[Susan notes: As someone who refuses to participate in those quick write exercises that plague English conferences, I applaud these letters. The 25-minute essay is worse than a farce.]
Published in New York Times &
Quick. In 25 minutes, write a scintillating essay on an instance in which geometry touched your life in an emotional way. Would you be able to cover all the angles, so to speak?
Or how well can you quickly spit out an essay on the five most important aspects of conciseness in writing? Hurry, now.
Your article "Detecting Tutor's Hand in Applicant's Essay" (Education page, Nov. 2) raises many questions. Yes, perhaps a person grading SAT essays can discern the tutor's hand. But can you really decide, from a 25-minute rush job under intense pressure, whether a student has received help on a polished essay that may have been in the works for six months?
As an editor and writer for more than 30 years, I have labored over single sentences for hours, as have many journalists I have worked with. To judge a person's writing skill so quickly is to measure aptitudes for things that may be only tangential to writing. You can easily set aside a piece for a week while you search and search for that single perfect word.
I would no more judge a student's writing this way than pass judgment on an artist's 25 minutes with a brush on canvas.
To the Editor:
Though a highly polished essay is the "bane of college admission officers," its requirement is worse for the average college applicant ("Detecting Tutor's Hand in Applicant's Essay," Education page, Nov. 2).
That student walks a fine line. Harvard goes so far as to not "over-reward extra preparation." Admissions officers now compare application essays to the new 25-minute essay on the SAT, and assert that they "see through" coaching.
It's not clear why colleges would punish extra effort, or scorn preparation. (Not everyone is a born writer or a fast one.) But in modern times, the skill to recruit and synthesize help and information may be a more valuable asset than the ability to write an essay that's good, but not too good.
It's time to abandon these silly exercises for a portfolio of college applicants' real work done in high school.
Ed LaFreniere and Sheila Feit