SAT Essay: Know Your Reality TV to Ace the SAT?

Who knew hour after hour of “Jersey Shore,” “The Bachelor,” “American Idol,” or “Survivor” could actually help you on the SAT essay!  Last Saturday’s SAT (March 2011) essay prompt asked whether people benefit or are harmed by so-called reality entertainment and has created considerable controversy. Some are outraged that the College Board would ask a question seemingly biased against students who don’t waste their time on such base forms of media.  Why offer a prompt that panders to those who watch reality tv?  Others feel the topic is fair game for all test takers.  The College Board has responded by saying everything a student needed was included in the question. I graded SAT essays when the writing section was added to the SAT in 2005, and I’ve spent years helping students prepare for the SAT.  I think the March 2011 topic was perfectly reasonable for the SAT.  Essays are scored half on what and half on how a student writes. Growing up, I didn’t have a television at home.  This didn’t mean I wasn’t aware of the popular shows or issues in the media. A student doesn’t need to watch any television in order to form and articulate arguments on the merits of “reality” tv. Take a look at what students saw on the test, and share your thoughts.  Here’s the exact writing prompt from the College Board:


Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below. Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular. These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled. How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes? Assignment: Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

What do you think? 

Is this a fair question?  Would you be able to formulate an essay on this topic?  

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