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Does Quantity Equal Quality? The Relationship between Length of Response and Scores on the SAT Essay


  • The College Board


This study was designed to address two frequent criticisms of the SAT essay -- that essay length is the best predictor of scores, and that there is an advantage in using more "sophisticated" examples as opposed to personal experience. The study was based on 2,820 essays from the first three administrations of the new SAT. Each essay was coded for number of words, number of paragraphs, whether or not the response included first-person, and whether or not the response went to the second page. Analyses included descriptive statistics and group comparisons on the essay response features, correlations between essay length and scores, and hierarchical multiple regression to examine the contribution of each essay feature variable to the prediction of essay scores. The number of words in the essay explained 39% of the variance of essay scores. Whether or not the essay reached the second page explained an additional 1.5%, and whether or not the essay was written in first person explained an additional 1.1% . An examination of these features potentially affecting SAT essay scores is essential to maintain that the SAT writing section promotes valid interpretations of students' writing skills. The research described in this paper may benefit other testing programs that include essay assessments. The careful analysis of response features and the identification of potential construct-irrelevant features in essay assessments are important for evaluating the content and construct validity of writing assessments.


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