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Essay optional: Is the SAT undervaluing writing as a skill?

Posted by Zeninjor Enwemeka  March 12, 2014 08:55 AM

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Suzane Nazir uses a Princeton Review SAT Preparation book to study for the test on March 6, 2014 in Pembroke Pines, Florida.

It's a test that often causes a lot of anxiety, stress, and dread. It pushes many students to put in long hours of studying and put up large sums of money for preparatory classes. But now the SAT is undergoing major changes.

The essay will become optional. There will be no penalties for wrong answers. And the score scale will be 1,600 instead of today's 2,400, in addition to a number of other changes.

College Board officials announced the revisions last week, saying the update is needed to make the exam more representative of what students learn in high school and the skills they need to succeed in college.

The test should offer ‘‘worthy challenges, not artificial obstacles,’’ said College Board President David Coleman in remarks prepared for delivery at an event in Austin, Texas.

But it's the drastic changes to the essay that have some wondering if the College Board is downplaying the importance of writing. Besides being optional, the essay will measure the student's ability to analyze and explain an argument, instead of measuring the coherence and construction of that argument.

Suffolk University English professor D. Quentin Miller over at WBUR writes:

What bothers me is that essay writing seems so easily expendable. It’s the first sandbag to go. But don’t we agree that it’s vital? Employers of all stripes cite it as one of the most important skills applicants can have.

Twitter user @ElizBlanchardMD asks:


The changes to the annual exam are the first update since 2005 and are set to take effect in 2016.

So, what say you? Do the changes to the SAT undervalue writing as a skill? Should the SAT have been overhauled? What changes would you like to see to the standardized test? And do you think these tests are even necessary?

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Follow Zeninjor Enwemeka on Twitter @Zeninjor.

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