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SAT Essay scoring can be tricky to figure out. Maybe you've already created target goals for your SAT score, following our guide , so you at least have that score goal set.

But where does your essay score fit into all this? What is a good SAT essay score? This article will answer those questions.

Note : The information in this article is for the old (pre-March-2016) SAT essay, which was scored out of 12 and part of the Writing section. Scores for the March 2016 SAT were only released May 10th, 2016, which means that data on percentiles and averages aren't going to be available for a while yet. We'll update this article as soon as the information comes out.

feature image credit: Doing Great by Eli Christman , used under CC BY 2.0 /Cropped from original.

UPDATE: SAT Essay No Longer Offered

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In January 2021, the College Board announced that after June 2021, it would no longer offer the Essay portion of the SAT (except at schools who opt in during School Day Testing). It is now no longer possible to take the SAT Essay, unless your school is one of the small number who choose to offer it during SAT School Day Testing.

While most colleges had already made SAT Essay scores optional, this move by the College Board means no colleges now require the SAT Essay. It will also likely lead to additional college application changes such not looking at essay scores at all for the SAT or ACT, as well as potentially requiring additional writing samples for placement.

What does the end of the SAT Essay mean for your college applications? Check out our article on the College Board's SAT Essay decision for everything you need to know.

What Is the SAT Essay Out Of?

Before you can know what a good SAT essay score is, you need to know how many points you can get total on the essay. So what's the SAT essay out of?

Currently, the SAT essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 6 by two graders, for a total essay score out of 12 . Your essay is scored holistically, which means you don’t get bumped down to a certain essay grade if you make, for instance, a certain number of comma errors. Instead, SAT essay scorers use the SAT essay rubric to grade your essay as a whole.

Note: SAT essay scoring will change beginning with the March 2016 SAT. For more information on that change, read our other articles on the new SAT essay prompts and the new SAT essay .

What Is a Good SAT Essay Score?

As with most things on the SAT, a good essay score depends on what your goals are. These goals should be concrete and determined by the colleges you’re applying to - after all, if your reach schools have an average essay score of 9, then there's no need to burn yourself out trying to get that elusive 12.

To some extent, your essay score goal will also be influenced by your performance on the multiple choice section of SAT Writing. If you do better on multiple-choice questions, you may be able to cut yourself some slack in the essay department.

But how do figure out what your SAT Writing (and SAT essay) goals should be? Use our three-step process, explained below.

Step 1: Know Your Target SAT Writing Score

If you’ve read our free ebook on calculating your target SAT score , you may already have figured out your target SAT Writing score. If not, it's time to calculate it! I'll walk through the process using the example of Virginia Commonwealth Unversity.

First , download this worksheet . It's designed for calculating your target SAT score out of 2400, so you'll have to modify it a little bit. Fill in the schools you want to apply to in the leftmost column. Here's what the worksheet will look like for Virginia Commonwealth University:

15 sat essay score

15 sat essay score

If the sites don’t list a specific SAT Writing score range, you can divide the top and bottom of the overall SAT score range by 3 to get a general idea of what your Writing score needs to be. In this case, there is information about the SAT Writing score range, so we can fill that in on the worksheet:

15 sat essay score

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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  • What is a Good Score on the SAT Essay?

by Christian | Dec 24, 2017 | SAT Prep | 0 comments

What is a good SAT Essay Score?

Get a higher SAT Essay score - fast - with our instant-download complete course.

Are you getting ready to take the SAT test and wondering “what is a good SAT essay score?” Well, you’re in exactly the right place to study the SAT Essay with a perfect-scoring veteran SAT tutor! Let’s get into it…

What is a Good SAT Essay Score?

So, this article is chock-full of useful info, but let’s get the original question out of the way first. What is a good SAT Essay score?

Well. you have to understand the SAT Essay scoring system to fully understand the question (more details on that below). But for now, let’s just say a pretty “good” SAT Essay score is anything above about a 19 (out of a maximum of 24 points).

Now let me be clear - an 19 would be on the lowest-possible end for what I’d consider basically a “good” SAT Essay score. That’s definitely not a  great SAT Essay score. But it does put you somewhere around the top 20% of students.

