Editorials, Opinions

Our View: Sayonara SAT essays

We have all heard the tales of our grandparents, or our parents, or our neighbors, etc. that go something like this: “When I was in school, I had to walk 20 miles in the rain or the snow just to get to class, you have it easy.”

Well, it looks like our generation will be telling our own version of that story much sooner than expected, as college entrance exams for high school juniors and seniors are about to become much easier.

The last few years of high school are pressure-filled and the ominous SAT college entrance exam only adds to the stress. The original SAT was introduced in 1926, and eventually evolved into a test scored out of 1600 points with two basic components.

By 2005, in time for most of us to sign up for it, the test had grown into a 2400-point, three-part exam.

The additional element of the SAT was a timed essay worth 800 points, or one-third. Students were kept in the dark about the prompt prior to the exam, increasing the test-taking anxiety for many.

It looks like the tables are about to turn, though, and relief is coming for those who sign up to take the exam in 2016. Recently, the College Board released an eight-piece overhaul of the exam with major revisions — leaving us more than concerned.

One big change making headlines is an adjustment to the essay component, which will now be optional for students. That’s right, if a student just doesn’t feel like it, he or she doesn’t have to write an essay for a college admissions test.

Furthermore, the essay prompt will now be released ahead of time, which may compromise the testing capacity of the test itself. The test has been holding students accountable for skills needed in order to adequately communicate clearly and concisely with limited prep-time.

If students know the essay topic ahead of time, what is to stop the test-takers from preparing an entire essay before the test?

While we understand the essay is difficult, we think simplifying the essay only contributes to the “teach-to-the-test” mentality that compromises the long-term benefits of more well- rounded learning.

We also think that making the essay optional does not help students prepare for college-level courses. Essays are a cornerstone of a college education, and universities expect incoming students to have basic essay-writing skills.

Unlike the new SAT, students can’t simply opt out of a timed essay in class. They are required to write it, without knowing the topic ahead of time, so why not test them on their ability to do so prior to admission?

Removing the essay portion of the SAT sends the message that a student doesn’t really need to know how to accomplish this kind of task.

We feel that in a society so consumed by the ease of technology, an old-fashioned writing test holds students to a basic communication standard. It only requires a simple timed response but provides huge benefits in terms of college and professional preparation.

The SAT will now return to a 1600-maximum score, with the essay component scored separately from the math and critical reading sections. Some colleges and universities will still require students to submit SAT essay scores, according to the College Board website.

This means that students will have to know beforehand which colleges they are applying to and the application requirements of those schools, otherwise they run the risk of opting out of the essay only to find that their schools of choice require it.

We think it is better to be safe than sorry, and we encourage students to go ahead and at least try the essay to avoid this kind of mishap. But if universities are still requiring an essay score despite the changes, why write it off in the first place?

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