Would Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?

We and our colleagues at The Princeton Review have spent many years training students to take the SAT II, and have carefully analyzed the College Board’s essay-grading criteria. To receive a high score a student should write a long essay of three or more paragraphs, with each paragraph containing topic and concluding sentences and at least one sentence that includes the words “for example.” Whenever possible the student should use polysyllabic words where shorter, clearer words would suffice. The SAT essay will not be a place to take rhetorical chances. Flair will win no points; the highest-scoring essays will be earnest, long-winded, and predictable.

To illustrate how the essays on the “new” SAT will be scored, The Princeton Review has composed some typical essay questions, provided answers from several well-known authors, and applied the College Board’s grading criteria to their writing. —John Katzman, Andy Lutz and Erik OlsonWould Shakespeare Get Into Swarthmore?  (The Atlantic)

How would Shakespeare, Gertrude Stein, and The Unabomber fare on the essay portion of the new SAT? The authors want to make the point that “real” writing is nothing like the writing that the SAT encourages. Fair enough — but if you think the SAT is designed to test who is a great Elizabethan dramatist, then you are already confused.

In defense of the SAT (I can hardly believe I just wrote that), only Shakespeare’s example could be considered self-contained, but it is not a timed academic essay, so naturally it fails when you apply the wrong rubric to it. All the others appear to be excerpts from longer works. Kaczynski’s piece began as a student paper; lacking formal training and peer-review, he continued to write at the student level, so it is little surprise that his excerpt fares well.