The Essay
Turning the Tables
Play SAT Essay-Reader
We’ve said this before, but it’s worth repeating: by learning how to grade SAT essays, you will train yourself to write an essay that matches the essay-readers’ expectations.
Read the following essay prompt:

Think carefully about the following incomplete statement. Then read the assignment below it and plan and write your essay as directed.

“I have learned many things from many experiences, but I have never learned as much as when I ___.”

Assignment: Plan and write an essay in which you complete the statement above by selecting an event or experience from your life.

We will provide you with six responses to this prompt.
We will provide both the “distilled” and complete scoring rubrics below. Use these to score each response holistically. If you like, you may reread the sections How Is the Essay Scored and How Essay-Readers Apply the Scoring Rubric (pp. 20–28). When you’re ready to score, skip to page 88 for the responses.
After you’ve scored the responses, you’ll get a chance to compare your scores with ours and to read our scoring rationales.
First, here’s the “distilled” version of the scoring rubric:
Score 6 5 4
Features General overall impression
Point of view; critical thinking; examples, reasons, and evidence
Organization, focus, coherence, and flow
Vocabulary and use of language
Sentence structure
Errors in grammar and usage
Score 3 2 1
Features General overall impression
Point of view; critical thinking; examples, reasons, and evidence
Organization, focus, coherence, and flow
Vocabulary and use of language
Sentence structure
Errors in grammar and usage
Remember, first the essay-readers focus on holistic grading—their overall impression—and decide if an essay is in the top (4, 5, 6) or bottom (1, 2, 3) of the rubric. Then they decide what the score is within each half. Here is the complete scoring rubric to guide your decision:
General Overall Impression
Score Level Defining Characteristics
6 An exceptional essay that shows sustained expertise, but which contains a few minor errors
5 A successful essay that shows mostly sustained expertise, even though it contains occasional mistakes or slips in quality
4 An adequate essay that shows competence, but which contains more than occasional mistakes or slips in quality
3 An insufficient essay that shows signs of evolving competence and features one or more specific flaws
2 A weak essay that shows serious limitations, insufficient facility, and which features one or more specific flaws
1 An essentially deficient essay that displays fundamental inability and features severe manifestations of one or more specific flaws
0 No essay written
Essay that doesn’t respond to the assignment
An illegible essay
Point of View; Critical Thinking; Examples, Reasons, and Evidence
Score Level Defining Characteristics
6 Impressively insightful point of view
Outstanding critical thinking
Completely appropriate reasons, examples, and evidence to support point of view
5 Well-developed point of view
Strong critical thinking
Generally appropriate reasons, examples, and evidence to support point of view
4 Fairly well developed point of view
Adequate critical thinking
Mostly appropriate reasons, examples, and evidence to support point of view
3 Develops a point of view
Some evidence of critical thinking, but inconsistently apparent
Sometimes inappropriate reasons, examples, and evidence to support point of view
2 Develops a vague point of view
Little evidence of critical thinking
Insufficient or inappropriate reasons, examples, and evidence to support point of view
1 Does not develop a point of view
No evidence of critical thinking
Little or no evidence to support point of view
Organization, Focus, Coherence, and Flow
Score Level Defining Characteristics
6 Well organized
Tightly focused
Tight coherence
Smooth flow of ideas
5 Well organized
Coheres reasonably well
Mostly smooth flow of ideas
4 Generally organized
Generally focused
Shows some coherence
Discernable but not particularly smooth flow of ideas
3 Partially organized
Partially unfocused
Some incoherent portions
Interrupted or disrupted flow of ideas
2 Poorly organized
Mostly unfocused
Systemic problems with incoherence
Flow of ideas difficult to discern
1 Disorganized
Flow of ideas impossible to discern or entirely absent
Vocabulary and Use of Language
Score Level Defining Characteristics
6 Skilled use of language
Varied, accurate, and appropriate vocabulary
5 Capable use of language
Appropriate vocabulary
4 Satisfactory but inconsistent use of language
Generally appropriate vocabulary
3 Inconsistent use of language that shows signs of evolving competence
Some inappropriate word choice; weak vocabulary
2 Insufficient use of language
Very limited vocabulary or incorrect word choice
1 Basic vocabulary errors
Sentence Structure
Score Level Defining Characteristics
6 Displays meaningful variety
5 Displays variety
4 Displays some variety
3 Does not display variety
Displays problems
2 Displays frequent problems
1 Displays serious and widespread problems
Errors in Grammar and Usage
Score Level Defining Characteristics
6 Free of most errors
5 On the whole, free of most errors
4 Has some errors
3 Has a lot of errors
2 Has so many errors that meaning is partially hidden
1 Persistent and widespread errors that obscure meaning
Finally, the responses, in no particular score order.

Essay A

I learned a lot about life during my summer as a camp counselor. I had been going to the camp as a camper since I was eight, but this time I was going to be a counselor. I had to lead activities and make sure the campers took care of themselves in the morning and at night. I also had to make sure they behaved themselves in the dinner hall.

      One time a lot of the campers were misbahaving and not doing they’re morning chores. The head counselor came in and discovered the chaos in the cabin. He singled out one camper who had done everything he should of and told the other campers that they should be more like Michael. When the head counselor left, all the other campers started making fun of Michael and called him a teacher’s pet. Michael got very upset and told me he wanted to leave camp and go back home. I learned that being singled out sometimes makes you feel bad even if it is for something good. I told Michael that he should ignore what the other kids saying and stay at camp because things would get better. And they did!

