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Essay Grades
Please Note:
The last administration of the SAT II Writing was on 1/22/05. Beginning 3/12/05, parts of the SAT II Writing test will be included in the New SAT. You should be studying the New SAT book. Go there!
Essay Grades
After you’ve finished your test and handed it in, your multiple-choice answer sheet will be handed off to a scoring machine. Your essay, in contrast, will be graded by people. Two people, to be exact. Both of these people will read your essay and give it a score that ranges from 1 (worst) to 6 (best). The two grades are totaled, giving you a score from 2 to 12. (If the two graders give your essay grades that differ by more than two points, a third reader decides on the final score.) As the chart below indicates, your essay score counts for up to 200 of a possible 800 scaled points on the SAT II Writing.
4 40
6 80
8 120
10 160
12 200
How the Test Is Graded
So now you know the way the essay is scored. It is just as important to know who grades the test and under what conditions. If you know the process by which a test is graded, you can figure out what the graders are looking for.
As we told you, two people will read and grade your essay. Who are these two readers? They are harried high school or college teachers surrounded by thousands and thousands of test booklets. They have to read and grade these test booklets at lightning speed. In fact, these teachers hired by ETS have only three minutes to read each essay that comes into their hands. Three minutes! Simply because of the meager amount of time the teachers have to spend on each essay, you know two things:
  1. These teachers are looking for very basic things: is your essay structured well? Is it well supported? Do the examples you use make sense? Generally, are your sentences grammatically correct?
  2. You have only a brief chance to make a good impression.
You can make the best overall impression by paying attention to both the big picture and the little picture. In terms of the big picture, it’s crucial to make your reader feel he’s in good hands by laying out a road map of the paper in your first paragraph and then by making each point very clearly as your paper develops. In terms of the little picture, it’s important to write in clear, muscular, straightforward prose. Your readers will have neither the time nor the inclination to unravel an essay that makes its points subtly or wanders arbitrarily from paragraph to paragraph. Don’t make complex arguments that might slow down the reader. Test scorers want to fly through your essay—do whatever you can to help them along.
Holistic Grading, or the Big Picture
Creating a good overall impression will serve you particularly well because the reader is instructed to grade your essay holistically. Holistic grading means that the graders treat your essay as a whole. They don’t go through the essay ticking off points for each misspelled word, each grammatical mistake, and each awkward phrase. Holistic grading means, quite simply, that the graders give your essay a grade based on their general impression of the essay. That’s why they look at the big things: structure, organization, topic sentences, and prose clarity.
To make a decision about the quality of your essay, the grader looks for general patterns. If you misspell a word or two, but in general write with clear, concise, correctly-spelled prose, the grader will likely overlook your few mistakes. If you misplace a comma or spell a word wrong, it’s not the end of the world. So relax.
Remember, the readers aren’t looking for perfection. They don’t expect perfection from an essay written in a 20-minute period. But they are looking for indications that if you were given more than 20 minutes, you would be able to write an excellent essay.
The Good News about Grading
What kind of essays get 6’s? Whichever essays are the best ones that year. In other words, the readers are not comparing your essay to the writing of college students, graduate students, or professional writers and thinking, “This essay is not ready for publication in an academic journal, so it gets a 2.” You’ll be compared to your peers. The reader thinks something like, “This essay is good compared to the other essays I’ve been reading. I’ll give it a 5.” You can relax a little, knowing that the goal is to sound really smart and literate compared to your peers, not compared to some essay-writing god. And if you practice and follow the guidelines explained in this chapter, you will sound smarter and more literate than the other students in the room on test-taking day, many of whom will have done no preparation whatsoever.
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