Conclusions and Key Points: The Impact of the SAT and ACT Timed Writing Tests


The kind of writing valued by the SAT reflects a set of assumptions about writing?and about ?good? writing?that we find problematic and which diverge from what the best current scholarship tells us about the nature of writing.

  • Although it is possible that the new SAT will promote more writing instruction, preparation for the test is likely to take precious time away from high quality writing instruction.
  • The kind of writing required for success on the timed essay component of the SAT is likely to encourage writing instruction that emphasizes formulaic writing with specific but limited textual features.
  • Research suggests that writing instruction focused on following patterns, writing one draft, and adhering to specific criteria for the text?just the kind of instruction likely to be used to prepare students for the new SAT?prepares students poorly for college-level writing tasks and for workplace writing tasks. —Conclusions and Key Points: ?The Impact of the SAT and ACT Timed Writing Tests? (National Council of Teachers of English)

Inside Higher Ed has a good piece on this.

Since SHU uses a timed essay (written during freshman orientation) to place students in developmental courses, the faculty voted to drop our own testing procedure (which was conducted hurriedly, by faculty volunteers) for the more formal, controlled test.

I do sympathize with the plight of high school graduates who don’t go on to college, but whose English teachers might now spend a lot of time teaching the formula for a college-entry essay.

While composition is not my specialty, I have taught a comp course every year since leaving grad school (in 1998). If more students come into my class knowing the basics of how to plan and execute this kind of timed essay, then my task as a comp instructor will probably be easier than it is right now.

But I’m already struggling with gen-ed students who are producing formulaic writing in my lit classes (either too much plot summary, character analysis, or a stand-alone research paper on an issue such as racism or women’s rights, with occasional references to how a particular character has an experience that validates — but does not prove — the student’s non-literary thesis).