SAT questioned, students need more MLA help

Adam Vlach, [email protected], is a junior English and mass media major.

With the essay portion of the Scholastic Aptitude Test recently being made optional, the recurring question of whether that portion of the test is unfairly difficult for high school students, or if students simply aren’t prepared properly for it, is a popular topic both on the news and in the academic world. 

Examining the writing performance of incoming Washburn students’, particularly students enrolled in omposition 101, is a fair measure to gauge the preparedness, as far as writing is concerned, with which students leave high school.

The Academic Success Center offers one-hour instructional courses on Modern English Language and American Psychology Association. 

These are the two most common systems used when citing sources in academic papers. During the workshops, Ann Callies, director of the academic success center, spends time with students explaining how and why these citation systems are used.

“It’s the one workshop I know I’m going to get students to attend,” said Callies. “Some teachers require their students to attend.”

It comes as no surprise to the writing and English tutors that this workshop is always filled.

“It shocked me people don’t know how to cite sources,” said Elizabeth Burgett, a writing tutor. 

Burgett and other tutors explained that they learned how to cite sources in high school or middle school. Nonetheless, most tutors are aware that correct citation is not emphasized enough in many high schools.

Washburn University’s Corey Zwikstra, an English professor, was able to give some insight into students’ writing processes and aptitude. Zwikstra, who teaches composition 101 classes along with many others, says that the majority of his students know how to use MLA, but they don’t understand the ultimate concept behind it; they don’t know why it is so important.

According to Zwikstra, this is something that is learned over time, with teaching. Answering the question as to why so many students do not know how to use MLA or APA, Zwikstra gives two reasons, and his answer covers not only citing sources, but average freshman-level writing as well.

“Most [students coming out of high school] are prepared to write papers in college, but a lot are insufficiently prepared to write papers that are intellectually complex,” said Zwikstra. “This problem is neither high school teachers’ nor the students’ fault.”

Between following mandated core curricula and being overworked, high school teachers don’t have time to give proper and productive feedback on students’ papers, let alone have the time to explain the significance of citing sources, says Zwikstra.

Citing sources and making “Works Cited” or “References” pages is about more than avoiding plagiarism. By using and citing sources in a paper, a student is joining a discussion of a topic that is being had around the world, in a sense. According to Zwikstra, using MLA or APA is an intellectual process.

Jimmy Welton, a senior at Washburn Rural High School who is currently taking a composition class through Washburn, says that his high school has done an adequate job teaching him and his peers MLA, but it has not prepared him for college-level writing and the intellectual complexities required in college.

Whether writing in the SAT is too difficult or not is a different debate, but the fact remains that some high schools are preparing students for college-level writing and others appear not to be. Writing techniques aside, it does seem that the emphasis on MLA and APA needs to be increased.