Are you wondering about the backstory of the SAT essay? Why did it disappear, and where did it come from in the first place? We’ll cover these topics in this blog post.
History of the SAT Essay
While some people might extrapolate that standardized testing as a whole is going away because the SAT Essays are being discontinued, this isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, the SAT has been around for a really long time, and most of that time, there was no essay portion at all. Back in 2005 the University of California system, which had been at odds with the College Board for a while, complained that the SAT didn’t include a writing portion. Professors reported that students who scored perfectly on the SAT were poor writers. As a result, the College Board discontinued the SAT Subject Test in Writing (a separate exam at the time) and instead added a twenty-five minute essay to the regular SAT.
Soon after, MIT professor Les Perelman, an outspoken critic of this variant of the SAT essay, published findings that showed strong correlations between the length of essays and their resulting scores. He further criticized that when essay graders were paid bonuses for reading more essays per hour, they are incentivized to read faster, leading to inaccurately graded essays. Hence, essays with easily identifiable markers, such as those that used large words, would consistently score better.
When the College Board revised the essay portion in 2016, they replaced the mandatory twenty-five minute essay with an optional fifty-five minute essay. At the beginning, many top schools used this essay as a metric for admission. However, over the course of the last few years, many top colleges stopped requiring the essay. In 2005, there were 429 out of ~1600 four year colleges that required the essay. By 2018, that number dropped to five (out of thousands of schools). Evidently, the optional essay has declined in popularity even before COVID-19 got in the mix.
Why was the SAT Essay Dropped?
On the one hand, the essay continues to suffer from issues Les Perelman raised in which graders often scored essays inaccurately. Moreover, we think that this was a decision driven by supply and demand. When there are a lot of students who are told the essay is optional, the combination of COVID-19 as well as testing rooms full of people likely led many to opt away from the essay. Additionally, the College Board initially introduced the essay to appease the University of California system, and with the UC’s recent announcement that they were going test blind, it makes sense that the College Board would discontinue the essay.
The Advanced Placement Program
Furthermore, we think the College Board is transitioning toward the AP program due to criticism that their testing integrates poorly with the high school experience. Many people praise Britain’s A Level system where the standardized test covers the cumulative content from all classes. Perhaps this is the direction the College Board wants to head from a public relations and mission perspective. If their tests become standardized around students’ courses and learning, then their exam results may become a more complete representation of a student’s capabilities.
What are your thoughts? Let us know below the YouTube video!