Many students who get ‘A’s in high school level English classes do not get high scores in the reading, grammar, and essay sections of the SAT. This is a phenomenon that is particularly difficult for both parents and students to accept. Therefore, without giving it much thought, some students quickly conclude that the SAT is a poorly designed test, for it does not reflect the students’ performances in their English classes. However, those students who give it a little more thought can easily find the reason for the phenomenon. They will also discover that neither the SAT nor their English classes are at fault.
The reason that the scores in reading, grammar, and essay sections of the SAT and grades in English classes do not always directly correlate is that the SAT and the English classes are designed to serve completely different purposes. Therefore, the rules of engagement for getting ‘A’s in English classes and those for getting high SAT scores are different. In other words, the two require different sets of skills and methods of study.
In the past, English classes focused on teaching academic skills (essay and passage structures and grammar structures), but nowadays, they concentrate on imparting concepts contained in and knowledge about literary works, developing not so much analytical or critical thinking ability but encouraging creative contemplations, and refining communication (listening and speaking) skills. Thus, most English classes today are discussion classes, and even students who proposes the most outrageous ideas are applauded as having creative minds. In these classes, there exists no correct or wrong ideas. In fact, all ideas are valid and worthy of consideration.
Furthermore, in English classes at school, participation and effort also play a factor in the students’ grades. Therefore, even students whose English is not proficient can earn ‘A’s by trying “harder”. It is because students understand these rules of engagement (for getting ‘A’s in English classes) that they try to impress their teachers by expressing all sorts of opinions in class and submitting multiple improved drafts for essay assignments.
By contrast, the SAT does not give reward students for outrageous (or even creative ideas). Its only concern is whether students can extract precise information from the passages and employ appropriate thought processes to select the correct answers. Furthermore, it does not give extra bonus points for students’ participation or efforts. Lastly, students do not get extra time to solve the problems or second chances, such as submitting revised versions of essays. The SAT penalizes students immediately and ruthlessly for selecting wrong answers.
The reading section of the SAT measure students’ ability to use their academic skills to comprehend “difficult” passages; the grammar section measures students’ ability to apply their academic skills to revise “poorly” written essays; and lastly, the essay section measures students’ ability to comprehend the passage, analyze it, and express their analysis in writing. Students must, of course, complete the tasks within the time permitted by the College Board. What makes these tasks challenging is that, unlike at school, students must select one correct answer for each reading and grammar question, and doing so, students cannot rely on knowledge that acquire at school or employ creativity to solve these problems. In most cases, such knowledge and creativity hinder students from selecting the correct answers. Furthermore, for the essay section, students must demonstrate not only their ability to comprehend and analyze the given passage but also to organize their thoughts on paper, and again, unlike at school, students have just 50 minutes to complete the task and cannot resubmit improved drafts.
So, since the purpose of English classes and that of the SAT are different, applying the rules of engagement for getting ‘A’s in English classes to the reading, grammar, and essay sections of the SAT is inefficient and foolish. Applying the rules of engagement for getting ‘A’s in school would in inevitable yield poor SAT results. To attain high scores on the SAT, students should apply the rules of engagement for getting high scores on the SAT.