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Reality Bites: Recent Controversy Surrounding SAT Essay Question

Reality Bites: Recent Controversy Surrounding SAT Essay Question

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Student forums and discussion boards are buzzing with topics surrounding the SAT’s essay question on the merits of “reality television programs.” What's your take? What'd you think?
Student forums and discussion boards are buzzing with topics surrounding the SAT’s essay question on the merits of “reality television programs.” What's your take? What'd you think?

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Published by: Examville Blog on Mar 22, 2011
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Reality Bites: Controversy Surrounding SAT Essay Question
High school students who took last Saturday’s SAT, the standardized college entrance exam, are generally relieved! However, student forums and discussion boards are buzzing with topics surrounding the SAT’s essay question on the merits of “reality television programs.” The SAT essay prompt asked: “Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes? “Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?” While some argue that those who watch Jersey Shore or MTV’s Real World had an upper-hand in drafting their SAT essay portion, others note that the question is framed in such a way that students did not need to watch television or know about specific shows. In a statement released by the College Board, Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of College Connection and Success, responds to the controversy:
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“The central task of the SAT essay is to take one side of an issue and develop an argument to support that position. Questions raised about a recent SAT essay prompt miss this basic point and confuse the literal topic with the task of writing the essay. If presented with a topic about balancing the risk of climbing a mountain with the reward of reaching the summit, for example, a good writer could compose a strong essay without ever having reached the summit of Mount Everest. Using a popular culture reference is not only appropriate, but potentially even more engaging for students. ” Notably, not all students taking this particular SAT had to write an essay on reality television. Some test-takers were presented with a “photography” prompt, which asked whether photographs represent reality or merely capture the photographer’s point of view. The SAT essay portion was introduced in 2005 to measure writing skills and accounts for 30 percent of the writing section of the SAT score (the remaining 70 percent is allotted to grammar questions). Test-takers have 25 minutes to complete the essay portion. The SAT essay prompts are generally drafted by high school and college teachers and are extensively pre-tested. Do you believe test-takers needed to know specific reality shows to respond to the prompt or was the prompt sufficient for students to pick a side and formulate their essay? Did a test-taker who watches reality television program have an unfair advantage because of her knowledge of specific example? Could the College Board made clear in its instructions that specific examples were not needed? What do you think?
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