Raters should read each essay quickly to gain a general impression of its quality in relation to the model essays and assign a rating based on that comparison. This approach, holistic rating, contrasts with the analytic grading commonly used in essay evaluation, but evidence indicates that holistic rating is much faster and produces more uniform results.

The essays are rated on a four-point scale in which "1" is the lowest score and "4" is the highest score. The model essays represent borderline cases; each essay to be rated must, by definition, fall above or below a model.

One model essay represents each dividing line. An essay better than the "2/1" model and worse than the "3/2" model would be rated "2." An essay worse than the "2/1" model becomes "1." An essay better than the "4/3" model becomes "4."

Note carefully that raters should compare the essays they read with the models . They should not rate in terms of their usual grading standards or some abstract standard. They should not associate the ratings with the traditional grades A , B , C , D , F .

The testing subcommittee of the University System Academic Committee on English attempts to choose models by using the following definitions of competency, although it realizes that these definitions are by no means exhaustive.

4 : The "4" essay has a clear central idea that relates directly to the assigned topic. The essay has a clear organizational plan. The major points are developed logically and are supported with concrete, specific evidence or details that arouse the reader's interest. The essay reveals the writer's ability to select effective, appropriate words and phrases; to write varied, sophisticated sentences; to make careful use of effective transitional devices; and to maintain a consistent, appropriate tone. The essay is essentially free from mechanical errors, it contains no serious grammatical errors, and the ideas are expressed freshly and vividly.

3 : The "3" essay has a clear central idea that relates directly to the assigned topic. It contains most of the qualities of good writing itemized above. The essay generally differs from a "4" in that it shows definite competence, but lacks distinction. The examples and details are pertinent, but may not be particularly vivid or sharply observed; the word choice is generally accurate, but seldom -- if ever -- really felicitous. The writer adopts an appropriate, consistent tone. The essay may contain a few errors in grammar and mechanics.

2 : The "2" essay meets only the basic criteria, and those in a minimal way. The essay has a central idea related directly to the assigned topic and presented with sufficient clarity that the reader is aware of the writer's purpose. The organization is clear enough for the reader to perceive the writer's plan. The paragraphs coherently present some evidence or details to substantiate the points. The writer uses ordinary, everyday words accurately and idiomatically and generally avoids both the monotony created by series of choppy, simple sentences and the incoherence caused by long, tangled sentences. Although the essay may contain a few serious grammatical errors and several mechanical errors, they are not of sufficient severity or frequency to obscure the sense of what the writer is saying.

1 : The "1" essay has any one of the following problems to an extraordinary degree or it has several to a limited degree: it lacks a central idea; it lacks a clear organizational plan; it does not develop its points or develops them in a repetitious, incoherent, or illogical way; it does not relate directly to the assigned topic; it contains several serious grammatical errors; it contains numerous mechanical errors; ordinary, everyday words are used inaccurately and unidiomatically; it contains a limited vocabulary so that the words chosen frequently do not serve the writer's purpose; syntax is frequently rudimentary or tangled; or the essay is so brief that the rater cannot make an accurate judgement of the writer's ability.

2/1              MODEL           2/1 

Going out of Business Sale! Signs of this nature can be seen everywhere. Today opening up a business can be scary, because of the extensive risk, high cost, and extreme stress.

The chief reason I would not want to start my own business is the great risk of failure. Today statistics show that four out of every six businesses fail within the first year. Those are not very good odds for one just starting his or her own business.

The second reason not to start my own business is the high cost of starting a business. Businesses take a great deal of money to get started, and for that matter to keep running. The first thing one has to do is find a place to put the business. Lots are very expensive. Then a building has to be built, and merchandise to fill the building has to be purchased.

Finally owning a business can be stressful. Being ones own boss can be stressful to her or him by the way of having to make all of the important decisions, or can cause stress at home. The stress at home can be very detrimental to the marriage, or even the family as a whole.

Concluding this owning a business is just one big headache. On the other hand some people are very successful, and they got that way by taking the risk of owning their own business. I personally don't think that owning a business is worth the risk, when working for someone else is a lot safer.

3/2              MODEL           3/2 
Advertising has a large influence on my life and the lives of my friends. Advertising has an influence on the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and the food we eat.

Advertising influences the cars my friends and I drive. The television commercials paint an unrealistic picture of how good life is once you own their product. For example, one of the commercials for Volvo implies that a person doesn't have class unless he drives a Volvo. According to the Cadillac commercial, a car can not be elegant unless it is a Cadillac. Magazine ads are very similar to television ads. Magazine ads show beautiful women and handsome men gathered around an automobile, and imply that the reader can be like the people in the ad.

Advertising has an influence on those clothes we wear. Television and magazines show hair-thin models wearing different articles of clothing. The ads for Jordache or Calvin Klein are a good example of this fact. My friends and I sometimes feel that if the clothes look good, then they must be made good. We also hope the clothes look as good on us as they did on the models.

