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Dear Mitch,

Is it true that the writing sections of the SAT test and the SSAT test are used by schools that students apply to for comparing them to the essays on the applications to see if there is any way the student could have written the essay for the application by himself or herself?

Because I've heard that some admissions committees put the two pieces of writing side-by-side to see if the one on the application is so much better that it could only have been done by a parent or tutor or older sibling or someone like that.

Please try to respond to this question soon, because my application has to be in soon for boarding school and I think my essay is much better than the one I did on the SSAT test, so I just wanted to make sure that they don't think I had help on the one at home, because I didn't.


Emma B.


Dear Emma B.,

It is true that there are admission committees that do place your application essay next to the essay you wrote during an exam to check for some relationship between the two that points toward the likelihood that they were penned by the same person. BUT -- in the case of writing, where many avid readers of a favorite author are eager to rattle off  the best and weakest books of that author, what many readers probably don't realize is how much worse some of an author's writing is than other works by that same author.  Why?  Because the worst of the writer's stuff you never get to see.  Authors either decide not to publish it, and then either chuck it and move on to another project, or put it away for a while (sometimes decades!) and then return to it and rework it dramatically, transforming the book (or screenplay or whatever) into something new.

More commonly, though, is the marked difference between first drafts and final drafts.  Ernest Hemmingway, who is considered by many critics to be among the most powerful and interesting authors of the last few centuries, was quoted as saying, "first drafts are big piles of junk".

And so the standards for the essay on an exam and the standards for the essay on an application are very different -- since the one on the test is a rush job in response to a question or subject that the student has not seen before and has had no chance to take a position on or think of with enough time to come up with the best examples he/she can. The test essays are also written without the benefits of spell-check, dictionaries, thesauruses, etc., the application essay is supposed to be well-thought-out, gramatically polished, and -- often -- proofread by a third party for minor editorial input --

Still, some admission committees use the in-test essay as a tool to try to detect 'suspiciously' mature and well-written essays on applications.  So the QUESTION is:  What do you do?

ANSWER:  While doing all you can to make the in-test essay the highest quality you can, you should also make it a point to remember as many words and phrases you used as possible.  AND:  Immediately upon exiting the exam, write them down on a sheet of paper you've left in your car (or backpack or wherever).

So, no matter how bad the essay, if you were wise enough to use any of the transition words I've recommended using in response to a previous question sent in some time ago, such as "therefore" or "hence" or "thus" or "in conclusion" or "despite what would seem to be the most likely result of the 'facts' presented by the media...", or "virtually everyone with experience in the field seems to disagree", you will have positioned yourself perfectly to assist any person comparing the two to see a connection.

And then make sure to use some of these same phrases/words in your application essay; you'd be wise to select the most general ones to jot down when you exit the test.

Then you use a couple or more of the same phrases on your application essay.  While there are no guarantees in this process, I can guarantee that this technique increases the likelihood that a reader comparing the two essays will conclude that they were written by the same student, you!

Hope this helps,