.g. responsibility, dreams, heroism, or rationality), so that the average student could produce a relatively well-thought out response in 30 minutes.
Typical essay questions (and most of the ones in the preparation material released by the College Board) include:
- “Is it better for people to learn from others than to learn on their own?”
- “Is an idealistic approach less valuable than a practical approach?”
- “Do people put too much importance on getting every detail right on a project or task?”
- “Do we benefit from learning about the flaws of people we admire and respect?”
These questions are pretty predictable and require some intellectual contemplation on the part of the student. When I was preparing for the kinds of essay questions posed in the Writing section, I decided to always write 5 paragraphs (filling up both pages if possible) and to use three supporting examples that demonstrated that I paid attention in high school. I employed my knowledge of historical events; novels (The Great Gatsby, for example); memorable articles from The New York Times, The Economist, etc; personal anecdotes, which I made up to fit the prompt; and statistics from recognizable sources. Following this method requires the common knowledge, more or less, of a high school junior. Therefore, I would say that most test-takers approach the essay question in roughly this manner.
However students were definitely caught off guard by the essay questions from the exam this past weekend:
- “Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?”
- “Is photography a representation of real life or a depiction of a photographer’s point of view?”