College Corner: Why verbal skills matter

By Cambridge Learning Center


With all the emphasis on science and technology in education today, there’s little wonder that verbal skills aren’t emphasized as much as they should be. This is unfortunate, since they may be the most important elements in the college admissions process.

Why? Two of the most important factors in admissions are SAT scores and application essays. Most serious students do quite well on the math section of the SAT but it is often in the verbal section that they have the most difficulty. It’s a high score in the verbal section that often distinguishes a student from his peers.

Verbal skills are also critical in writing an admissions essay. This is often the only places where a student can appear as more than a series of numbers from test scores and grades. It’s the place where an applicant’s achievements and personality show through, the place where he makes his case and shows why he should be admitted instead of all the other students who may have the same grades and scores. Given these challenges, it’s important to know what students need to learn in order to stand out.

First, students need to master grammar: what different types of words are, how they function in a sentence, and how their different combinations create meaning and ideas. Few high schools emphasize this today but it is absolutely critical. Grammar is to reading and writing what math is to physics. Just as math is the language of physics, grammar is the language of verbal skills. Without mastering it there is no way a student can excel in verbal skills. More than 60 percent of the questions in the SAT verbal section are directly or indirectly related to grammar, and in admissions essays, improper grammar can be highly embarrassing and very costly.

Second, students need to master rhetoric, the art of how essays are structured and how to make them persuasive. At better schools, admissions officials end up reading so many essays that it is often only the exceptional ones that really get their attention, and what really helps a student is writing the kind of essay that an admissions officer wants to take to the committee and show his colleagues.

Fortunately, any student can learn these skills given a willingness to do the work, but it does take work and the sooner a student starts the better. This is especially important since verbal skills are not only important in the college admissions process; they also improve a student’s performance in high school. Improving these skills improves grades in subjects like English and history, and also improves science scores, since students understand written science study materials better and are better able to understand test problems.

Parents and students should keep in mind that irrespective of the career path chosen, verbal skills are going to provide a critical component of the admissions process and overall academic performance. Even after an education is complete, communication never ends, and the greater the skills, more often the greater results.

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