Posted by Brian at 1:24 AM
Maybe I'll pass this tidbit along to my daughter
After all, she's taking the SAT in the not too distant future, and she wants to go to a school I can't afford.
Perelman studied every graded sample SAT essay that the College Board made public. He looked at the 15 samples in the ScoreWrite book that the College Board distributed to schools nationwide to prepare students for the essay. He reviewed the 23 graded essays on the College Board website meant as a guide for students and the 16 writing "anchor" samples the College Board used to train graders to properly mark essays.
He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," he said. The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade.
He was also struck by all the factual errors in even the top essays. An essay on the Civil War, given a perfect six, describes the nation being changed forever by the "firing of two shots at Fort Sumter in late 1862." (Actually, it was in early 1861, and, according to "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James M. McPherson, it was "33 hours of bombardment by 4,000 shot and shells.")
Perelman contacted the College Board and was surprised to learn that on the new SAT essay, students are not penalized for incorrect facts. The official guide for scorers explains: "Writers may make errors in facts or information that do not affect the quality of their essays. For example, a writer may state "The American Revolution began in 1842" or " 'Anna Karenina,' a play by the French author Joseph Conrad, was a very upbeat literary work." (Actually, that's 1775; a novel by the Russian Leo Tolstoy, and poor Anna hurls herself under a train.) No matter. "You are scoring the writing, and not the correctness of facts."
How to prepare for such an essay? "I would advise writing as long as possible," Perelman said, "and include lots of facts, even if they're made up." This, of course, is not what he teaches his MIT students.
I hate to break it to all you kids who are going to use this strategy--it'll work in the SAT, but it won't work in Comp 1 when you get to college, especially not if you get Amy or me as your teacher. Fair warning.
Hat tip to PZ