SAT/ACT essay is still valid

When Yale University recently announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit an essay score, it joined other elite schools in what has become a disturbing trend (“Another big-name university drops SAT/ACT essay requirement,” The Washington Post, Jun. 1). Although admissions officers say that writing is an indispensable skill, their words ring hollow in light of their new policies.

The only possible rationale for their decision is that timed writing does not permit applicants to demonstrate their true ability.  When I was working on my M.S. in journalism at UCLA, professors told us that the ability to write under pressure was only one indication of competence.  Most reflective writing requires thought that cannot easily be expressed when time is of the essence.

Short of that caveat, I maintain that colleges and universities are hypocritical.  If they genuinely believe that the ability to put one’s thoughts on paper is so important, then they have to demand evidence.  In short, they need to assess that wherewithal. Multiple-choice items are no substitute. Both the SAT and ACT would be receptive since it means additional income for them.

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3 Replies to “SAT/ACT essay is still valid”

  1. Totally agree. In my opinion, it would make more sense to eliminate the multiple-choice and use only the essay (not seriously advocating that, but the writing-sample-under-test-conditions is probably the single most reliable indictor of a student’s ability to do college-level work). Arguably, engineering schools could drop the writing sample or give it relatively little weight compared to the applicant’s math test scores and math grades, but for liberal arts or science-oriented schools, the ability to write is necessary for academic success in college.

    Presumably, college admissions offices will argue that the essays students submit with their applications enable the admissions offices to assess the applicants’ writing ability. However, the obvious flaw in this argument is that there is little/no assurance that those essays were written solely by the applicant. To the contrary, common sense suggests that any rational applicant would, at a minimum, ask someone else to proof his/her essays before mailing off the application. More likely, most applicants — particularly higher-SES applicants — receive substantial assistance from parents, tutors and teachers in writing those admissions essays. When I have personally raised this concern with admissions officials at UVA and at Cornell, the officials assured me that the admissions officials could distinguish between application essays written solely by the applicant and application essays in which the applicant had received outside assistance. This assertion by the admissions officials is simply contrary to real life experience and is not credible.

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  2. I realize that writing under pressure is not always fair, but it does allow students to demonstrate their thinking. Submitted essays by applicants are often ghostwritten. As a result, admissions officers can be easily misled.

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