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A Loophole in the ACT Writing?
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Aureate Offline
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A Loophole in the ACT Writing?

Quote:The Writing Test is a 30-minute essay test that measures your writing skills—specifically those writing skills emphasized in high school English classes and in entry-level college composition courses.

The test consists of one writing prompt that will define an issue and describe two points of view on that issue. You are asked to respond to a question about your position on the issue described in the writing prompt. In doing so, you may adopt one or the other of the perspectives described in the prompt, or you may present a different point of view on the issue. Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue.

The ACT Writing: it seems an unfortunate assessment for those of us who like to write slowly and thoughtfully on viewpoints that actually interest us, and still want to attend college.

People obviously take the test very seriously; parents of students are willing to pay thousands of dollars for extended employment of a private tutor or even a full preparatory class. But these methods both have their limits.

Consider the child who grinds out hours of practice alongside a tutor, who has familiarized himself with the ACT rubric to an uncanny degree. Although he is no better at practical writing, he can list by rote the specific requirements of the essay, and knows how to pace himself to complete a piece in exactly thirty minutes.

He grows in confidence over the course of his instruction until test day, at which time he has given twenty hours to the honing of his skills. His parents want him to receive a near-perfect grade, and he feels equipped to deliver. Snippets of his countless practice essays flash through his mind, luminous in their five-paragraph glory.

The Writing section always follows the others, so by the time he reaches it, the ACT has taken its toll on his vigor.

"You will have thirty minutes to respond to the prompt. Open your booklets and begin!" the proctor declares.

Our student flips open to the prompt. He reads it. Twice. Three times.

He struggles to form a coherent opinion on the matter. His tutor instructed him not to take a position based on what he actually believes, but based on which side allows for an easier three paragraphs of support. He can summon only one paragraph for either stance. He glances to the clock. Four minutes have passed.

Imagine how his heartbeat must accelerate in that moment, pulled to the sky along with his dreams of attending Harvard. He feels the labors of his school career suddenly nullified behind him, and stares dumbstruck at the hole they've left in his childhood.

This crushing fear will surely establish a mental block of its own, making it increasingly improbable that he will alight upon an idea for the essay in time. He is left to pray that he will be allowed to retake the test, and that he will make the most of any second chances allotted him.

While we cannot all relate to the plight or pressures afflicting this theoretical child, we can agree that his suffering is unnecessary and produced by the same system that our presence on this forum allies us against: education without meaning. He did not choose to study for the ACT Writing because he found 30-minute persuasive essays to be particularly riveting. Rather, he studied because thousands of miles away, some adults had convened and concluded that 30-minute persuasive essays were fit to measure the overall intellectual adequacy of a child.

I have suffered greatly at the behest of similar ageist decisions, so I feel that I owe our ACT taker assistance, a solution.

I propose the ENT, or Ethical Nihilism Template, as a means to shift examination from performance to preparation. Indeed, armed with the ENT, someone willing to pour even two hours into preparation for the ACT Writing will be almost guaranteed a perfect score, with no risk of test day bungles. Even someone likely to receive an excellent score without preparation might find the stress-free approach of the ENT a tempting option.

The ENT is as follows: a pre-written essay using the philosophy of ethical nihilism to argue that neither presented stance is preferable to the other. Note that this will apply regardless of the prompt; it does away with the element of surprise that caught our imaginary child so woefully off guard. The ENT user needs only to memorize the essay (or its general pattern) and regurgitate it on ACT day. The ENT is to be precisely constructed by someone with direct access to the ACT rubric, so as to align the template perfectly with the standards for a perfect score. Since the ENT is being compiled prior to test day, it can benefit from the input of multiple people who possess specific knowledge about the structure of the test. (At last, a useful function for ACT tutors!) Furthermore, the test taker will be prepared to shock the graders with an immense repertoire of extremely relevant quotes and statistics (added to the ENT in advance with the aid of the internet).

The ENT is to be complete except for a few slots where the test-taker must define or reiterate the specific dichotomy of opposing viewpoints. This is so that an essay on, for instance, the merit of year-round schooling, will not launch immediately into the work of Nietzsche without ever mentioning year-round schooling. Placed with optimal frequency, I believe that the slots, even if filled in mechanically, will give the impression of fluidity and harmony that the essay requires.

The ENT system does not violate the rules of the ACT. Recall the quote at the beginning of this post, which I extracted directly from the offical ACT website.

Quote:You are asked to respond to a question about your position on the issue described in the writing prompt. In doing so, you may adopt one or the other of the perspectives described in the prompt, or you may present a different point of view on the issue.


We see that the ACT is careful to make an exception for viewpoints which stand outside of the usual two. They don't want to alienate minority stances that might void the given ones (e.g. you advocate neither year-round nor traditional schooling, because you find the entire concept of compulsory education immoral). Ethical nihilism is special in that it can void any moral dilemma the assessment designers can ever conceive of.

Quote:Your score will not be affected by the point of view you take on the issue.

I am convinced that this final sentence is an attempt by the ACT staff to allow people to defend their actual opinions, feigning ignorance of the first lesson of any ACT tutor: "Defend the easier side." But the ENT will punish them for playing dumb. It is this very clause that allows the ENT dominion over all topics. It nowhere disallows ethical nihilism. On the contrary, it protects it.
(This post was last modified: 03-02-2015 10:45 PM by Aureate.)
03-02-2015 04:54 PM
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Ky Offline
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Post: #2
A Loophole in the ACT Writing?

An insightful proposal, though I do notice two major flaws.

One problem lies in the regurgitation of the pre-prepared speech; students who are better at rote memorization (itself an unspoken core tenet of academic success) will be substantially more successful at this than students who are not. For instance, my recollection during high school was not terrible, but I highly doubt I would have been able to recall an entire speech, statistics and everything, at the time of the test.

The other is that those who grade the ACT may contest the validity of the essay, for various reasons: They could claim that it largely ignores the prompt (despite any precautions to avoid this), or that the failure to represent an argument-specific view is not in the spirit of the test. What would the point be, then? At best, the use of this ENT would automatically fetch a high score... most likely, it would fail to do so... and the worst case scenario is that the rules of the ACT change to accommodate - rather, prevent - this unforeseen application of ethical nihilism.

Public Service Announcement: First world problems are still problems.
03-03-2015 04:34 AM
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