The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

SAT gains controversial writing section

As high school seniors learn if they've been accepted to their dream schools, the test they took to gain admission is being prepared for big changes.

Starting next school year, the SAT will contain a writing section, comprised of a new multiple-choice grammar section and an essay section. In the essay section, students will be given 25 minutes to write on a topic given by the College Board, the non-profit organization that sponsors the test.

The top score for the test will be 2400, instead of the previous 1600, and the cost of the test will rise from $29.50 to $41.50.

Admissions officials like the idea of adding a writing section.

Before the writing test was added to the SAT, Marquette didn't require a writing test or writing samples, said Roby Blust, dean of undergraduate admissions.

"It's another piece when we're making admissions decisions," Blust said. He said the test would give a better idea of a student's writing ability than their entrance essay, for which students have more time to fix errors and have others read over their work.

But others are concerned that the test isn't accurate.

"It's a distorted snapshot," said Bob Schaeffer, the public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. "It's not the work students do in writing or in life."

He said he believed students may memorize an essay structure, adapt it to the test question and then write along that form during the test.

Memorizing a form isn't the idea of the essay, according to Bernard Phelan, a member of the SAT Writing Committee and an English teacher at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Ill.

"We want good thinking on these essays," Phelan said. "A student can come at (the essay) in a variety of ways."

Schaeffer agreed with Blust that admissions essays were not helpful in determining a student's writing ability, but he suggested colleges would find a sample of school assignments more useful than the SAT writing section.

To ensure accuracy and consistency in grades, each test will be scored by two readers. If their scores differ greatly, a third reader will score the essay. This, combined with the score on the grammar section, will then be converted onto the 800-point scale for the final score on the section, according to the College Board Web site.

Universities can request to see the essays and determine writing ability for themselves, according to Blust. He said Marquette had not decided whether they would ask for copies of the essays.

High schools are preparing their students for the new tests. Those at Bay View High School, 2751 S. Lenox St., who take the SAT don't mind the extra test section, according to Daniel Sulik, a guidance counselor at the school.

Phelan agreed.

"The students are concerned just that they know what's on the test," Phelan said.

The ACT, the other test most college-bound students take, is also adding a writing section, but it will be an optional add-on after the main test. Marquette will require the writing test for the ACT, Blust said. The University of Wisconsin-Madison is the only other school in Wisconsin to require this writing test.

This article appeared in The Marquette Tribune on Jan. 20 2005.

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