Today my daughter went to an SAT Essay Writing Course. The teacher is an actual grader of the SAT Writing Component. I was astonished at the things she told me - about how this test is graded, what they are looking for, what they do and do not count off points for.
I didn't stay for the whole teaching because I needed to get home to my younger kids, but when I go back to pick up my daughter's graded essays, I'll ask for more information.
Here are a few things of import:
1. Each test is graded by two (2) graders. They have two and a half minutes to grade the essay. The graders begin with six points and start counting off points as they read. They then assign the grade based on the points remaining (between 1 - 6) and the essay goes to the next grader, who also has the same amount of time to grade it. The two scores are then combined to get the total score (scores range between 2 - 12). If you get a 2, both graders gave you a 1. If you get a 3, one grader gave you a 1 and one gave you a 2, and so on. They rarely give sixes.
2. They are looking for a good persuasive paper that clearly proves the essay's thesis with lots of great examples from history, personal experience or literature. Transitions, flow and examples are really important. Students have 25 minutes for the essay and they must fill up the two pages, or they won't score well.
3. If there are blatant grammar errors throughout the essay, there is only one point removed. If there are blatant spelling errors throughout the essay, there is only one point removed, and so on. There are seven items the grader is looking for. I will ask her what they are when I go pick up my daughter's essay.
3. They do not count off points for wrong facts. For example, if you say that the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor or George Washington was the fifth president of the U.S, they won't take off points as long as the example or point was effective and persuasive.
4. They have to take a vow not to take off points for an essay that goes against their beliefs. This lady is a Christian and said she is astonished at how many students write essays promoting relativism, anti-God or atheistic beliefs. But they are not allowed to take any points off for that. The checks and balances come in because they have two graders. If the two scores are not adjacent (1,2) (2,3), then the test must be regraded. For example, if one grader gave a 5 and the other gave a 3, it would have to be regraded because they should have scored almost exactly the same score based on the point system. The college board even throws in previously graded essays throughout the week to see if they will grade it as it was supposed to be. If the grader doesn't score the "test essay" exactly right, they are fired as a grader.
The grader reads thousands and thousands of papers in a ten day period. She said that great papers were those where the student used very detailed and drawn out examples, especially from their own experiences. For example, one student of hers didn't read, never read, never watched the news, didn't play any sports, wasn't involved in anything but playing Nintendo. He didn't have any other interests outside Nintendo. His first time taking the essay, he scored a 2. She got him two days before his second SAT sitting. She encouraged him to use examples from his interest - Nintendo. He used Nintendo and all the characters etc, and his experience with video games as all of his examples. He scored a 10 (a phenomenal score - remember, they rarely give sixes) because it was so persuasive using examples from which he had real experiences.
She said most of the essay question centered around themes of honesty, integrity, truth, relativism, perseverence, justice and things like that.
Here's a Tip:
Have your child think of at least three examples on every topic similar to this and have those examples already in their mind before they go in for the test. They should have examples from history, literature, and personal experience or current events. The more detailed the example, the better.
I hope to report more after I talk with her.