If you can get above 22 out of 24,  now you’re looking at an excellent SAT essay score. Of course, shooting for a perfect 24 on your essay is the ideal goal!

But wait a second - let’s back up a bit. What exactly  is the SAT Essay, anyway?

What is the SAT Essay?

Ok, so now you have some idea what a good SAT Essay score is. But what  is the SAT Essay?

Good question. Well, the SAT Essay is an “optional” 50-minute writing assignment , given at the end of the SAT test. Each SAT Essay assignment includes a unique reading passage. But, although the reading passage will change for each test, the prompt and essay task itself is always the same.

In essence, you must provide a “ rhetorical analysis ” of the reading passage. Instead of  responding to the author’s arguments, you are meant to  analyze those arguments and judge their effectiveness at convincing the author’s audience.

You’ll be graded in three key areas:

  • Reading (Do you demonstrate an understanding of the passage?)
  • Analysis (Do you successfully complete the analytical task you’ve been given?)
  • Writing (Is your own essay well-written on every level?)

Now’s not the right time to get into deep strategies or rules for better SAT Essay scores. Luckily, we’ve produced an entire SAT Essay course that will teach you everything you need to know - fast. Click here to get access to download the course from anywhere in the world.

How is Your SAT Essay Scored?

So, how will your SAT Essay be scored? Well, it’s actually kind of interesting, and it’s important to know if you want a great score.

The SAT Essay is the  only section of the test that is graded by humans (that’s also why there’s a small additional charge to register for the SAT Essay).

Each of the two essay graders will quickly read your essay. They’ll follow a specific grading rubric to give you a subscore in each of the three subcategories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

These subscores range from a “1” at the lowest to a “4” at the top. With three subscores, that means each grader can give you anywhere from a “3” to a “12” at the highest. Both graders will give you their own set of subscores, which puts your final score between a “6” at the very lowest, and a “24” for a perfect SAT Essay.

There’s a lot more you need to know about the SAT Essay to excel, but this should at least give you an idea how your writing will be graded.

What is an Average SAT Essay Score?

How about if you’re a student who’s not looking for a  great SAT Essay score, but just an “average” score? What is an average SAT Essay score, anyway?

Well, there will always be a little bit of flex from test to test, but the typical “average” SAT Essay score is a 14 out of 24. Mathematically, the average “should” be a 15 out of 24, which is right in the middle. But, in real life, the overall average actually comes out at 14.

Where does that missing point disappear to? It turns out that many high schoolers struggle with the “Analysis” subscore of the SAT Essay. Probably that’s because they don’t prepare enough for this very specific writing assignment. Then, on test day, the “average” student doesn’t know  exactly what they must do for the Analysis subscore and they lose points. Make sure that’s not you!

What is a Bad SAT Essay Score?

This brings us to a question that’s not exactly fun: “What is a bad SAT Essay score?”

Personally, I dislike negativity - even the worst SAT Essay score is simply a chance to study, practice, and improve!

Still, it’s definitely possible to get a “bad” SAT Essay score. Since you’re using this score as part of your competition to get accepted into college , a bad SAT Essay score is simply any score that keeps you out of your favorite college.

Therefore, we definitely don’t want to be down in the bottom half of SAT Essay scores (a 15 or below).

Even worse would be dropping to a 12 or below. That means you’re only getting “2’s” on your subscores from both graders - definitely not where you want your score to be if you’re looking seriously at most decent colleges (at least the ones that require SAT Essay scores).

Wait up a second - did I just say “the colleges that require SAT Essay scores”? Does that mean that  not all students need to take the SAT Essay? Read on to find out…

Is the SAT Essay Section Required?

So, considering that the SAT Essay will add some extra stress, time, and work to your testing day, is the essay even considered a mandatory section of the SAT test?

Well, the truth is that the SAT Essay is an “optional” section. You can select to register for the test with or without the essay section. It’s an easy choice during the official SAT registration process. There’s a small additional fee to take the SAT test with the Essay, but as a pro tutor it’s something I consider important for most students.

While it’s true that not every student needs to take the SAT Essay, it’s usually better to be safe than sorry. After all, if you realize later that you  did need an SAT Essay score for your college applications, you’ll have to take the  entire SAT test again, just for a single chance at the essay at the end of the test!

