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Response to "Dead Presidents Take Precedence" SAT Prompt in the Barron's New SAT book.
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This is my response to the “Dead Presidents Take Precedence” essay prompt in the Barron’s New SAT book. You can find it on Google Play (Books section) – here’s the link. If that doesn’t work – just Google “Dead Presidents Take Precedence,” perhaps adding “Barron’s New SAT.” Be advised – Google will let you access this book a certain number of times, so use it sparingly, and seriously, go buy a copy of Barron’s New SAT – it’s not expensive – or check it out of the library.
The first notable literary device used in this essay is humor. The author has given the essay a humorous title containing a pun (“presidents/precedence”) to make his point that money (humorously referred to with the slang term “dead presidents,” which, of course, refers to most people depicted on U.S. currency), and opens the essay with an irreverent and humorous comparison of Henry David Thoreau’s famous stay on Walden Pond to a modern unsuccessful grown man’s living in his mother’s basement, later calling Thoreau “The Patron Saint of Lawn Gnomes.” The author points out that the stay on Walden Pond was, in his opinion, basically just a grown man camping out in his mother’s yard. The author maintains this humorous tone throughout, also using self-deprecating “aw shucks” humor when he states that he doesn’t know much about economics, other than buying a large jar of mayonnaise is a better deal than buying a small one. He also uses alliteration in a humorous way to illustrate his point that American jobs are being outsourced – that clothes are much more likely to be manufactured in “Botswana and Burundi and Bosnia” than in “Boston.” While the humor certainly makes this economic argument easier to read, it’s the kind of weak, mild humor most readers would expect from a magazine or newspaper columnist who’s trying too hard to be funny, perhaps because he’s trying to distract the reader from obvious counterarguments.
The author also questions the purported sacrosanct status of the minimum wage, and details the history of minimum wage law, going back to its roots in the Great Depression, and mentioning how a minimum wage regulation was at first found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1932, but another similar law was found constitutional by the same Supreme Court in 1938. This tactic is relatively effective, because it emphasizes that minimum wage laws were not always seen as obviously necessary, and, in fact, were so controversial that the highest court in the U.S. found minimum wage laws to be an improper and impermissible use of government power. This tactic “opens the door” on the assertion that minimum wage laws are not necessarily good for business, or even for workers, leading to the author’s citation of evidence supporting that assertion.
The actual evidence the author uses to back his argument is a survey done by the American Economic Review in 1978, for the fact that “90% of U.S. economists (as in, the people whose job it is to analyze economic theory) believe a minimum wage actually harmed unskilled workers, youths and minorities … the primary people the law is designed to help.” The author also uses humor and irony making a statement similar “Hey – you know what economists – people who actually know this stuff- have to say? The people you liberals want to help actually are HURT by your do-gooder wage law!” This is an effective rhetorical tactic, combining humor, irony, and mild sarcasm with an appeal to authority and statistics. However, the use of a survey that’s about as old as middle-aged person on a topic that is constantly debated and reviewed by economists, not to mention that the author has already asserted that minimum wage laws have no shortage of supporters, including, presumably, many esteemed economists, strongly suggests that the author couldn’t find more recent data supporting his or her argument as strongly. Indeed, the author admits that “countless” surveys and studies on the same topic, but economists currently oppose minimum wage laws “at a 75% clip.” While 75% is still an impressive percentage, the author fails to cite to any specific study, not even a survey or review journal article, to support that assertion. He or she also fails to address the obvious question as to why no one other than economists seems to oppose the minimum wage, or if others do oppose the minimum wage, why politicians do not act to repeal such laws, except for blind adherence to tradition and sentimentality. If that is the author’s assertion, he or she should state it explicitly. This problem detracts from the effectiveness of the essay.
The author then further cites to an argument by a “think tank” named “the Cato Institute,” setting forth a hypothetical situation in which an increase in the minimum wage leads a small business with a limited budget for employee wages to lay off an employee, “leading to more scrutiny and a higher workload for the … remaining employees,” since the employer can no longer afford to keep all the employees on. The author then adds “You see, the Road to Hell, really is paved with Good Intentions,” citing a common saying to emphasize the effect of the Cato Institute’s hypothetical, that the good intention of providing higher wages is “no free lunch” (another common cliché) and the bill for that “lunch” will be paid by the people we, as a society, intend to help. This helps create fear and doubt in the minimum-wage-supporting reader, and supports the viewpoint of readers who are against minimum wage laws.
The author continues his or her high-fear approach by citing to that fact that many low-wage manufacturing jobs, such as the mass production of clothing, has been outsourced to other countries, betting the reader “dollars to doughnuts” (using yet another cliché) that most of the readers’ clothing items bear tags showing they were made in “Botswana” or “Burundi” instead of “Boston.”
Finally, the author makes an argument to authority by questioning why the American public trusts “the lawyers in Congress” instead of economists to set wage policy in the U.S., when no sane person would make the analogous move of allowing untrained lawyers, instead of skilled surgeons, perform open-heart surgery. While this is an effective analogy – many readers will ask “This writer has a real point – why aren’t we listening to the economic experts instead of the clowns in Congress?” – it has two significant deficiencies. The first is that it is an old, trite cliché. Any industry can make the same argument – e.g. “Who are you going to trust to make safe drugs – the scientists and doctors at pharmaceutical companies who invent the drugs, or the silly politicians who don’t know science?” These arguments ignore the fact that Congress has advisors on all topics, and many politicians and lawyers are themselves competent economists.
