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The SAT’s Controversial Reality TV Writing Prompt

The most recent SAT test’s writing prompt was something along the lines of  ““How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” The prompt was, of course, longer with more details, such as “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.”

Many students complained saying that they didn’t keep up with reality television and that many of them didn’t watch TV at all.  The Vice President  of the College Board claimed that “everything you need to write the essay is in the essay prompt.”


However, if you haven’t ever watched a reality show, trying to write an essay about it would be difficult. Students who regularly watch TV and keep up with pop culture would probably have a much easier time writing about reality TV because they would be able to cite examples. The SAT writing section is supposed to test someone’s ability to write, not their knowledge of pop culture. Honestly, I don’t remember what the writing prompt was when I took my SAT. The SAT was about 4 or 5 hours long and my brain was basically  mush afterward. But I do remember that it was something more general that, basically, if you were a human being you could relate to. This question put certain students at a disadvantage. It’s ironic that for once watching more TV might actually put you at an advantage in academics.

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi from Mtv’s Jersey Shore


But on the other hand, the prompt was fairly general and a student could most likely write a sufficient essay with the information given. I remember in my SAT prep class and in other classes learning how to write a complete essay and i know that a huge part of it was providing detailed examples that showed our ability to relate information to the prompt given. If a student has never seen Snooki doing shots on Jersey Shore or Kim Kardashian crying over naked photos of herself on Kourtney & Kim Take New York ( if you let people take naked pictures of you, don’t be surprised when those pics come back later to bite you…even if the magazine editor promised to “cover your naked body with a collage of artistic photos”…i mean really, if the editor was really going to do that then you wouldn’t need to be naked to begin with.), or even seen morbidly obese people running up a mountain on The Biggest Loser, then that student won’t be able to put proper examples in his/her paper. Whatever that student does end up putting down will probably receive a lower score than a student who was able to put specific examples.

Kim and Kourtney "taking" New York (aka riding a bus and waving at people)


At least this essay prompt was interesting. For me, I would have loved this prompt because it related to things that i’ve seen and voluntarily watched. So for some students, I bet this was great and for others, probably terrible. Either way the SAT is more of a marathon than a test. I’m still mad that mine was 4+ hours. That’s just ridiculous. What was the College Board thinking? “Oh yeah, let’s add on another section to the test, I’m sure these kids will still be in tip-top shape by the time the 4 hour mark rolls around.”

When I finished my SAT's, I felt like this lady.


Well anyways, I find it really ironic that students were almost “praised” for having watched shows that most adults think are “trashy” or “stupid.”

I understand that the College Board was trying to use a prompt that is very current and debatable, but they should have gone in a different direction.


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