Does Length Matter on the S.A.T.?

The essay section of the S.A.T has been hotly debated since its début in 2005. Many colleges have not counted students writing scores in the admissions process. Experts have long questioned the merits of scoring teens on their ability to write an essay in 25 minutes. Now one New York City teen believes he’s discovered the simple secret to getting a higher score. 

Fourteen-year-old Milo Beckman hypothesized that the longer the essay, the higher the score. Beckman came up with this after taking the S.A.T. twice, and receiving a higher score on his second essay, despite the fact that he deemed it inferior. Says the teen, “I looked up one of the facts I had used in the essay which I wasn’t completely sure of and it turns out I had basically blatantly lied in the essay.” 

To prove his hypothesis, Beckman asked his fellow classmates at the highly regarded Stuyvesent High School to count the number of lines they had written, and then report their score on the essay. His classmates were happy to oblige, and Beckman obtained a sample of 115 essays, which he says proved his hypothesis. The longer essays almost always scored higher. 

Les Perelman, the director of writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, happens to agree with the teen’s hypothesis, telling reporters, “the more you write, the higher the score.” 

Perelman has looked at the writing portion of the S.A.T in multiple ways, including predicting the score of an essay correctly 90% of the time. Perelman bases his guess directly on the length of the essay. What about those students who take the S.A.T more than once? Well, Milo has studied that too, by comparing the scores students get each time they take the test. His findings remained the same. 

“Every single one of them got a higher or equal score on their longer essay. Not a single one got a worse score on their longer essay” he says. 

The fourteen-year-old’s research seems to have ruffled The College Board, the organization who created the S.A.T, enough to merit a response. The College Board released a statement saying, “It’s very common for longer writing samples to more effectively convey nuanced, persuasive arguments.” They also took the opportunity to remind students that “the writing section is the most predictive of college success.” 

The College Board seems to define college sucess across 12 dimensions, including mastery of general principals, intellectual interest, leadership, adaptability and physical and psychological health.

Photo thanks to C Carlstead
Molly Conley

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49 comments

Jami Winn
Jami Winn5 years ago

good to know thnks

Barbara Erdman
Barbara Erdman5 years ago

Interesting. thanx

Robert O.
Robert O.5 years ago

No. It should be based on content, not length.

Tori W.
Past Member 5 years ago

probably correct...who's going to read all those essays and be an expert on every possible subject to accurately grade them?? no one..so..the longer the better....interesting that a teen discovered this one...

Tina L.
Tina L.5 years ago

I believe Milo. 115 essays to back him up! Probably most of the graders started going crazy due to the huge stacks of papers they had to grade, and as a result they just started scanning each paper in several seconds and grading based on length.

If only I had known this when I took the SATs. I could've saved myself a lot of trouble and time during the exam by just writing as much b.s. as I could think of AND get a better score for doing so!

Rowa T.
Rowa T.5 years ago

I agree. The sample essays in their SAT books prove this. You'll notice that an essay that received a score of 6 is much more lengthy than an essay that received a score of 4.
I wrote a long essay on this November SAT based on this idea, but we'll see....

Merelen Knitter
Merelen Knitter5 years ago

It would be interesting to see a larger scale study of SAT writing scores to see if this idea is true.

Janice P.
Janice P.5 years ago

This does not really surprise me. Our nation has accepted the quantity over quality philosophy for decades.

Rose N.
Rose N.5 years ago

Thank you for posting.

Melissa Phelps
Melissa Phelps5 years ago

geez