Salah: Writing skills deserve more focus

Salah argues that high schools and colleges need to put more emphasis on students’ writing.

Hend Salah

Hend SalahFor the past three years, I’ve been working as an English and reading comprehension tutor at a private high school in North Philadelphia. Working there has taught me many things, but what truly stood out to me is that writing proficiency, while undoubtedly a very important skill, is being overlooked in the college admissions process.

Of the 21 students I work with, at least 10 have been accepted to attend Temple in Fall 2013. Eight of them scored less than 500 on the writing section of the SAT, despite the fact that Temple’s average score on that section, according to the university’s 2011 student profile, is 549. Five of the students I tutor are placed in remedial English and have to attend a summer program to officially enter Temple in the fall. Four of them have a “C” average in their high school English classes and none of them have ever gotten higher than a “B” on a paper.

Last year, I was doing a review with the kids I tutor on sentence structure. We turned it into an exercise in which each person would write three paragraphs on how we could clean up the streets of Philadelphia. When I looked at their work I found that the students had really awesome ideas, but were having trouble expressing them without awkward phrasing or run-on sentences.

This indicates that writing is being poorly taught in high school. After four consecutive years taking high school English, students should at least be on an intermediate level of writing. There should be a standard that all students have to meet in order to progress with the rest of their class.

This also raises the question of how important the personal statement section of the university application is. Of the essays that I read, only four of them seemed collegiate and structured. The others were lacking in proper style and organization, and often went off on unrelated tangents. Still, several of the unstructured ones were accepted.

It isn’t Temple’s job, or any other university’s for that matter, to reteach things that should have been taught and reinforced in high school. What’s the purpose in taking so many English classes if the same techniques and skills will need to be retaught upon the students’ entrance into a college?

If Temple held a high regard for writing skills, surely the admissions office would more strictly enforce the minimum requirement in that section. Temple is not the only college that does not seem to give much importance to the writing aspect of an applicant’s eligibility for admission.

Some universities don’t even take the writing section into account. For example, Stanford University considers only the cumulative score of the math and reading sections. It takes the writing section into account as a reference or when other scores or application criteria are not exactly up to par.

I find that both unfair and ridiculous. Math and reading are only a part of what makes a good student. In order to do anything, you must have some level of proficiency in writing. Even a mathematical genius would face problems in his endeavors if he lacks the ability to write without grammatical or style errors.

That is not to say that writing should outweigh the value of math, reading and science scores. The point is merely that it needs to hold just as much importance to admissions as those other subjects do. A college education is made up of all these criteria, and so no part should be held with lesser value. The contrary only points to the idea that someone who is good at math is smarter than someone who is an excellent writer, which is in no way the case.

Hend Salah can be reached at

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