The SAT essay!

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dhokarena56
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The SAT essay!

Postby dhokarena56 » Sat May 07, 2011 2:19 am UTC

It was only when I tried my hand at two SAT essays today in prep for tomorrow that I realised how incredibly nerdy I am.

For the first prompt- is progress always a good thing?- I used the Indus Valley civilization, the Mayan system of agriculture, and the cultural ramifications of the First World War as examples. For the second- is knowledge only useful applied, or is it valuable on its own terms?- I drew on the Riemann hypothesis, particle physics, and the Tocharian language. For this last, specifically, I discussed the Centum-Satem divide in Indo-European linguistics, because the fact that Tocharian is a Centum language even though it's far to the east of all the other Centum ones and should geographically be Satem is historically interesting. I somehow felt a need to remind the reader that since Hittite broke off early, it doesn't fit into this classification system. I think I just wanted an excuse to put some IE linguistics in there- I also toyed with the fact that de Saussure's discovery of laryngeals, later confirmed in Hittite, also helped our understanding of ancient history.

Also on the one about knowledge, I helpfully informed the reader that "The Riemann hypothesis states, in brief, that in the field of complex numbers, the sum of the series where n goes from one to infinity 1/n^s where s is a complex number of form a+bi will converge to zero if and only if the real part a is equal to one-half (also known as the "critical line") and that the number s is not one of the "trivial zeroes" formed by all even negative integers."

Well, way to go me? Anybody who reads tomorrow's essay by me will learn a lot about something completely useless and pointless. What're your guys experiences?
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Andromeda321
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Andromeda321 » Sat May 07, 2011 9:38 am UTC

My experience is that you shouldn't bog down into too many details on an unknown subject at the expense of strong writing. You can talk about ponies for all it matters so long as you draw good conclusions about them supporting your argument with the additional advantage of not having to spend much time introducing the concept of what a pony is.

But then I did the SAT essay when it was still a separate writing test, so what do I know. :wink:

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby gmalivuk » Sat May 07, 2011 2:07 pm UTC

dhokarena56 wrote:I helpfully informed the reader that "The Riemann hypothesis states, in brief, that in the field of complex numbers, the sum of the series where n goes from one to infinity 1/n^s where s is a complex number of form a+bi will converge to zero if and only if the real part a is equal to one-half (also known as the "critical line") and that the number s is not one of the "trivial zeroes" formed by all even negative integers."
Really, you wrote that terribly cumbersome run-on sentence in your SAT essay and you're proud of how smart and informative you are? The reader isn't going to care about the Riemann hypothesis. They're going to care whether you wrote well, and if this is any indication, you didn't.

Trying to bring together so many completely disparate topics in one short essay is also, most likely, going to count against you. You won't have informed the reader of anything new or interesting, so much as bogged the reader down with tons of unnecessary detail that probably doesn't prove your point any better than sticking to one core example would have.

It's great to know lots of things, and I applaud you for your interest in them. But it's *also* great to be able to communicate those things effectively and clearly, instead of writing something that looks to us (and will probably look to the person who reads your test) like a string of "Look how much I know!"s.
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Parsifal » Sat May 07, 2011 2:57 pm UTC

If you're smart enough to care deeply about these subjects, you'll get a poor grade on the standardized test essay section (which judges nothing more than how 'normal' you are and whether you can write in English) and it won't matter worth a hill of beans. Take it from someone who just tested in the <50% range in analytical writing and 99% in everything else.

Putting an essay section on a standardized test is a rather bad idea in the first place, considering that anyone who cares about your scores is going to make you write essay after essay anyway.

Writing 1,000 words on two topics I neither know or care about for the GRE and getting a 4 (45th percentage) : $200.
Writing an essay that gets me into one of the top 5 engineering schools in the country several weeks later : priceless.

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Dark567 » Sat May 07, 2011 5:05 pm UTC

Really it sounds like you just need to make sure your essay is long. Everything else looks to be secondary.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/04/educa ... ation.html

"It appeared to me that regardless of what a student wrote, the longer the essay, the higher the score," Dr. Perelman said. A man on the panel from the College Board disagreed. "He told me I was jumping to conclusions," Dr. Perelman said. "Because M.I.T. is a place where everything is backed by data, I went to my hotel room, counted the words in those essays and put them in an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop."

In the next weeks, Dr. Perelman studied every graded sample SAT essay that the College Board made public. He looked at the 15 samples in the ScoreWrite book that the College Board distributed to high schools nationwide to prepare students for the new writing section. He reviewed the 23 graded essays on the College Board Web site meant as a guide for students and the 16 writing "anchor" samples the College Board used to train graders to properly mark essays.

He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," he said. "If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time." The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade.
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby mdyrud » Sat May 07, 2011 6:19 pm UTC

Like others have said, tread carefully. I pulled a similar stunt for the ACT writing test. Given a larger amount of time, I could have tied all the examples together into a kick-ass essay, because they all fit the topic well. But with the limited time I had I ended up cramming four or five pages worth of examples into 2 and a half. Not surprisingly, I did very poorly. I ended up in the 28th percentile.
tl;dr Tried the same thing, bit me in the butt. Hard.

