Article: Poetry Analysis and The SAT? Say WHAT?

Poetry Analysis and The SAT? Say WHAT?Anne Sharp- smaller

By Anne Sharp, Compass Writing Instructor

“When my college admissions students ask me “What can I do to prepare for the literature portion of the SAT?” I suggest to them that they read poetry.  Sounds flippant, but it’s truly good advice.  The briefness of a poem allows a test to offer up a complete work, rather than just a passage, for interpretation and analysis.  As Shakespeare’s Polonius tells us, “brevity is the soul of wit”—“wit” in his day meaning “wisdom” and “intelligence”—so, use as few words as possible to make your point.  Which is exactly what a poem does.

Poetry also presents an opportunity to test a student’s ability to “read between the lines” and tackle literary imagery, metaphor, inference, tone, symbolism. This is critical thinking and analysis needed in college courses—from literature to technology.  If a student can grasp the abstractions presented in poetry, he/she is more likely to be able to navigate abstraction in other forms and other disciplines—mathematics, laboratories, business.  Poetry analysis is a good predictor of how a student deals with ambiguity and interpretation—the landscape of higher education and the real world.

In preparation for teaching “Writing Literary Criticism: Poetry”, I happened upon an article from The English Journal, written by Stephen Dunning from the University of Michigan about the importance of poetry in high school classrooms.  Written in February 1966, the piece will be 50 years old in a few months, yet the reasons for teaching poetry ring fresh and true today:

First, poetry should be taught because poems, especially short poems, offer the unique opportunity of bringing complete works of art into focus….

A second reason for teaching poetry is that poetry tends to be richer, linguistically, than any other genre…

A third reason for teaching poetry is that is an exotic form….Prose tends to give readers conventional realities, however artistically arranged; poetry gives students enough distance from reality that they can deal objectively with it….

–from “Why Poetry?” By Stephen Dunning, The English Journal, February 1966.

Hear, hear, Dr. Dunning! And here, here!  Poetry analysis is being offered by Compass Homeschool Enrichment beginning January 13!”


Writing Literary Criticism: Poetry meets on Wednesday & Friday from 10:00 am – 10:55 am starting on January 13. Complete class description, schedule, and registration information is available online.