Has Teen Unlocked the Secret to a Better SAT Score?

Student says longer essays score better.

January 26, 2010, 7:56 PM

Nov. 5, 2010 — -- Millions of high school students across the country will take the SATs tomorrow.

Ever since 2005, the SAT has included an essay section to measure writing skills.

But what if we told you that it may be possible to game the system and score higher on the SAT by taking one simple step?

A new study contends that if you write a longer SAT essay, you will get a higher SAT score, regardless of the content of your essay.

But that's not the most surprising thing about the study. No, the most unusual thing is that this study was conducted by a 14-year-old high school student who is in the process of taking the test himself.

Milo Beckman, 14, has taken the SAT twice. The second time, he improved his score on the essay. Most students would be thrilled, but Milo was annoyed because he thought his second essay was inferior.

"I looked up one of the facts I had used in the essay which I wasn't completely sure of and it turns out I had basically blatantly lied in the essay," he told ABC News.

Milo said his second essay did have one thing going for it: it was longer.

"My hypothesis is that longer essays on the SAT essay component score higher," he said.

So he asked his fellow students at New York City's Stuyvesant High School to count how many lines they had written on their essays and to provide their scores.

"I thought, 'This ought to be interesting.' I've always wondered about this, too," said David Sugarman, a classmate.

"This was something directly related to the SAT itself and the means by which, you know, we were being graded," another classmate, Yana Azova, said.

Milo says out of 115 samples, longer essays almost always garnered higher scores.

"The probability that such a strong correlation would happen by chance is 10 to the negative 18th. So 00000 …18 zeros and then (an) 18. Which is zero," he said.

It turns out there is some very grown-up support for Milo's conclusion.

"The more you write, the higher the score. The more words on the page, the higher the score," Les Perelman, the director of writing across curriculum at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said.

Student's Advice: Write Longer

Perelman found he could predict an SAT essay's score 90 percent of the time just by looking at the length.

"Milo's findings are exciting to me for the reason that any researcher is excited when somebody else takes their research and applies it in an innovative way and replicates it. Because it confirms my research," he said.

Milo also tried to address the possibility that smarter students simply write more and thus score higher. How? By comparing the scores of students who have taken the SAT more than once.

"Every single one of them got a higher or equal score on their longer essay. Not a single one got a worse score on their longer essay," he said.

Milo's advice? For a higher score, write more.

The College Board, creator of the SAT essay, told "GMA" it admires Milo's diligence but disagrees with his findings.

The board explains that longer essays sometimes score higher not just because of their length, but because "it's very common for longer writing samples to more effectively convey nuanced, persuasive arguments."

The College Board also said that "of all the sections of the SAT, the writing section is the most predictive of college success."

Click HERE to read the College Board's response to "GMA" in its entirety.

Web-Extra Tips

MIT's Perelman is a longtime critic of the SAT essay and how it is scored. He agrees with Milo and says length is the single most important determining factor in a student's score: the longer the essay, the higher the score.

But Perelman has also broken out several other factors he says contribute to a good score. Here then is Perelman's "Unauthorized Guide" to scoring well on the SAT essay:

Professor Perelman's SAT Essay Tips

As you can imagine, the College Board, creator and administrator of the SAT, disagrees with Perelman's analysis.

The College Board offers its own advice for scoring well on the SAT essay. Click HERE to read advice for preparing for the SAT essay from the College Board.

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