      That summer I learned that singling someone out for something good can make them unpopular. I also learned that situations can improve if you just stick with it.

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Essay B

The question of what is the experience you have learned the most from seems like an important question to me. After all, learning is very important and is the reason I am here right now. What is college about if not to learn. In order to get a job you first have to learn about the world and aquire knowledge so thats why you have to go to school for four years first. Of course, you can learn in other places as well. In fact almost anything could be considered a learning experience if you aproach it in the right way.

                                                                                    Your Score:

Essay C

I have never learned as much as when I try something new for the first time. When you do something you already know how to do, you are really just repeating the knowledge you already have. It is only when you do something you have never done before that you actually learn. The first day of school, the first day of a job, your first time going rock-climbing—these are all learning experiences. You learn new skills, discover more about yourself, meet new people etc. Usually you aren’t very good the first you try something but practice makes perfect as they say. I always try to do something new when I have the chance. Learning new things helps you develop as a person, and always gives you a sense of fulfilment. Usually it is hard to do something new and you can easily become discouraged. What you have to think about is that next time everything will be easier. Learning is what life is really all about. At the end, you can judge how well you lived by how much you learned. If you have learned alot that means you have had a successful life and should be satisfied with what you have done.

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Essay D

You wouldn’t think you could learn much from a karate class apart from how to defend yourself, but I certainly did. Karate gave me so much respect for myself. I truly believe I would have turned out a very different person if I had not started taking karate lessons at the age of twelve.

      From the very first class, my teacher taught me the importance of wearing a clean, properly arranged uniform. I had to learn how to tie my belt in the traditional way and also how to keep it in place while doing all the exercises. If the belt comes undone, you are supposed to turn around to face the back of the class while you retie it. If you look presentable, other people will respect you, but in order to look presentable you first have to respect yourself.

      If you do poorly in an exercise, you can’t just feel sorry for yourself or cry like a baby. You have to put on a bold face and concentrate on doing well the next time. Nobody is going to help you if you don’t help yourself, so it is very important to do your best all the time. One time the kid next to me got punched in the nose. Screaming in pain, with blood running down his chin, I couldn’t believe how much pain he was in just because he didn’t pay attention when he should of. This taught me how important it is to concentrate and not let yourself get distracted.

      All in all, taking karate lessons taught me about alot more than just how to defend myself. It taught me how to take care of my uniform and make myself presentable. It taught me that not paying attention can get you into much worse trouble than just being told off by the teacher. I learned so much in karate that I’m glad me parents signed me up for it, even though I wasn’t crazy about getting started at the time.

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Essay E

The most meaningful learning experience of my life occurred when I helped my friend Keiko draft her first essay in English. I expected to learn a lot about Japanese culture while helping Keiko write about moving from Japan to America. What I did not expect, however, was how much I would learn about my own culture. Additionally, I was surprised by what I learned about being teacher and the experience of working in unfamiliar surroundings.

      Keiko grew up in Tokyo, a city I had always assumed was similar to New York, my hometown and Keiko’s home for three months. Keiko wrote about how, in Tokyo, even though it is considered a faux pas if you bump into another person on the street, people don’t mind being jostled on the crowded subway system. I realized that New Yorkers tend to follow the same behavior and expect the same sort of response from others in similar situations. What makes New York special is the attitude people display and expect others to display whatever the situation. Whether you are walking through a quiet part of Central Park or struggling through a crowd on Wall Street, people think nothing of it if you bump into them, provided that you say “Excuse Me.”

      Teaching Keiko how to write in English showed me how much one can lean about a subject just through the act of teaching. Helping Keiko understand the principles of English forced me to examine many grammatical rules I had never really understood before. For example, I never fully understood how to use a semicolon before researching the subject with Keiko. I truly believe that I learned as much about English as Keiko did from our lessons.

      I also learned that, in the process of completing the assignment, Keiko faced challenges beyond those posed by learning the rules of English. If Keiko wanted to listen to the radio, she couldn’t tune in to her favorite Tokyo music station. If she got hungry, she couldn’t ask her mother to make her favorite Japanese snack. Even doing research for her essay was a challenge—Japanese libraries are set up differently from American ones, and Keiko had to familiarize herself with a new system before she could find what she needed.

      All things considered, becoming a teacher to a friend in need was the most educational experience of my life. Having faced some of the challenges they confront everyday, I have a newfound respect for teachers and I hope to continue teaching throughout my life.

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Essay F

I have learned form many experiences, but never as much as when I read Moby-Dick. In this story, Captain Ahab learns that you can’t take revenge on an animal. Captain Ahab wants to take revenge on Moby Dick for biting off his leg, but even if he kills Moby Dick he wont have revenge. Moby Dick doesn’t know who Captain Ahab is so he wont know he is getting revenge if he kills him. Lots of the other characters in the book are interesting. Captain Ahabs crew is made up of lots of different types of people, and them getting to know each other is something that makes the book interesting. All things considered, I have never learnt as much as I did when I read Moby-Dick. English class is worthwhile when you get to read such interesting stuff. Not everything is interesting, but Moby-Dick certainly was.

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