The essay section of the SAT and ACT is widely known amongst high schools as the optional section of both tests. Until recently, those who took these tests did not get the choice between taking the essay or not and it was one more thing to worry about. It's a section that you would think makes sense for the schools. Students need to prove that their ability to write is up to the standard of their college of interest. So why is it now optional?
CollegeBoard and Universities around the country acknowledge that one timed essay on a random topic proves little of the student's writing ability. Schools all over the country have dumped their own requirements for receiving essay scores. As reported by the Washington Post, Harvard is the most prestigious school to recently announce their dismissal of their essay requirement. Only 28 schools now require the essay.
Now that the test providers have made the essay optional it requires an additional cost in order to take. It's also an inconvenience for the student, because in order to do the essay the student must take the entire assessment. Therefore, it requires an entire Saturday commitment by the student when they may need to travel a long distance to get to the test center. But there must be a reason students would still do the essay, right?
Should students opt for the ‘Essay’ component of the SAT or ACT?
To answer the question above, we do need to touch upon the necessity for standardized tests as a whole. It is broadly understood that in addition to school grades and extracurricular achievement certifications, there is a need for standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT to help admissions authorities to:
- Select the right students from an ever-growing pool of applicants. (1,090,621 members of the Class of 2017 took the SAT)
- Match student’s ‘college readiness’ in Reading, Writing , and Mathematics, to the requirements of the colleges.
- Select the students who would be able to match the abilities of other students in that college or class or discipline.
- Eliminate students who would not be able to keep up with the required rigor of the college.
So, it can be concluded that the system of standardized tests allows colleges to match the students to colleges requirements, and to eliminate those who may not fit into the academic standards required by those colleges.
Now, let us focus on the recent debate on the ‘Essay’ component of the SAT and ACT. Only about 28 colleges require the Essay along with SAT or ACT scores. Interestingly, as previously stated, Harvard recently dropped off from the ‘Essay required’ list.
The Essay component was redesigned in 2016 by College Board in response to a survey where teachers said that the biggest issue they face in freshman classes in college was students lacking in writing skills. Thus, the Essay component of the SAT or ACT is used by colleges to determine the level of skill that a student has in reading a mature text and writing a cogent response in a test environment where the response has to be impromptu, organized, well developed, linguistic and logically sophisticated. Such a response is another tool for admissions authorities to determine if a student stands out in a crowded arena of top scores.
Colleges usually require an essay in their application. So why should a student take the essay section of the SAT/ACT?
The answer to this question lies in the fact that the essays submitted in the application process cannot determine distinction amongst students’ abilities in writing because those responses are not written in a standardized and constrained test environment. Application essays are written, re-written, edited, proofread, and on some occasions aided. Only essays written during the test can be certified to be student responses.
Should I take the SAT/ACT Essay?
All said, to take or not take the Essay on the SAT or ACT is a decision that a student has to take on a personal college requirement basis. Sometimes students are not even sure about the colleges that are going to be on their applications list. Broadly, a student should opt for the Essay component if even one of the colleges on his/her list requires the essay. It is important to note that a student must take the essay component along with the full test, and not separately.
How to Prepare For The Essay?
At TestRocker, we train all students to write perfect essays. We believe that the Essay Writing skill is an important skill to hone. It takes years of practice to be able to develop essay writing skills in response to given texts or arguments. Reading and Writing skills are important through college, careers and life. So why not learn, practice and develop such skills? After all, the SAT and ACT are not the end all and be all of life.
Here's an example a TestRocker grammar video.