Fooling the College Board

Scott Jaschik:

In the 1930’s, American businesses were locked in a fierce economic competition with Russian merchants for fear that their communist philosophies would dominate American markets. As a result, American competition drove the country into an economic depression and the only way to pull them out of it was through civil cooperation. American president Franklin Delenor Roosevelt advocated for civil unity despite the communist threat of success by quoting “the only thing we need to fear is itself,” which desdained competition as an alternative to cooperation for success. In the end, the American economy pulled out of the depression and succeeded communism.
Does that paragraph read like an excerpt of an essay with “reasonably consistent mastery” and that “effectively develops a point of view” and “demonstrates strong critical thinking, generally using appropriate examples”? Those are the College Board’s descriptions of the kinds of qualities that earn an essay a score of 5 (the second highest possible) on the essay portion of the SAT, a new and controversial part of the exam. And that is the score an essay with that paragraph (all punctuation, spelling, FDR’s new middle name and other “facts” verbatim) received from two readers when a student submitted it in October, having been coached on how to do so by a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.