Is Reality TV Worthy of the SAT?

Should you write about the reality TV show “Sixteen and Pregnant” on your SAT essay? Would a tidbit from “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” be acceptable on the ACT writing test?

The College Board, which administers the SAT, has been getting more than the usual feedback on a controversial essay prompt from the March exam. In case you haven’t heard, the prompt read as follows:

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?

Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?

Bloggers and journalists have been reflecting on this issue all week. Comments range from outrage to humor, with students, parents and educators weighing in across the U.S.

At Wow Writing Workshop, we think it’s just as good a prompt as any. Regardless of the prompt’s subject, the task is the same: quickly and efficiently outline an argument, make your point using examples from your reading, your life (and popular culture?!), present an alternate viewpoint, and wrap it up.

Could a student accomplish that with this prompt? Absolutely.

A student need not be a big TV fan to write a top-quality essay, just as she need not be an expert on photography or patience (the subjects of two other essay prompts from the most recent SAT.)

In our classes, we emphasize that the essay portions of the ACT and SAT are thinking tests as much as writing tests. Students have a brief window of time to organize their thoughts and write a clear, direct first draft of an essay. The task is straightforward, and it is one that students can master with practice. The prompt is simply a place to start.

What do you think?