Monday, October 02, 2006

Blogger SAT Challenge

Cognitive Daily recently held a “blogger SAT challenge” to allow bloggers to test their writing-on-the-fly skills.

Here’s the skinny from CD:

Welcome to the Blogger SAT Challenge

Welcome to the home page of the Blogger SAT Challenge. The Challenge ran from September 15 to September 20, 2006, and invited bloggers and blog readers from around the world to test their skill at writing SAT-style essays under test conditions. They were given 20 minutes to answer a sample SAT question, and their entries were collected and sent to volunteer graders for grading based on the
official College Board standards.
The collected entries are posted here, with the "expert" score included with each post (click on the link at the bottom of the essay to see it; each essay was read by two graders, and the scores were averaged and then rounded to the nearest integer). In the spirit of the modern Internet, we have also included a poll so you can grade each essay yourself, and see what the collective wisdom of the Internet has to say about the essay.
Read on for some more explanation, or
jump right into rating random entries.
Why the Challenge?
The Challenge grew out of an
article in the New York Times about the new SAT essay test (see also the College Board press release). The author of the article and many of the commenters on it were fairly dismissive of the quality of the sample essays that had received a perfect score. We decided to see whether bloggers could do better.
The pro-blogger argument holds that people who write short essays on a regular basis for fun would have more practice at writing, and would thus produce better prose. The anti-blogger argument holds that there's a big difference between writing for fun, about a self-chosen topic, with no time limit is a very different thing than writing an essay on an assigned topic with a strict time limit. We designed the Challenge to see who was right.
What was the question?
The question was taken from a
list of practice SAT essay questions. Participating bloggers were given twenty minutes to write a short essay in response to the following:
Directions: Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.
'I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.'
-- Booker T. Washington
Assignment: What is your opinion on the idea that struggle is a more important measure of success than accomplishment? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
What was the result?
We invite you to decide for yourself. You can either
browse through the archived entries or click here to be sent to a random entry. Whichever you choose, you can rate the essays using the polls, and see whether you think that volunteer bloggers are better writers than high-school students taking the SAT.
Happy reading!

Now here’s my crappy-ass attempt:

There is no room for debate in the notion that struggle is a more valid measure of success than accomplishment. The most obvious contemporary example is that of President George W. Bush, who has achieved the highest elective office in the history of the world almost entirely on account of his position of privilege. Bush's careers in the military, business and politics are all marred by abysmal failures of judgment, performance and commitment, yet he has managed - with the help of powerful allies - not only to evade responsibility for those failures, but to parlay this string of embarrassing blunders into unparalleled political power.

One need only compare Bush's career with that of the average soldier in Iraq to come to the inescapable conclusion that struggle is a better gauge of one's character than accomplishment.

The time limit was the biggest obstacle for me. I’m pretty sure I could craft a much better essay than this one if I had a few hours to work on it. Excuses, excuses. I think you can tell where I was headed — I can never pass up a chance to take a poke at the Prez-ee-dent.

According to Cognitive Daily, around 500 entrants made an attempt, but only 109 completed the test, which automatically puts me in the upper fifth. Woo Hoo! But that’s where the good news ends. I scored a TWO out of a possible six. The average score was 2.9. I wonder how many of the 400 or so who bailed out without finishing actually ruminated on the question awhile and then tried again. At any rate, I’ll bet you’re happy they didn’t have this type of question when you were taking the SAT, eh?

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