The State Writing Test: Not Your Average Standardized Test

StateWritingTestsFunnyHidden behind the big-name tests like the PSAT, SAT, AT, just plain T, etc. is a lesser-known but more important test: the state writing test. It’s more important because in most states, if you don’t pass, you can’t graduate from high school, whereas with something like the ACT, you can get as low as a 35 out of 2400 and be sought after by colleges.

But let’s back up for one second. The state writing test is not nearly as stressful as the SAT. In fact, it almost seems like a standardized test done right. Almost.

The Premise

The idea of the state writing test is to test your writing ability. And unlike other standardized tests, that is actually true. Sure, no boss is going to ask you, “Can you read this passage and then tell me why the main character sighs on line 23?” but many jobs involve writing things like legal disclaimers, memos, and legal disclaimers for memos.

The Bubbles

The bubbles at the beginning are truly why this test is so wonderful: they’re already filled in by some sort of ominous black circle-stamping machine. Whereas with the SAT you must pay $87 and submit an address, phone number, email, photo, and blood sample, and then have to fill in your own name, the state writing test already knows you exist, all for the cost of $0. Unfortunately, however, if any of the information is incorrect, there is no way to fix it, so you can either be Hpil (female) with a high school diploma or Phil (male) without one.

The Rules

The rules of the test are not nearly as nice as the bubbles, unfortunately. To begin with, you must fit your entire work onto the one page (front and back) provided, and you can’t draw extra lines in between the lines, nor extra lines in between the extra lines in between the lines, even if you’re writing the next great American formulaic sequel-after-sequel book series with a possible movie deal.

Also, you can’t use excessive profanity or vulgarity, which means just about everything you’ve ever learned from your favorite movies about writing artful dialogue or creating gripping plots is useless.

Furthermore, you aren’t allowed to research or talk with others about your writing, closing off the valuable essay resources of Facebook and Yahoo Answers.

But worst of all, you aren’t allowed the internet, period, and spelling is more heavily weighted than in an SAT essay. How are you supposed to Google whether it’s “unneccessarrillyy” or “unecesarily?” Sure, you’re allowed to use something called a “dikshonary,” but I don’t think that would help. It’s just a big heavy book with the alphabet written on the side in little flaps, I guess in case you forget how to write, like, a capital “G.”

The Prompts

The state writing test has 4 prompts (at least in my state), which initially appears quite nice. Sure, it’s more than the number of prompts on the SAT or ACT, but once you get down to it, the prompts are really no better.

Usually, they fall into four distinct categories: expository, persuasive, self-narrative, and imaginative. For example, your prompts might be:

  • Imagine that you are eating a piece of fruit, and it starts talking to you. Write about the conversation you have and the valuable life advice you gain from your produce.
  • A group of basketball players is playing basketball. Persuade them that golf is a more athletic sport.
  • Many people visit the beach and play in the sand. Write about a time when you went snowboarding.
  • Explain how to make your favorite food. Include measurements, preparation tips, and whether you used outspoken or mute ingredients.

Other Things of Note

While all that may sound pretty straightforward, there are a few other things everyone should know.

To begin with, you have unlimited time during the state writing test. So, if you get really involved in your analysis of golf, you can spend weeks, or even months, perfecting your arguments. Sure, you’ll miss a lot of class and have a ton of makeup work, but at least the next time you go to a Heat game you can convince LeBron to finally pick up golf.

But, as we’ve seen in regards to prompts or bubbles, unlimited time isn’t the only advantage these writing tests have over other standardized tests. In addition, regular standardized tests like the SAT have been accused of being biased against minorities, the poor, or the illiterate. The state writing test, however, is much less biased: you can write your essay/story in either English or Spanish! Although in retrospect, I’m sure there are people who argue that this is simply evidence of anti-Slovakian bias.

Whether or not you like them, state writing tests are a graduation requirement, and are thus pretty much unavoidable. Sure, the prompts are stupid, and the rules are restricting, but let’s face it: at least it isn’t graded on neatness of handwriting. If it was, it would take most of us over a decade to finally pass. And 26-year-old high schoolers just don’t strike me as good thing.

Along with the state writing test, the new semester usually brings new classes, and with them, new syllabi. Which means you’ll probably want to check out, “The Only Guide to Class Syllabi that You’ll Ever Need,” published at this time last year.

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  1. Fantastic!

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