This leads right into the next question about the SAT Essay….

Does Your SAT Essay Score Even Matter?

Now, here’s the million-dollar question: does your SAT Essay score even matter, in the big scheme of things?

Well, I wish I could give you a short answer to that. But the truth is, it depends on your priorities in life .

If you’re applying to Harvard for a Creative Writing degree, then a bad SAT Essay score is really going to hurt your chances.

But, if you’re applying to one of the many schools that does  not look at your SAT Essay score, then of course your essay scores won’t matter a single bit - even if they’re perfect.

Most students will fall somewhere in-between. For example, some of the colleges you apply to will “require” you to submit some SAT Essay scores, but they won’t  really look to hard at your essay scores.

In other words, many colleges do consider your SAT Essay, but few schools put a tremendous weight on the significance of your Essay score.

Your SAT Essay score tends to matter more and more for each of the points below:

  • Applying to “elite” colleges and universities.
  • Applying for writing or literary degrees.
  • Applying to many schools that require an SAT Essay score.

How Do You Get a Good Score on Your SAT Essay?

First things first - to cut to the chase for a much higher score on your SAT essay, click here and get our complete SAT Essay course . It’s our premier course on the SAT and ACT Essay from a perfect-scoring veteran tutor, and it’s available for instant download anywhere in the world.

Here are the keys to a higher SAT Essay score:

  • Knowing of the SAT essay scoring system.
  • Using a clear and dependable essay-writing strategy.
  • Writing multiple practice SAT essays on different prompts.
  • Focusing hard and using every available minute on test day.

Each of these bullet points (and much more) are covered in deep strategic detail in our SAT Essay course . So get it today - it will help, trust me. Best of all, the course is covered with a 100% money-back guarantee, so you really can’t go wrong.

If you’re looking for more free info on the SAT Essay, start with this article . Our free blog articles won’t be quite as well-organized or thorough as our complete essay course, but we’ve still published plenty of useful info to keep you busy!

Get Higher SAT Essay Scores Today!

Do you want higher SAT essay scores? We’ve got the perfect solution for you. Get our complete SAT & ACT Essay course - available as an instant download, only in our online store .

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SAT Essay Scoring

Note: while the sat essay has been discontinued , it is available for some of our state partners who require the essay as part of sat school day administrations., how the sat essay is scored.

Responses to the optional SAT Essay are scored using a carefully designed process.

  • Two different people will read and score your essay.
  • Each scorer awards 1–4 points for each dimension: reading, analysis, and writing.
  • The two scores for each dimension are added.
  • You'll receive three scores for the SAT Essay—one for each dimension—ranging from 2–8 points.
  • There is no composite SAT Essay score (the three scores are not added together) and there are no percentiles.

We train every scorer to hold every student to the same standards, the ones shown on this page.

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Analysis scoring guide, writing scoring guide, student score reports.

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SAT Essay Score...

SAT Essay Scores: All about SAT Essay Score Range


SAT Essay is the one which requires students to read a foundation text and then analyse how the novelist uses several techniques to build their argument. Each SAT Essay entails one passage between 650 and 750 words that students will read and then reply to. Students have 50 minutes to analyse the text and frame their responses. The SAT Essay comprises three main parts:

  •       Reading Prompt
  •       Reading Selection
  •       Essay Instruction

In 2021, College Board made SAT an optional section. It does not affect your overall score of 1600. Instead, your Essay grade stands unaccompanied on your score report. So, to know more about SAT essay score range & much more information on the same. We have curated a guide below about SAT essay scores and their importance with other general information.

SAT Essay Score Ranges: Highest, Good, and Average SAT Scores

Two scorers will assess your essay response. Each grader will allocate SAT essay score range of 1-4 in three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The highest grade you can achieve is 8 in all 3 sections, and the lowest score can be 2 for each of the three sections of the SAT Essay Paper.

·       Highest SAT Essay Score

The essay SAT score is an optional part of SAT with a self-regulating scoring system, i.e., means essay score is not involved in the total maximum SAT score of 1600. An evaluator will give you between 1 and 4 points for each section. In totality, each dimension is being scored out of 8 likely points. The 3 separate scores out of 8 points mean that the highest possible SAT essay full score is 8-8-8, or 24 total points.

