Sunday, November 7, 2010

Size Matters

... at least when it comes to your score on the SAT essay section.  Didn't know the SAT has an essay section?  You're not alone--my informal survey on this question found one out of two people didn't know the SAT even has an essay section, which is 50% of the sample.  The other 50% couldn't remember what SAT stands for.  Mind you, this survey has a margin of error of + or - (whichever the case may be) 15,000 per cent.

My survey is slightly less scientific (but only slightly) than that performed by a New York high school student and reported by ABC News: Has Teen Unlocked the Secret to a Better SAT Score?  Nebbishy fourteen-year-old Milo Beckman has taken the SAT twice, and found that even though his second essay was factually inaccurate and generally inferior, it earned a higher score.

It was longer:
"My hypothesis is that longer essays on the SAT essay component score higher," he said.
So he asked his fellow students at New York City's Stuyvesant High School to count how many lines they had written on their essays and to provide their scores.
"I thought, 'This ought to be interesting.' I've always wondered about this, too," said David Sugarman, a classmate.
"This was something directly related to the SAT itself and the means by which, you know, we were being graded," another classmate, Yana Azova, said.
Milo says out of 115 samples, longer essays almost always garnered higher scores.
"The probability that such a strong correlation would happen by chance is 10 to the negative 18th. So 00000 …18 zeros and then (an) 18. Which is zero," he said.

Me?  I kinda wonder what are the chances that it's really an 18 after those 18 zeroes?

Another thing I wonder is, why has a 14-year-old already taken the SAT twice?  I only took it once, as a high school senior, and that was under duress.  Back then, the top score was something like 23.  Today, you can get 14 million on your SAT.  And you still might not get into Harverd. 

The ABC News story follows up Milo's research with some MIT professor's insane blathering about how to do well on this (largely imaginary, according to my research) essay section, including such advice as memorize some big words and sprinkle them randomly throughout your writing, and conclude your paper with a quote by a famous person, even if it is totally unrelated to your topic, and even if you don't really remember it well enough to get it right.  I hasten to add that I am NOT making this part up.  

Which explains why I didn't get into MIT.  As the poet Sherman Helmsley said, "I am the Captain of my Fate, I am the something something here in Seoul."


Chris in South Korea said...

MIT, Shlem-IT. Who needs an Ivy League degree these days? If they had the same sort of the almost guaranteed life of a SKY-school graduate, there might be an even greater competition to get in.

Seriously, though, those essay readers get, what, two minutes(?) to read each one, assign it a number, and move on to the next one. For eight hours a day. By the 238th one, it's all you can do to look for big words and length - you don't have time to find the logic and facts of an essay.

Adeel said...

Standardized tests are weird. They're as awkward and unpredictable as preseason football games. I scored in the 98th percentile (there is no 99th percentile) in the GRE on verbal ability, 86th percentile on mathematical and, despite the verbal score and being a philosophy major who wrote for the university paper, the 54th percentile on the essay section.

None of this, of course, is news, but it's one more anecdote on the pile.

Student in California said...

I wish I had known about all this when I was taking the SAT. Colleges should eliminate the need for the SAT and only have interviews. If people only get into the school because they are a smooth talker, he or she will flunk out. I believe this system will weed through people more thoroughly than a test.