What Came First: The Student or The Essay?
Publication Date: 16 March 2021
Before you begin reading, ask yourself: What is your greatest achievement in life? No pressure, don’t rush. Take a couple of hours minutes to soak in this information.
Quite tricky, isn’t it? Let’s imagine that you took a deep dive into your consciousness and extracted that memory of your most significant achievement, now put it into an eloquent 600-800 word written masterpiece.
The point of this little task is not to critique or analyze your achievement, but rather to evaluate your writing skills. Does the quality of your essay define your achievement? Does it by any means show your knowledge on the subject? The answer to this question will depend on the person who is being asked.
Don’t Point Fingers At The Students
Several Cambridge professors and academics have spoken against demanding and setting high standards for undergraduates to well-structured essays. Many ‘bright students cannot write essays’, as one prof has stated while giving a seminar. His issue is not a one with the students, but rather with the education system, which makes students slaves to the form, rather than using critical thinking to form and express their opinions. Looking at this from a different perspective, some teachers might argue that with a large number of essays to mark and grade, assessing students’ writing becomes a daunting experience. Which brings us to our next point.
Recently published on The Guardian, a testimonial of a lecturer to the students unveils the other side of the problem. It does not matter if you had spent 3 days or 3 hours writing an essay, most likely your paper will be marked with the same amount of enthusiasm. So a reasonable question arises: why put in so much work and effort for something that will be not be graded responsibly? The lecturers and professors are not the ones to blame either. As one academic pointed out, the workload is distributed unevenly, leaving educators inundated with administrative and procedural tasks and unable to properly handle the grading of written assignments.
Does High School Prepare Students For Higher Education?
The root of the problem lies beyond higher education, as some argue. The foundation of writing is laid in middle and high school. Unfortunately, there are several factors that contribute to the development of poor writing skills:
- Overachieving students usually are so overwhelmed with studies and extracurricular activities; they just do not have time for any meaningful experiences that could serve as a basis for truly great stories.
- Teachers at high school teach a 5 paragraph essay model, focusing more on the formatting and structure of writing. Although the idea was to help students produce ‘cleaner’ essays, which are easier and faster to grade. A sort of win-win for both the student and the teacher. But it’ quite the opposite: most of these 5 paragraph essays lack the most most essential thing – meaning. Besides, universities demand a more complex structure and an insightful message to be sent to the reader. These factors do not particularly fit any sort of template. As a result, students are entirely disorientated and unprepared for university or college-level writing.
- The horror of writing an admission essay. This topic deserves a discussion of its own. Last year, a student wrote in his admission essay to Stanford #blacklivesmatter one hundred times. And he got accepted. Now think about all the stories of students applying to their dream colleges, following every advice of their counselors, writing excellent essays and getting rejected. So why do some get accepted and others not? The answer is simple: stress.
“Sometimes, the fear or the stress out there is that the student thinks the essay is passed around a table of imposing figures, and they read that essay and put it down and take a yea or nay vote, and that determines the student’s outcome.”
– Tim Wolfe, associate provost for enrollment and dean of admission at the College of William & Mary.
A Word Of Advice: Be Positive
Considering all of these facts, we want to send a message to all those aspiring students, future professionals, doctors, engineers, marketers, musicians, artists, designers, architects and many others: don’t be too harsh on yourself and beat yourself up because you’re not a professional writer. Focus on studying what fascinates you and dedicate yourself to your area of expertise.