·       Good SAT Essay Score

Any SAT score above the 50th SAT essay score percentiles, or median, is measured as a good result since it designates that you have done good out of the majority of students. A 50th percentile score, on the other side, will not be sufficient at most admired universities. Depending on how competitive the student pool is, the standard for a high SAT score rises meaningly. This is why it’s usually a good idea to aim for a 1200 or above score.

·       Average SAT Essay Score

There are diverse ways and parameters for calculating the average SAT Essay Scores. However, an average SAT Essay score is 14 out of 24 points for all three sections. The average SAT essay score range is 5 out of 8 for the Reading section, 3 out of 8 for the Analysis Section, and 5 out of 8 for Writing.

Everything about SAT Exam Pattern

Why is SAT Essay Score Important?

SAT essay, however, is a completely different exercise: it's a 50-minute rhetorical analysis essay at the end of a three-hour test. According to the College Board's SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report, 68% of students chose to take the essay. The SAT essay requires you to analyse a convincing argument. Topics for the passage can vary significantly but will always be about an argument written for an extensive audience.

 The SAT essay gives you a track to polish it. You can show off your creativity, critical thinking skills, and writing. You can also highlight the colleges where you're enthusiastic about going the extra mile.

What Is Considered A Good SAT Score to Study Abroad?

How to Prepare for SAT Essay?

Success on the SAT score with Essay depends on preparation as well as implementation. Here are a few tips that an undergraduate student can go through to prepare well for the SAT essay score.

1.       Study Sample Passages and SAT Essay Prompts

To understand the concept of the SAT essay, go through study sample passages to get high scores in each of the scoring sections, and take time to analyse example SAT essay prompts. As you go through each of the example passages and consistent responses, study how and why the author used to sign, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements.

2.       Understand the SAT Essay Scoring System

Two readers will score your Essay distinctly and allocate a score of 1 to 4 for each of the 3 sections that include reading, analysis, and writing. Your analysis score will imitate how well your essay analyses how the author went about urging the audience. Also, SAT essay score reports offer these three distinct scores, each on a 2 to 8 scale.

3.       Begin with an Outline

An outline helps you plan your writing by giving you a clear logic of direction when transitioning from one point to the next. Planning out your method for an introduction, body, and conclusion when the content is fresh in your mind will safeguard that you don't reach the end of your answer with blocks in your argument.

4.       Make Time for Edits

After making all the approaches and figuring out how to write SAT essay, aim to take out some time in the end for review. In doing so, you may catch misunderstood information or find other ways to extra build on the points you made in your response.

SAT Preparation Books to Ace Your Score

The choice is eventually yours to take SAT essay or not, but there are pros to taking the SAT with Essay even if a college or university you're interested in doesn't require it. A clear profit would be that it opens up your possible college choices, regardless of what you've decided on presently. Besides, if you want to know about SAT Score and other information, connect with our Yocket Counsellors and get 15 min free consultation to clear your queries efficiently.

Frequently Asked Questions about SAT Essay Score

Ques. What is a good score on SAT essay?

Ans. A good SAT essay score would be three 8's; that's a 4 from both graders in all three categories.

Ques. Which colleges abroad require SAT Essay?

Ans. There are some colleges abroad where SAT essay is required:

Ques. Is the SAT Essay mandatory?

Ans. In June 2021, the College Board chose to discontinue the SAT essay. Now, only students in a few states and school regions still have access to and must complete the SAT essay. This obligation applies to some students in the SAT School Day program.

Ques. Is 22 a good SAT essay score?

Ans. If you can achieve above 22 out of 24, it is the highest SAT score .

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Compass Education Group

SAT Essay Scores Explained

On january 19th, 2021, college board announced that they will no longer administer the sat subject tests in the u.s. and that the essay would be retired. read our blog post  to understand what this means in the near term and what the college board has in store for students down the road., our articles on subject tests and the sat essay will remain on our site for reference purposes as colleges and students transition to a revised testing landscape..

15 sat essay score

Why are there no percentiles for the essay on an SAT score report?