Despite the flaws I have listed, the author make an engaging and coherent, as well as folksy, argument against the minimum wage using citations to surveys, statistics, appeals to authority, humor, and common-sense sayings and analogies. It is an effective opinion piece, similar to what is found in most newspapers and magazines, as well as online, today.
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Congratulations! You’re mostly prepared for the ACT. The “New SAT” is now very similar to the old ACT.
The math is mostly the same for both tests; the ACT’s “English Test” and the SAT’s “Writing and Language Test” are essentially identical; and the reading questions are also practically identical. there’s no science test on the SAT, but many, if not most, of the ACT’s “Science Test” questions are very much like graph and data-interpretation questions you had to do for the SAT. The ACT essay asks you to analyze three viewpoints on a topic that isn’t hard to understand, and about which you have probably thought before.
For you parents and other folk about my age out there, the “New SAT” is like the “New Coke” from the 1980s, but has a better chance of success. Basically, the ACT pulled ahead of the SAT in market share, so the SAT decided shamelessly to copy the ACT, with a couple of twists to make their product different from the ACT.
Here’s a brief rundown of the differences between the SAT and ACT:
On the ACT, there will be a couple (literally a couple, meaning two, as far as I can tell) matrix addition and multiplication questions, You’ll also need to know how to find the sum of a series from the first to the nth variable, for some value of n they’ll give you (series questions are on the SAT, but the ACT questions I’ve seen are more involved, ask about the sum of a group of series terms, average of a group for numbers). Also trig identities, and period/amplitude of a trig function, questions involving radians rather than degrees, law of sines, law of cosines, etc. The good news is, these questions are a relatively small portion of the total, so even if you miss most or all of these questions, it won’t catastrophically reduce your score.
If you want to review, or try to learn, matrix addition and multiplication, you can go here. You’re probably not going to learn matrix multiplication and addition from scratch in the few hours have left to study, but you can at least know a few tricks. And of course, if you just need to review these things, the review will be very helpful.
First of all, know that matrix multiplication is NOT commutative – the order matters. If you’re multiplying matrices, the number of columns in the first matrix (the left one) has to be the same as the number of rows in the second (right) one. If the first matrix is r rows x c columns, and the other is m rows x n columns, but c is NOT equal to m, don’t bother trying to do the math – the result is undefined.
For trigonometry problems, you’ll need to know the right triangle trig you needed to know for the SAT (SOH CAH TOA or “Oscar Has A Headache Over Algebra), and some basic questions about measuring trig functions using the unit circle and radians [Click here for review], and possibly the amplitude, period, etc., of trig functions [Click here for review].
For the science section, just try doing a few sets of science questions. You do need to know some very basic science to answer ALL the questions correctly for example, the charge of a proton or an electron, what photosynthesis is and does, what friction and gravity are, basic chemical concepts, you know – the kind of things you should have picked up even if you slept through most of your science classes, but if you don’t know them, you should be able to refresh your memory quickly by doing problems and seeing what you need to know. Other than that, all the ACT science test measures is your ability to read a graph or chart and your common sense. Don’t panic – you’ll do fine as long as you don’t try to bring in information that isn’t in the graph or the passage, and as long as you don’t let scary-looking formulas or science words scare you – you probably won’t have to know what many of them mean to get the values from the graphs or charts they want you to use. Read the questions first. Then zoom in on the charts and the passage that help you answer the questions. You may even find that some of the questions just ask about science you DO know, so you don’t even have to read the passage.
Reading and Writing
There’s no difference between the ACT and SAT on these sections. Don’t panic.
Almost all of you will have to do the “optional” essay, since the schools you want to attend require it. Read my previous blog entries on the ACT essay, follow the advice in them, and you’ll do fine. J
That’s it – good luck!
All right, so you’re taking the SAT on December 3, two days from when I’m writing this. So what can I help you with at this late date? I can help you with a few basic tips on how to write the SAT essay before you take it, while you still have time to take about an hour and try them out BEFORE you do the real SAT essay. I hope these help!
First of all, I want you to consider the saying “You can’t get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is.’” That saying is also known as Hume’s Law, and assuming an “ought” (a moral statement that something SHOULD be the case) from an “is” (an assertion of fact). That means you have to have a moral, ethical, logical, or emotional principle upon which you base your argument. Otherwise, you don’t have an argument; you just have a series of factual statements – more like an objective news article, which just reports the facts, than a news editorial, which states an opinion.
Any piece of writing you will be asked to read for the SAT essay will be a persuasive essay or similar article designed to convince you of the author’s point. That means it’s going to be an argument, which has to be based upon an “ought” – a general principle. So, the first thing you should identify is the “ought.” This is extremely easy on the SAT, since the instructions in the box following the passage will ask you :
Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his or her] audience that [THE “OUGHT” WILL BE STATED RIGHT HERE]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features in the directions that precede the passage (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his or her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade his audience.
