Meeting the requirements for college admission is on the minds of many high school seniors this time of year, and the SAT is a major requirement for some schools. Recent news highlighted an interesting hypothesis developed by student who believes he found the key to getting a higher score on the college test.

Last month, Good Morning America reported the story of Milo Beckman, a high school student who researched the alleged correlation between a longer SAT essay (in the writing portion of the test) and a higher SAT score.

In checking with his friends, Beckman found that "almost every time," on a repeat performance of the essay by 115 test-takers, the test containing a longer essay garnered a higher score on the writing section.

The College Board's statement in response to the research can be found here.

Alexis Avila is the founder and president of Prepped & Polished, a tutoring, college counseling, and test prep company. Avila acknowledges that longer answers to the essay questions tend to result in higher scores, but emphasizes that answers must still have the substance necessary to avoid a bad grade.

"If the SAT essay grader happens to see that there isn't a lot of substance in the essay, he won't hesitate to give the essay a bad grade. But for the most part, the SAT essay grader will appreciate the effort of completing both allotted pages."

Les Perelman, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has conducted similar research โ€” and agrees with Milo's findings โ€” offers his tips in the GMA report about what students should include in their essay, and suggestions about how to format their writing. These include picking a side on an issue, using examples to support your position, and using a five-paragraph structure.

Questioning the Studies

Perelman is clearly advising students on how to do well on the writing section. So, maybe it isn't all based on length, right? If so, then a test-taker could fill in every line with nonsensical writing and still be given a high score. It seems problematic to say that longer answers will always result in a higher score, and then still offer advice about how to write the best answer possible.

Another problem with this story: Beckman's research did not appear to take into account the type of essay the students wrote when taking the test a second time. Of the students who took the SAT more than once, how many actually wrote an inferior essay when they wrote a shorter one?

Advice and Resources

Avila emphasizes that an essay's structure is an essential component for an SAT grader.

"It's important to make a really good first impression by writing a strong introductory paragraph. You have to remember that SAT essay graders are reading hundreds of essays, and they get bored after reading the 101st. If you want your grade to go up, grab their attention right away!"

In any case, students are wise to practice writing skills and essay structure in preparation for the college prep exam โ€” all parts of the test, not just the writing section.

The first fall SAT dates have passed, but December, January, and spring-time tests will be here soon. Here are some resources to check out:

Got College Bound Kids?