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SAT Essay Losing Steam Among Admissions Officers

University admissions officers are ho-hum about the essay question. According to a survey of 300 colleges and universities, only a handful of them will expect applicants to submit their score from the new SAT's essay section.

When the College Board introduced a major update to the SAT college entrance exam, it changed up the approach to the essay question and made it optional.

With the unveiling of the new exam in March 2016, said Michael Boothroyd, executive director of college admissions programs at Kaplan Test Prep, the essay task will ask students to read a passage between 650 and 750 words and prepare a "facts-based essay" that examines how the author built his or her argument. The essay will be scored separately. The current version of the test "simply asks students to develop a persuasive essay about an issue," he noted in a statement. The essay score currently is combined with the multiple-choice writing section.

Kaplan questioned college admissions officers to understand how they would approach the introduction of the new generation of SAT and found that many of the top tier institutions would no longer require the essay submission. Those include, according to reporting by Bloomberg Business, Columbia University, Cornell and the University of Pennsylvania. Among the ones that will continue requiring the optional essay section are Harvard University, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth College.

According to the survey, two-thirds of schools will remain neutral, neither requiring nor recommending it. Nineteen percent will recommend but not require it. Another 13 percent will require it; and 2 percent will only require it for specific programs.

When U Penn announced in July that it would no longer require the essay portion of the SAT or ACT, Yvonne Romero Da Silva, Penn's director of admissions, said the decision was based on careful consideration. "Our internal analysis as well as a review of the extensive research provided by the College Board showed that the essay component of the SAT was the least predictive element of the overall writing section of the SAT. Given the impending redesign of the SAT and PSAT/NMSQT, which will make the essay portion of the assessment optional, we could no longer support requiring the essay portion of either exam given its weaker predictive power."

Of course, Boothroyd pointed out, "One thing to consider is that an optional but more challenging section provides an opportunity for students who are good writers and analysts to distinguish themselves. Schools appreciate applicants who challenge themselves, so earning a high score on an optional section can factor favorably on an application."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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