Massachusetts Comprehensive Annoyance System

October 26, 2007
By Allison Wu, Newton, MA

Massachusetts Comprehensive Annoyance System
Allison Wu

Topic sentence, supporting sentence, detailed sentence, supporting sentence again, detailed sentence again, closing sentence. That’s how I was taught to write MCAS compositions. Reading that list must have been boring, wait until it’s time to write like that; with four pages to fill on MCAS long composition essays, the standard format totally limits creativity. See for yourself:

Option One, “MCAS Writing”:

Someone I admire is Katie Couric. She is a reporter on television. She used to host The Today Show on NBC. Her life has been a lot harder than most people would think. Couric’s husband died of cancer several years ago and it really affected her. The way she deals with challenges is why I admire her.

One word: BORING.

Option Two, non-standard so more creative writing:

Everyone’s life has challenges and Katie Couric’s is no different. Then why admire her? It’s the way she stays so strong and determined through all her challenges that makes her so special. Everything from tackling a platter of crackers spread with headcheese [“a loaf, resembling lunch meat, but made of gelatin and parts of pig organs”] on national television, to her husband’s sudden diagnosis with cancer which lead to a death a few months later. After his death, Katie passionately joined the fight against the second most deadly cancer killer. Using her position as co-anchor of The Today Show she helped the cause gain national attention when she did a five section series on colon cancer, entitled “Confronting Colon Cancer.” Always determined to find new ways to help others find out about cancer ahead of time and prepare them for the long road to come Katie also helped found the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health at the New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell, named after her husband. Almost everyone can relate to Couric, either having been in the same position, suffering a loved one’s death or being dedicated to an important cause with a truly personal meaning. She has proved that it takes more than fame and stardom to make a difference; it takes courage and determination. And, she is a symbol of not only courage and determination but of faith, hope, kindness, understanding, but most importantly she represents the very foundation of America and peace: love.

Okay so maybe the second one didn’t follow that six-sentence-per-paragraph-keep-it-short rule, not to mention the whole “proper” formatting criteria, but don’t you agree that it was much more interesting?

The formatting isn’t the only problem with the MCAS long composition though; you also have to factor in something that affects everything: time. When it comes to MCAS, time means everything. Improvising for long composition is hard on the spot, so teachers have taught us to plan, organize, write a rough draft, edit, revise, and write a final draft. We’ve practiced this process over and over again and most of us will say it’s extremely effective and easy to understand because of its simplicity. However, even with such a simple process, it takes at least three days to complete it for a one-page essay. So when we’re told to do this for a four-page essay in under a day, there’s a lot of pressure.

Ideas also take a lot of time to come up with, ones worth writing about at least. I’ve spent a week just brainstorming ideas to write a personal essay about. I certainly came up with topics, but I didn’t feel any enthusiasm at all when I thought about writing about them. And everyone knows that an unenthusiastic essay is the key to horrible writing.

Yes, I understand, the long composition MCAS must be administered in one day with no breaks in order to assure security. But, too much writing, planning for writing, editing and revising writing and rewriting writing, at once gives me writers block, so if test administrators are looking for remarkable essays, helping people get writers block is not the way to do it.

Teachers are constantly reminding us that there is no time limit to MCAS. In reality, though, there is. Even thought skill cannot be measured by how fast you can finish an essay; students get self-conscious and work as fast as possible forgetting to try their best in order to finish before others, which supposedly proves their intelligence. Straight-A students do not always finish first and therefore their intellect is reevaluated sometimes.

And this leads to … the conclusion of my editorial, which makes me face such a hard choice; I can either end this editorial with the clear closing sentence, or a little more creative one that will hopefully leave an impression on the reader. Let’s try out the clear way one more time to prove it.

Clear closing sentence [the boringness cannot be explained in words]:

As I said in my editorial, writing in the standard format for MCAS, along with the cramped time, limits creativity.

It pains me to even look at that sentence. Oh yes, that contradicting sentence right there proves it. Number One, I haven’t taken enough breaks when writing. Number Two, simply put, writing like that sucks. Maybe that’s how were supposed to write for MCAS, but if I was the one grading that, I would give it a zero. Important life lesson, having “great paragraph formatting!” written across the top of an essay does not make up for the “but the most boring thing I’ve ever read!” part.

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