Sunday, September 03, 2006

Forget Inspiration and Perspiration

Genius is no longer 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. At least when measured by the SAT, genius is 75 percent grammar (and 25 percent No. 2 pencil, we suppose).

From The New York Times:

Perfect’s New Profile, Warts and All


WHEN it comes to the SAT, perfect is now a whole lot harder. But take heart if you favor cursive over printing, the third person over the first, and more over less. You may have an edge.

More than 1,000 students got a perfect 1600 last year, when the college-admissions test consisted of the time-honored two 800-point sections, verbal and math.
But now that the test has been revamped and expanded to nearly four hours, with a new writing section that includes an essay, the average scores have dropped by seven points — and only 238 students received the new perfect score of 2400.
Technically, even perfect isn’t necessarily perfect. Students can get the top score even if they miss a few questions.

“We actually don’t know how many got a perfect perfect,” said Caren Scoropanos, a spokeswoman for the College Board.

What the College Board does know is that the top scorers comprised 131 boys and 107 girls, or just 0.017 percent of the almost 1.5 million college-bound seniors who took the test.

It seems to be the writing test that has made the number of perfects plummet. While the math and reading sections each had more than 8,000 top scores, only 4,102 students were rated perfect on the writing test, the only part of the exam where girls outscored boys.

Most of the writing test — and three-quarters of the writing score — consists of multiple-choice questions on grammar and usage. But most of the anxiety among high school students centers on the 25-minute essay, graded on a scale of one to six by at least two readers, who spend about three minutes on each essay. Their two scores are added. And, the College Board said, the reason so few students won top marks on the writing section is that so few — less than one percent — got sixes from both readers, for that perfect 12.

So what book does SPOGG recommend all high school juniors read? The Elements of Style, by Strunk & White. Not only does it succinctly cover usage basics, its writing advice is sure to boost the scores of any student writer.

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