No percentiles or norms are provided in student reports. Even colleges do not receive any summary statistics. Given Compass’ concerns about the inaccuracy of essay scoring and the notable failures of the ACT on that front, the de-emphasis of norms would seem to be a good thing. The problem is that 10% of colleges are sticking with the SAT Essay as an admission requirement . While those colleges will not receive score distribution reports from the College Board, it is not difficult for them to construct their own statistics—officially or unofficially—based on thousands of applicants. Colleges can determine a “good score,” but students cannot. This asymmetry of information is harmful to students, as they are left to speculate how well they have performed and how their scores will be interpreted. Through our analysis, Compass hopes to provide students and parents more context for evaluating SAT Essay scores.

How has scoring changed? Is it still part of a student’s Total Score?

On the old SAT, the essay was a required component of the Writing section and made up approximately one-third of a student’s 200–800 score. The essay score itself was simply the sum (2–12) of two readers’ 1–6 scores. Readers were expected to grade holistically and not to focus on individual components of the writing. The SAT essay came under a great deal of criticism for being too loosely structured. Factual accuracy was not required; it was not that difficult to make pre-fabricated material fit the prompt; many colleges found the 2–12 essay scores of little use; and the conflation of the essay and “Writing” was, in some cases, blocking the use of the SAT Writing score—which included grammar and usage—entirely.

With the 2016 overhaul of the SAT came an attempt to make the essay more academically defensible while also making it optional (as the ACT essay had long been). The essay score is not a part of the 400–1600 score. Instead, a student opting to take the SAT Essay receives 2–8 scores in three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. No equating or fancy lookup table is involved. The scores are simply the sum of two readers’ 1–4 ratings in each dimension. There is no official totaling or averaging of scores, although colleges may choose to do so.

Readers avoid extremes

What is almost universally true about grading of standardized test essays is that readers gravitate to the middle of the scale. The default instinct is to nudge a score above or below a perceived cutoff or midpoint rather than to evenly distribute scores. When the only options are 1, 2, 3, or 4, the consequence is predictable—readers give out a lot of 2s and 3s and very few 1s and 4s. In fact, our analysis shows that 80% of all reader scores are 2s or 3s. This, in turn, means that most of the dimension scores (the sum of the two readers) range from 4 to 6. Analysis scores are outliers. A third of readers give essays a 1 in Analysis. Below is the distribution of reader scores across all dimensions.

What is a good SAT Essay score?

By combining multiple data sources—including extensive College Board scoring information—Compass has estimated the mean and mode (most common) essay scores for students at various score levels. We also found that the reading and writing dimensions were similar, while analysis scores lagged by a point across all sub-groups. These figures should not be viewed as cutoffs for “good” scores. The loose correlation of essay score to Total Score and the high standard deviation of essay scores means that students at all levels see wide variation of scores. The average essay-taking student scores a 1,080 on the SAT and receives just under a 5/4/5.

15 sat essay score

College Board recently released essay results for the class of 2017, so score distributions are now available. From these, percentiles can also be calculated. We provide these figures with mixed feelings. On the one hand, percentile scores on such an imperfect measure can be highly misleading. On the other hand, we feel that students should understand the full workings of essay scores.

The role of luck

What is frustrating to many students on the SAT and ACT is that they can score 98th percentile in most areas and then get a “middling” score on the essay. This result is actually quite predictable. Whereas math and verbal scores are the result of dozens of objective questions, the essay is a single question graded subjectively. To replace statistical concepts with a colloquial one—far more “luck” is involved than on the multiple-choice sections. What text is used in the essay stimulus? How well will the student respond to the style and subject matter? Which of the hundreds of readers were assigned to grade the student’s essay? What other essays has the reader recently scored?

Even good writers run into the unpredictability involved and the fact that essay readers give so few high scores. A 5 means that the Readers A and B gave the essay a 2 and a 3, respectively. Which reader was “right?” If the essay had encountered two readers like Reader A, it would have received a 4. If the essay had been given two readers like Reader B, it would have received a 6. That swing makes a large difference if we judge scores exclusively by percentiles, but essay scores are simply too blurry to make such cut-and-dry distinctions. More than 80% of students receive one of three scores—4, 5, or 6 on the reading and writing dimensions and 3, 4, or 5 on analysis.

What do colleges expect?