You should identify the “ought” in the introduction and conclusion, since it’s the point of the essay. In the same paragraph, you should list the evidence and techniques used. “In his essay ‘I Will Gladly Pay You Tuesday for a Hamburger Today,’ Wim Pea makes an argument for why hamburgers are the best food and how it is a blessed, noble act to lend money to the temporarily indigent for hamburger purchases. Mr. Pea uses evidence from nutrition scientists, statements from theologians and anti-poverty activists, and personal anecdotes. He also uses appeals to emotion, logical arguments, and humor to create an effective argument regarding why you should buy him a hamburger and expect him to repay you on Thursday.”
In a paragraph (or two or three, depending on how many different kinds of facts are used), detail what kinds of facts are used – studies, personal anecdotes (that is, stories from the author’s life), quotes from authorities, examples from history or the news, examples from literature, common everyday examples and/or common sense (e.g,, everyone is familiar with eating, sleeping, going to school, riding a bike, playing games, etc.).
Then identify the techniques used – ethos (appeals to morality and ethics), pathos (appeals to emotion), and logos (logic) – don’t worry if you can’t remember those terms, as long as you can identify them as appeals to emotion, morality, or logic. Identify poetic and literary devices (alliteration, rhyme, metaphors and similes, anecdotes). Again, don’t worry about the technical terms, as long as you can identify the techniques clearly – it’s MUCH better to use simpler words correctly than to use more complex, sophisticated “SAT” words incorrectly.
Do you remember the last time some pretentious jerk used a word in the wrong way? Didn’t you have a good laugh that that person’s expense? Of course you did. You may have quoted “The Princess Bride” and said or thought “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” You don’t want the SAT graders to do that to you. For example, I’ve seen a YouTube video where the man making the video read a comment or email someone sent him, calling him a “sycophant” (a flatterer or a “suckup”) when the writer obviously meant to call him a “psychopath” (a person who doesn’t care about other people and often hurts other people for no purpose other than amusement). That mistake almost completely defused the writer’s argument before she even got to her point. The video’s “host” said “I had to look that word up, and it really doesn’t make sense here,” and made fun of her before addressing her point. Don’t be the idiot YouTubers make fun of in their videos. ;-) But I digress.
You should also ask yourself “What kind of emotional or argumentative language is used to present the facts in such a way that they support the author’s argument?” Does the author use adjectives, adverbs, or even nouns and verbs that are emotionally “loaded?” For example, people will think a car was going much faster and caused more damage if you describe it as having “smashed” into another car than if it “made contact” with the other car. Euphemisms can soften the truth, pejorative words can make things appear worse than they actually are.
Finally, while you’re not supposed to give your opinion on the topic of the essay, you can and should point out obvious logical fallacies, weak examples, or the failure to address obvious counter-arguments (which is a way you can bring in your opinion if you don’t agree with the essay writer). If you’ve read my other blog entries, you know I’m not making a new point here.
For example, does the argument use a shifting definition of a term (for example, does the writer use a term such as “light” as “light in color,” but then “light” as in “not heavy” in another part of the same essay, and confuse the two?) Does the argument “beg the question?” While the mass media often use that term as meaning “inviting a question in response,” as in “Your demand begs the question ‘Who do you think you are, ordering people around like that?’,” the formal meaning is “circular logic,” where the conclusion is assumed at the beginning. For example, the argument “I’m an honest person. You know I’m not lying about being an honest person because I said I’m not lying, and you can believe me, since after all, I’m an honest person” is an example of “begging the question.”
Do the facts fail to support the conclusion? “You should vote for me for mayor because I have a family and have lived in this city my whole life” doesn’t have much factual support. . Are they not terribly convincing? A really old study on something that’s probably been studied multiple times from the distant past to the recent past, might not be the best evidence for the author’s point – scientific studies have to be replicated many times before their conclusion are accepted as unquestionably true (and even then, of course, all scientific progress is based on showing where old principles are wrong and showing a better explanation of the same phenomena).
Basically, the argument has to be a “chain” connecting facts to logical, moral, or emotional principles. Is one of the links really weak? Is the chain missing a link completely? Write about it. If you can’t find any problems, which is likely to be the case, or you can’t articulate what the problems are, then just make a general statement about how each device is appropriate, effective, and how the author uses “powerful and apt” (or some other synonyms) language to make his or her point.
I know this is different from some essay instructions and examples I’ve given, where I’ve suggested writing, and actually written, essays by analyzing them paragraph by paragraph. Either approach is fine – use the technique that works best for you. You’ll figure that out by writing a practice essay or two, perhaps tonight and tomorrow.
Finally, I’ll repeat my advice from other blog entries – write the body paragraphs first, after leaving space for an introduction, then write the introduction at the end, so you know what you need to put in the introduction. Finally, write the conclusion – all it has to be is a rephrasing of the introduction. You can write the conclusion in about two minutes, and I’m sure you have in many high school essays. Good luck!
Author: John Linneball Who did you think? ;-)
I'm the proprietor and only tutor for this business; that's why I named it after me.