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby katethegreat » Sat May 07, 2011 10:15 pm UTC

I'm horrible at coming up with bullshit examples for SAT essays. Then on the 3rd try (don't judge me too much, I needed to get math up to 700 since I'm going into engineering)... The essay was on REALITY TV!!!!!!!!!! I sat there in shock and joy for a minute then threw together a baller essay with no shortage of examples. I got 11/12! I mostly attribute it to filling up a full 2 pages and working fast enough that there wasn't any need for me at all to go back during another section and add a short conclusion. >_> The proctor wasn't attentive and I was in the last row. :roll:

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Dream » Sat May 07, 2011 11:30 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:Really it sounds like you just need to make sure your essay is long. Everything else looks to be secondary.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/05/04/educa ... ation.html



Weak students typically write little, exceptional students write a lot, and middling students might be very likely to regurgitate, with the level of regurgitation related to success, and also obviously word count.
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby TheAmazingRando » Sat May 07, 2011 11:34 pm UTC

Be careful, I got a pretty bad grade on my SAT essay because I tried too hard to write something complicated and was cut off just shy of writing my brief conclusion (which pissed me off, because we weren't given any sort of warning, just a sudden "drop your pencils immediately"). By comparison, I got a 5 on both AP Lit and Lang tests, which are a lot more trying, so it isn't that my writing skills weren't up to par. They want to see that you can write a coherent essay that follows a basic thesis-evidence-conclusion format, and they care a lot more about length than depth. They're looking at mechanics, grammar, and basic critical ability (if they even really look at it in detail), not how knowledgeable you are on random topics.

Not that it matters, I got into the school I wanted, and nobody cares about your SAT scores after college admissions, but still. Dumb it down and make it readable, don't make the same mistake I did.
Last edited by TheAmazingRando on Tue May 10, 2011 1:02 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Sun May 08, 2011 3:53 am UTC

Meh. It's the SAT essay, easily one of the most useless measures of preparedness for college as far as I'm concerned. You want good writing? It takes more than just 25 minutes.
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Parsifal » Sun May 08, 2011 11:36 am UTC

Right, don't stress it. This is only a small part of your overall application package. I was told personally by someone in admissions at Harvard that SAT scores don't guarantee admission and they 'get a lot of 1600s every year'.

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby gmalivuk » Sun May 08, 2011 2:15 pm UTC

Presumably that was back in the day when 1600 was the top score? Because now it's not terribly impressive.
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Sun May 08, 2011 3:04 pm UTC

Parsifal wrote:I was told personally by someone in admissions at Harvard that SAT scores don't guarantee admission and they 'get a lot of 1600s every year'.

The fact that the most over-applied-to institution in the country can't take everyone with a perfect score isn't the strongest argument that standardized tests aren't important. Bear in mind that, even if a lot of people don't get in with perfect scores, even fewer people get in with less-than-perfect scores (c.f. Princeton statistics). And there are many schools worth applying to besides Harvard.

This is not to say, of course, that you are doomed to failure if you don't get the score you wanted. But you probably shouldn't write that component of an application off as insignificant.
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Shivari » Sun May 08, 2011 10:22 pm UTC

So, basically you want us and the SAT readers to all jerk off to how super duper smart you are.

Word of advice, writing all of that random "Look at me and my HUGE brain" shit makes you seem like a pretentious dick.

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby katethegreat » Mon May 09, 2011 4:40 am UTC

Don't hate on him too much. I think it's awesome that he can think of examples like that off the top of his head. They fit the topic well and are interesting. Just because they aren't from a novel doesn't mean he's a "pretentious dick".
I would caution about going into specifics about the topics though. The layperson can't understand what you're talking about when you go into jargon. Just describe it in basic terms and discuss its significance.

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Bakemaster » Mon May 09, 2011 4:54 am UTC

I got every single question right in the multiple choice portion of the SAT Writing test, but I tried to write a mature, high-quality response to the frustratingly vague and open-ended prompt. It was necessarily not a particularly lengthy response, and brought my score down by 70 points on that section. It was only after the fact that I read about Perelman's work. In hindsight, since learning that readers are forbidden from taking the validity of factual information into account when grading the essays, I wish that I had spouted a hideous font of blatant falsehoods and fantasies, in absolutely perfect five-paragraph form. I'm sure the reader would have seethed at being forced by his or her rubric to award me a high score for waxing poetic about Ghandi's historic first step on Venus.
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby TheGrammarBolshevik » Mon May 09, 2011 4:56 am UTC

I'm fairly certain that there's a steep deduction for misspelling "Gandhi."
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Parsifal » Mon May 09, 2011 12:00 pm UTC

Don't feel bad - I was told my writing was stilted and overly formal in middle school. In high school, I was told "great writing, have a bunch of scholarships". OP has a valid point - you could write an insightful essay that lays the groundwork for entire new fields in math, literature and philosophy and still get a sub-par score on the SAT because that's not what the SAT writing test is all about*

*what the SAT writing test IS all about is selling workbooks and crib courses, but I digress.

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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby Bakemaster » Mon May 09, 2011 2:40 pm UTC

TheGrammarBolshevik wrote:I'm fairly certain that there's a steep deduction for misspelling "Gandhi."

Technically, it's factual information!
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Re: The SAT essay!

Postby KingofMadCows » Thu May 12, 2011 10:14 am UTC

I'm pretty sure that they mainly care about the organization of the essay, the use evidence to back up your claims and that there are no logical fallacies. I don't even think they care about the accuracy of the evidence. It's not really a test of knowledge. It's more of a test of logic, rhetoric, grammar, and organization.


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