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Essay Competition Frequently Asked Questions
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Q: When is essay competition?

A: The essay is written on computers at school or other location in your district, usually the first Wednesday and Thursday in February. (See the Dates and Registration page for this year's dates.)


Q: Who should write essays for competition?

A: The entire nine-person team must write at the same time, including up to three alternates.


Q: What is the Mandatory Login and why is it important?

A: The Mandatory Login usually takes place the Monday and Tuesday before the essay competition. The competition site is only available at certain, predetermined times so it is vital that each participant sign on using their given username and password to make sure there are no issues prior to competition. This login also allows participants to familiarize themselves with the program and practice answering a prompt.


Q: How long do students have to write the essay?

A: Students have 50 minutes to choose a topic, plan, write, and edit the essay.


Q: How should students prepare for essay competition?

A: Any practice writing an essay is helpful. One of the most valuable lessons for a timed essay is learning to use the time given appropriately (See "How can an essay be written in only 50 minutes?" below.) Revising and editing practice essays, especially with a peer editor, also builds writing skills.


Q: How can an essay be written in only 50 minutes?

A: Practice, practice, practice! Planning/prewriting should take no more than 10 minutes but is necessary to make sure that every aspect of the prompt is answered. Writing the essay should take about 30 minutes. This leaves 5-10 minutes for revising, proofreading, and editing.


Q: What are some tips for writing essays?

A: Do not summarize the text. Answer all parts of the prompt equally. Show you know what you are talking about. Use clear organization that is easy to follow but not formulaic. Support your ideas with specific examples, not just commentary. Skip lines between paragraphs because it is easier to read. If you choose a prompt that is a science topic, remember that your audience is typically English teachers.


Q: What should I expect on the day of competition?

A: You should arrive at least 15 minutes prior to the testing time, even though you cannot log in before the scheduled time. This will allow you enough time to hear all instructions and be prepared before competition begins. You will choose one of three essay prompts to write about. There is a 60-minute window for each competition time, though each student has only 50 minutes to write the essay. The student screen counts down the time remaining, gives a 5-minute warning after 45 minutes, and shuts off at the end of 50 minutes. You may not leave the testing area until all essay tests have been completed and all papers collected.


Q: If I don't know the answer to a prompt, what should I do?

A: Look carefully at the prompts and choose the one you can best answer. Do not hurt your team's score by writing something that has nothing to do with the topic.


Q: How are essays scored and who scores them?

A: Two different judges separately score each essay. The average of these two scores becomes the final essay score. If the scores given by the two judges differ by 200 or more points, then the essay is read by a third scorer. The final score of the essay is the average of the two closest scores. The judges are mostly English teachers who have been trained to score essays using the rubric provided by USAD.

 

The essay score is made up of two parts. The first 80% is based on the focus/score, organization, and content/development of the essay. An outstanding score in this area would address the prompt in an outstanding manner, respond to all aspects of the task, be organized clearly and consistently based on a strong central purpose that provides substantial and specific evidence to support major positions. The second 20% is based on language/style and conventions. An outstanding score in this area would demonstrate exceptional control of sentence structure and precise word choice, and is almost entirely free of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics.

 

Q: What is allowed during competition?

A: You are allowed to have two sheets of blank paper and a pen/pencil provided by the proctor (not your coach) to outline your essay if you choose to. The proctor will pick up this paper after competition. No other materials are allowed into the testing room.

 

Q: What is not allowed during competition?

A: No hats, drinks, or food. No names or identifying headings on the essay. No student is to leave the room during the testing period, except for emergencies. No talking during the testing time. No study materials in the essay room. No cell phones or other electronic devices. No other screens or programs may be open on the computer during testing. No extra time will be given.

 

Q: Why is the essay written on the computer weeks before competition?

A: Moving the essay competition online has some terrific benefits. Judges are able to score essays at their convenience over a longer period of time that improves validity and accuracy of scores. Illegible handwriting is no longer a concern. Finally, winning teams are better prepared for national competition.

 


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