Thursday, March 24, 2011

College Bound Students and Three Little Letters


Three letters have always loomed over the heads of college bound students: SAT.  The acronym originally stood for ‘Scholastic Aptitude Test,’ but in the 1990’s the term ‘aptitude’ was changed to ‘assessment’ to give a more accurate sense of what the goal of the test represented.  The test is designed to reflect a student’s proficiency and readiness to engage in college-level work.  The sense of fear and anxiety continues to paralyze more than a few test-takers each year including, for many students, the dreaded persuasive essay.
Last week, some SAT test-takers who turned the page to see the assigned essay topic were stumped.  That will always be the case.  This time, however, it was who was stumped and why.  Some versions of the tests that were administered included an essay prompt asking students to write about the authenticity and benefits of reality television programs.  The problem for many students was that they had never invested any of their personal time watching this form of television programming. 
After the test, students, who live in the era of constant communication, took to the discussion boards of college test preparation websites to complain or express relief about the essay topic.  For the students who didn’t watch programs about twenty-something beach housemates, people trying to shed unwanted weight, or wealthy sisters contributing to the economy of a metropolitan city with endless shopping trips, the assignment was frustrating.   
The executive director of the SAT program and the vice president of communications for the College Board defended the use of the essay topic and stated that the topic was chosen for relevance in an effort to offer students a chance to write about what seemed to be of interest to test-takers and their peers.  The argument was also backed up by the claim that “everything” that was needed to write the essay was in the explanatory statement of what reality television shows are and how the public is misled about what is presented as ‘real.’   
Could you write a credible essay about reality television if you had never seen a reality program?  Or on any topic for that matter?  For some of the test-takers ‘the situation’ was not the nickname of some reality television star, but the fact that when addressing the essay part of the college entrance examinations, some of these students found themselves wishing that they had "read less and watched more television" according to some of the discussions on the college message boards.   

Be well, 
Alice

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