The “Big Read”

I am off tomorrow afternoon to “The Big Read” and won’t be back till late Sunday, so I won’t be posting again until Monday.

“What is ‘The Big Read’?,” you ask. (Or maybe you don’t ask—but if you keep reading, you’re going to find out.)

Every spring, all the students who have been accepted to every University of California campus take a writing placement test that consists of an essay written in a two-hour time block in response to a 1-2 page reading passage. I’ll stop there with the description, but you can learn more (lots and lots more), if you click here.

This year, that will amount to about 19,000 students, give or take a few hundred.

Next comes the gathering of the writing faculties. We start swooping into Berkeley on Wednesday (room leaders) and Thursday (table leaders), until the full contingent of 300± is present Friday morning.

After that, we more or less spend three full days shut up in large, overly warm rooms reading and scoring essay after essay with occasional breaks for delicious, but mostly high-sugar snacks (which unfortunately tend to stupify, rather than revitalize). By the end of the three days, every essay will have been read and scored a minimum of two times. Those with marginal or discrepant scores will get additional readiings.

The essays themselves vary widely in content and style, though certain tropes will become unbearably familiar before the weekend is over. Regardless of what the essay question actually asks, several hundred students will spend several pages explaining (often erroneously) the use of onomatapoeia in the reading passage, having been assured by some AP teacher somewhere that this is what truly distinguished writers write about. Several thousand students will work Hamlet or Romeo and Juliet or The Grapes of Wrath or all three into their essays, oftentimes in rawther unusual ways. And we scorers of essays will soldier bravely through, doing our darndest to give each essay a fair reading, no matter how mind-numbing the process becomes. (Really, we do. We know that each essay represents a living, breathing young adult on the threshold of great intellectual adventures, who deserves respect for what she has learned and support to take that learning further.)

Late Sunday, we all head home, having completed some 45,000 or so essay readings and having gained an average of five pounds each from the combined effects of endless sitting and high-calorie noshing.

Wish me well, won’t you?

May 22 2007 12:37 pm | Uncategorized

5 Responses to “The “Big Read””

  1. Terri on 22 May 2007 at 1:47 pm #

    Sounds like it might (might!) be fun for about half a day, when you factor in the snacks. But a whole weekend of reading essays, whoooo! The thought of that made me a little dizzy.

    Good luck.

  2. Ellen Strauss on 22 May 2007 at 5:19 pm #

    It is right up there with what I have been doing – proof-reading 440 pages of large format book page proofs! Mind-numbing!

  3. rhoda on 22 May 2007 at 7:28 pm #

    you know, to me it sounds actually pretty cool but I’m sure the coolness factor would wear off after the first hour or so but it sounds fascinating!

  4. Anne Martin on 25 May 2007 at 6:52 pm #

    Oh boy. I admire the efforts to score them fairly.. but I can see where the recurring themes could get more than a tad bit boring. It sounds like it’d be thrilling to begin with, but if they’re all answering the same thing, I have to believe it will get amazingly repetitive at some point! Good luck!

  5. lella on 27 May 2007 at 10:23 pm #

    Absolutely, I wish you well, but this is coming late. That was a lot of reading. Thank you for the care and thought that you all put into the work as well. You must have been very tired when you get home. Best Wishes for some rest!

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