Finally, advertising influences our eating habits. There are ads for hamburgers, hotdogs, pizzas, beer, candies, cakes, and the list keeps going. Pizza Inn gives us more of the things we like. The people at Burger King treat us right. Everyone wants to be an Oscar Mayer hot dog. Michelob wants us to put a little weekend in our week. Of course, relief is spelled Rolaids. With ads like these facing us every night who could resist?

In conclusion, I'd like to say that advertising influences the way everybody lives. The cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and the food we eat are all a result of advertising.

4/3              MODEL           4/3 
People of all ages, shapes, sizes, financial statuses, and interests pour, in vast numbers each year into such amusement parks as Disney World and Six Flags. Why the fascination with these places, even to the point of repetitive visits? Each individual has his own reason, but there are a few common to all. Here in a make-believe world can be found something for everyone.

On stepping from a sometimes harsh, ugly world through the gates of a "magic kingdom," one can do for a short while anything he desires. Vicarious living, with all the thrills and dangers of adventure in faraway places or daring escapades unavailable in everyday life, is here for the price of a ticket. There are wild rides: twisting, dipping, now fast, then slow, breath-taking, almost dangerous. For a few minutes one can live on the edge of danger, but always with the knowledge that safety is only inches and seconds away. Tamer rides are available for the children of all ages who prefer their thrills in more sedate doses. There are beautiful, clean, and true-to-life (better than life?) amusements here also; here everything is pretty, always works, and ends before boredom sets in. There are rides that take one through other countries, fantasy worlds, even into a mildly threatening outer space, and always with the surety of a safe return! Threatening animals become friends, and are totally predictable, clean, and nicer than the real thing. One can even return to the past, seeing of course only nostalgic beauty in the "good old days," and handily passing over any unpleasant memories. The future can be attained in seconds, showing the wonders in store for one as a result of the marvelous technilogical advances of mankind.

Of lesser importance, but still a valid reason for amusement park popularity, is the availability of food of many different types. Cuisine of exotic foreign countries is presented in a fairly reasonable form for a decent price. Where else could be tasted a bean-paste sweet typical of Japan, a delicate, flaky Napoleon of France, or a foaming cold beer served in a bier haus of Germany? All this, and more, is available at one price, as often as wished.

So are seen two reasons for the tremendous popularity of the amusement parks. All in one package, for one price, instant gratification is there, every day, year-round. All need and desire escape from mundane lives. The amusement parks provide this escape.


Analysis of 2/1 Model

The essay is not a clear "2" because only the third paragraph is adequately developed; the next-to-the-last sentence of the essay violates the unity and coherence of the paragraph in which it appears; several phrases are unidiomatic; some words and phrases are repeated excessively; the second sentence of the fourth paragraph contains a jarring shift in construction; throughout the essay the point of view vacillates between the first person and the third; and in the first sentence of the last paragraph, "concluding this," a dangling modifier, is particularly confusing because "this" lacks a referent and the phrase is not set off with a comma.

The essay is not a clear "1" because it has a central idea that directly answers the question raised by the topic and that is developed through a clear organizational plan; the transitions are clear, although blatant and conventional; the third paragraph is reasonably coherent, logical, and free from repetition; the essay contains only a few serious grammatical errors, no spelling errors, and no errors in diction that block communication; the syntax is neither consistently rudimentary nor hopelessly tangled; and the essay has an interest-catching opening.

Analysis of 3/2 Model

The essay demonstrates more than the "minimal competence" of a "2" essay, but fails to attain the "definite competence" of a "3." Although the central idea is related to the topic, this idea is not always in clear focus: details, particularly in the second paragraph, describe more the appeals than the effects of advertisements. The opening paragraph has no introduction, merely the thesis divided into two sentences, and the conclusion is a gratuitous restatement of the opening. Transitional phrases are either non-existent or uninspired.

The essay rates above a "2" because it has clear organization, adequate development, and parallel structure. Details are vivid, occasionally novel, and the point of view and tone are generally consistent, the latter being lightly ironic. With the exception of the overuse and misuse of "good" in paragraph three, the extraneous comma in paragraph two, and the necessary comma omitted from paragraph four, word choice is accurate and punctuation correct. Grammatically the essay is altogether sound.

Analysis of 4/3 Model

The essay is not quite a "4" chiefly because the organizational plan is rather ineffective. The second paragraph lacks a clear focus -- given the variety of details contained in it, the writer might very well have gone on to discuss food along with the rides, the animals, and the nostalgic vistas. Of less importance, in the second sentence of the second paragraph, the verb should be nearer its subject; transitional devices are not used skillfully; the writer overuses the "there are" construction in the second paragraph; "technological" is misspelled; and punctuation is sometimes questionable.

The essay is better than a "3" because some of the details are sharply -- or wryly -- observed; the writer turns some nice phrases; the writer manifests a certain sophistication in diction as reflected in the correct use of "sedate," "vicarious," and "gratification"; and the essay contains no grammatical or mechanical errors and only one spelling error.


(1) Why do we have 2/1, 3/2, and 4/3 models? Why don't we have models of "1," "2," "3," and "4" essays?

