Tuesday, February 28, 2006

More Thoughts on Essay Writing

Last year, I wrote extensively about the mechanics of the essay, the purpose, pacing, and the scoring of the essay portion of the exam, which are still useful, but don't necessarily require restating.

This year, however, on the eve of the 2006 virtual essay prep session, I wanted to highlight a few thoughts and concepts that I found to be useful last year. In 2005, the SAT was altered to include an essay section. Although the SAT is neither administered nor scored by ACT, there are many similarities between it and the essay section of the FSWE. On March 11, 2005, NPR's Morning Edition interviewed two individuals, one of whom helps score the essays, and a second who was instrumental in developing the scoring rubic.

The first interview, with Bernard Phelan (scorer), discusses the importance of using narrative and self-experience to build and strengthen the essay. He notes that [people] "are always writing, but not always thinking." Deserving special consideration is the admonition to avoid throat clearing, where you "don't know what you're going to write about, but you'll put words down until you know."

The second discussion, with Noreen Duncan (who helped develop the SAT scoring rubric), shares three primary considerations to bear in mind when writing (or scoring) an essay: 1) clarity of thought, 2) facility in the language, and 3) demonstration of critical thinking. She explains how they have set grading standards to achieve consensus and avoid subjectivism on the part of the scorers. Toward the end of the interview, she discusses the tendency to add in a few so-called Hundred Dollar Words: "just throwing words in doesn't make your writing any better; you're trying to get a point across to the reader....it doesn't make us judge it any differently. We're looking for your development of an idea, from beginning to end, smoothly and clearly, with as few errors as possible."

Good luck in your preparations!