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Essay lone chance to express individuality

I hated taking the SAT.

I had to get up very early. It would take almost five hours. It meant a waste of my precious Saturday.

But worst of all it meant I had to start thinking about my future. Growing up made me anxious, and it still does. I associated the SAT with the end of my childhood.

The first thing I had to do on the SAT, though, was write an essay. I felt comfortable writing. When I scored a 710 on the writing section out of a possible 800, it made me feel better about the test. It gave me hope: a respite from the fret- and debt-fueled hurricane of student anxiety.

That score was higher than my scores for the other sections of the test. I learned that most of the schools I was applying to wouldn’t consider the writing section when determining merit scholarships. They would only count the reading and math sections.

Devaluing writing like those schools did is problematic. Communication is one of the most valuable skills we have as human beings. We have to communicate constantly. And the ability to communicate comes from the ability to read and write.

It’s crucial that everyone, not just students, develop communication skills. It’s how we develop our own individual voices. A society where everyone expresses their own individual thoughts and opinions is vital to the success of our democracy.

The writing portion of the SAT gives test-takers a way to distinguish themselves. They can have different scores from one another on the reading and math sections, but there’s not much individuality you can have from filling in a bubble.

The College Board has announced that it will revise the essay section of the SAT and make it optional, effective in 2016. By undermining the essay, the College Board has undermined students’ individuality.

But it’s not just the voices of our young people that are in jeopardy. A high schooler’s writing ability will play a large part in determining whether he or she has a career.

For most professions, the first thing from a potential employee an employer will see is a cover letter. First impressions are crucial, and if a cover letter is bad, chances are its author isn’t getting the job.

A January 2014 survey of 472 job seekers conducted by talent management firm Lee Hecht Harrison found that 24 percent of respondents thought they needed to improve their writing skills.

That’s higher than the percentage who thought they needed to improve their math or reading skills (20 percent and 4 percent, respectively). It’s even higher than the percentage who thought they needed to improve their computer skills (19 percent).

The College Board’s mission statement makes no mention of students’ futures. But it does say the Board “connects students to college success and opportunity” and helps them “prepare for a successful transition to college.”

College has long been associated with the first step in the transition from childhood to adulthood. It’s the first part of the rest of a person’s life. And it plays a huge part in his or her future.

So shouldn’t the College Board be emphasizing students’ futures by helping them develop skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives, such as writing?

The College Board and its president, David Coleman, are making a mistake by reworking the writing portion of the SAT. It shows they’re losing interest in the next generation of young people who will shape our society.

Jacob Klopfenstein, a Snider High School graduate, is a senior journalism major at Indiana University-Bloomington. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.

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