All of the discrete ratings cover a wide range of writing performance, particularly the "1." An essay may be assigned a "1" because it is only one sentence long, because it is off the topic, because it contains grammatical errors that frustrate the writer's attempt to communicate, because it is totally lacking in structure, because its points are undeveloped, and so on. There are very, very low "1's," and there are "1's" that are almost passing. While "2," "3," and "4" do not cover so wide a range, it would still be impossible simply to pick one model and say, "This is it." The example would, of necessity, be a low "3," a middling "3," or a high "3." The 4/3, 3/2, and 2/1 models are intended to represent a very fine borderline.

(2) What specifically does the 2/1 model represent?

The essay chosen as a 2/1 model represents the absolute balance point between the "1" and the "2" essay. The committee which selected the essay would hope that, if the 2/1 model essay were rated by fifty raters, it would receive twenty-five "1's" and twenty-five "2's." A tiny nudge could swing the balance either way. It would be a clear "2," if, for example: a few more supporting details were supplied, the diction were more appropriate, the mechanical and grammatical errors were fewer, or the coherence were improved. On the other hand, it would be a clear "1" if it were a trifle weaker in any one of these aspects.

(3) Must an essay have a thesis sentence to pass?

Not necessarily. Although an explicit thesis sentence is perfectly acceptable, and many -- perhaps most -- of our students need one, many a good writer can make the implied thesis clear and can organize the essay well enough so that the reader can follow the line of thought without the writer's having revealed the organizational plan in the introductory paragraph.

(4) Must the essay follow a set formula?


(5) What should be done with essays that are off the topic?

We face two problems here. One involves the student who has a prepared essay and tries to fit it to the topic; the other involves the student who misreads or misunderstands the topic. When raters find an essay that is completely off the topic, they must fail the essay. Misreading is more problematic. Many students who wrote on the topic "Children should never be disciplined by corporal punishment. Defend or attack the statement." thought that corporal punishment was the same as capital punishment. Similarly, a few students who wrote on the topic "Name two or three qualities which you feel a person should possess in order to be a good employee." discussed qualities of a good employer rather than a good employee. When a writer misreads the topic this grossly, the essay should be failed. Most of the misreadings, however, are not so blatant. Many raters found themselves perplexed by the responses to the following two topics: "Discuss the most important moral qualities an elected official should have." and "What qualities of character do you regard as important in a person you would choose as a friend?" Students writing on the latter topic would blithely talk about how their friends should have good looks, an effervescent personality, and plenty of money more often (or so it seemed) than they would talk about qualities of character such as honesty, integrity, and trustworthiness. Much of the same was true of the former topic, where students would talk about charisma, intelligence, and charm. Seldom, if ever, was an essay totally off the topic: a typical thesis sentence might read "My friends should be loyal, intelligent, honest, and easy to get along with." The raters must penalize the essay for this type of misunderstanding, but such an essay should not be failed out of hand. If the essay is well-written and the student does not seem to be deliberately evading the topic, the essay might well deserve one of the passing scores.

The question of whether the writer can both attack and defend an issue when the topic says "attack or defend" has been raised. When the student deals with pro and con arguments but takes a clear stand on one side of the issue, the answer is definitely yes. Doing so is not merely acceptable, it is meritorious: "although the 55 mph speed limit cost motorists some time and encouraged many citizens to break the law, it should be reinstated because it saved lives, conserved gas, and reduced the number and severity of accidents" is clearly more sophisticated than "the 55 mph speed limit should be reinstated because it saved money, lives, and gasoline." The student who simply attacks and defends without coming down on one side or the other does imperil the chances of passing. However, the student who writes a good fence-straddling essay should be passed.

(6) May the student modify the topic?

Students may make reasonable modifications of the topic. For example, given the topic "What courses that you did not take in high school do you now wish you had taken?" students may state that there are no such courses and explain why. Also, students do not have to discuss specific courses, but may state that they should have taken more courses in an area such as English or history.

Students should not be penalized for narrowing the topic. For example, given a topic which asks for a discussion of the goals of the women's movement, students could narrow the topic by discussing only economic issues.

Students may handle the topic in the first person or the third person, regardless of the person in which the topic is stated. For example, given the topic "Do you agree with the goals of the women's movement?" students may answer, "The goals of the women's movement are valid," and continue in the third person.

(7) How should the rater react to obviously spurious statistics and obviously counterfeit examples?

We must keep in mind that the student writing for the Regents' Test does not have access to an almanac or a set of encyclopedias. Raters should, therefore, be very patient with approximate statistics and with dubious uncles. At the same time, raters must keep in mind that, to the extent examples and statistics are incredible, they are rhetorically ineffective and thus lessen the essay's chances of passing. Writers who say that the accident rate dropped by approximately 10% while the 55 mph speed limit was in effect strengthen their case; writers who say that the accident rate was cut in half while the 55 mph speed limit was in effect weaken theirs.

(8) How should we rate an essay of comic or satiric intent?

Reward the successful and penalize the inept.

Last updated: September 20, 1999