Daily Archives: May 6, 2008

Writing to the Test

Writing to the Test

Kenneth Burchfiel

[Written for the May 23, 2008 issue of the McLean Highlander, a high school paper]

Forgive me, please, if this editorial is not one of my better ones. You see, in the spirit of AP tests and the SAT, I have decided to follow the trend and establish a 30-minute time limit on this story. I started it at 11:50, and must finish by 12:20 at the very latest.

Why do such a thing? Why not? Having been inspired by a number of College Board-sanctioned high school tests, both of which adequately prepare youngsters for their years in the real world, it only seemed fair and reasonable to impose a time restriction on my story. After all, if we’re allowed less than a half hour to outline and explain our views in the SAT, why should I get any special privileges? It’s only right that I prepare myself for a world where my CEO expects my sales proposal complete in 40 minutes—timed, of course, lest I go a second over the limit.

Don’t worry too much about me, though. Like any good student, I did the necessary outlining beforehand: three points, supporting evidence for each, and a tidy conclusion to tie the whole package together. Any SAT tutor would be proud at how formally organized my entire piece is. New, creative structures for a story? Paragraphs that don’t tie into the central point? I’ve had it with those radical means of composition! From now on, expect all of my writing to mirror the expected structure for the AP US History essays. I’m taking the test in four days; may as well get started.

Looks like I’ve already used up 10 minutes. No time to go back and revise, unfortunately; if I did, I might not make it to my final point. (It’s a doozy, too.)

As you may have guessed, my thesis statement is that the AP and SAT essays couldn’t be any better at preparing students for real-world writing. No matter how often we deceive ourselves, we have to accept the simple reality: in today’s fast-paced global society, all essays are written in 40 minutes on notebook paper, complete with the same hamburger model of outlining that you learned in elementary school. Having covered that point, I’d like to move on to my next.

We all have to applaud the AP test makers’ decision to have students handwrite their essays instead of typing them up on the computer. (Forgive me for cheating here.) They had the foresight and the guts to recognize that this whole technology craze is just a fad, and that we’ll be writing in blue and black ink again by the time college rolls around. Keyboards? Who uses those? Trust me on this one, folks: teenagers are the only people who type up their work. Don’t expect businesses to pamper you by providing a monitor and keyboard. It’s just not the way of the future.

At any rate, my hand gets a great workout from 120 non-stop minutes of writing. I know that I’ve done especially well on a test when the tip of my index finger is swollen red from all the pages I’ve written. If it feels like an ATV ran over my arm ligaments, I probably scored a nine.

With only ten minutes left to write, I’ll have to be brief with my third point. The very best thing about AP and SAT essays is how the two are graded. Did you know that 450 out of 500 Fortune 500 companies score their employees’ writing out of nine or 12, too? (I didn’t, either, but that counts as my statistic for this essay. Graders don’t fact-check.) It’s so annoying how English teachers are always telling you to write impactful essays. Impactful? What an archaic term! As long as you put in a thesis, wind a few body paragraphs around it and end with a flowery conclusion, your piece is up there with “The Great Gatsby” and “Gone With The Wind.” As every SAT or AP grader will tell you, it only takes two or three minutes to fully understand and evaluate a piece of writing. Why spend your time aiming higher than a coarsely written draft? Anything more, and you’re wasting the grader’s time—not to mention your own.

It’s now 12:16, giving me a few minutes to seal this editorial—excuse me, essay—up nicely. I would go back and check for errors, but I have a better plan. Taking inspiration from the AP test, I’ve decided to write three of these editorials in a row; my next one will be on the beauty of multiple choice, and my final one will cover the wonders of the grading scale. So, please—score this editorial out of nine or twelve, and move on to the next article. As both the grader and the writer know, time is of the essence.


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