It’s unlikely that many colleges will release a breakdown of essay scores for admitted students—especially since so few are requiring it. What we know from experience with the ACT , though, is that even at the most competitive schools in the country, the 25th–75th percentile scores of admitted students were 8–10 on the ACT’s old 2–12 score range. We expect that things will play out similarly for the SAT and that most students admitted to highly selective colleges will have domain scores in the 5–7 range (possibly closer to 4–6 for analysis). It’s even less likely for students to average a high score across all three areas than it is to obtain a single high mark. We estimate that only a fraction of a percent of students will average an 8—for example [8/8/8, 7/8/8, 8/7/8, or 8,8,7].

Update as of October 2017. The University of California system has published the 25th–75th percentile ranges for enrolled students. It has chosen to work with total scores. The highest ranges—including those at UCLA and Berkeley—are 17–20. Those scores are inline with our estimates above.

How will colleges use the domain scores?

Colleges have been given no guidance by College Board on how to use essay scores for admission. Will they sum the scores? Will they average them? Will they value certain areas over others? Chances are that if you are worrying too much about those questions, then you are likely losing sight of the bigger picture. We know of no cases where admission committees will make formulaic use of essay scores. The scores are a very small, very error-prone part of a student’s testing portfolio.

How low is too low?

Are 3s and 4s, then, low enough that an otherwise high-scoring student should retest? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. In general, it is a mistake to retest solely to improve an essay score unless a student is confident that the SAT Total Score can be maintained or improved. A student with a 1340 PSAT and 1280 SAT may feel that it is worthwhile to bring up low essay scores because she has previously shown that she can do better on the Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math, as well. A student with a 1400 PSAT and 1540 SAT should think long and hard before committing to a retest. Admission results from the class of 2017 may give us some added insight into the use of SAT Essay scores.

Will colleges continue to require the SAT Essay?

For the class of 2017, Compass has prepared a list of the SAT Essay and ACT Writing policies for 360 of the top colleges . Several of the largest and most prestigious public university systems—California, Michigan, and Texas, for example, still require the essay, and a number of highly competitive private colleges do the same—for example, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

The number of excellent colleges not requiring the SAT Essay, though, is long and getting longer. Compass expects even more colleges to drop the essay requirement for the classes of 2018 and 2019. Policies are typically finalized in late spring or during the summer.

Should I skip the essay entirely?

A common question regarding SAT scores is whether the whole mess can be avoided by skipping the essay. After all, if only about 10% of colleges are requiring the section, is it really that important? Despite serious misgivings about the test and the ways scores are interpreted, Compass still recommends that most students take the essay unless they are certain that they will not be applying to any of the colleges requiring or recommending it. Nationally, about 70% of students choose to take the essay on at least one SAT administration. When looking at higher scoring segments, that quickly rises to 85–90%. Almost all Compass students take the SAT Essay at least once to insure that they do not miss out on educational opportunities.

Should I prepare for the SAT Essay?

Most Compass students decide to do some preparation for the essay, because taking any part of a test “cold” can be an unpleasant experience, and students want to avoid feeling like a retake is necessary. In addition to practicing exercises and tests, most students can perform well enough on the SAT Essay after 1–2 hours of tutoring. Students taking a Compass practice SAT will also receive a scored essay. Students interested in essay writing tips for the SAT can refer to Compass blog posts on the difference between the ACT and SAT tasks  and the use of first person on the essays .

Will I be able to see my essay?

Yes. ACT makes it difficult to obtain a copy of your Writing essay, but College Board includes it as part of your online report.

Will colleges have access to my essay? Even if they don’t require it?

Yes, colleges are provided with student essays. We know of very few circumstances where SAT Essay reading is regularly conducted. Colleges that do not require the SAT Essay fall into the “consider” and “do not consider” camps. Schools do not always list this policy on their website or in their application materials, so it is hard to have a comprehensive list. We recommend contacting colleges for more information. In general, the essay will have little to no impact at colleges that do not require or recommend it.

Is the SAT Essay a reason to take the ACT instead?

Almost all colleges that require the SAT Essay require Writing for ACT-takers. The essays are very different on the two tests, but neither can be said to be universally “easier” or “harder.” Compass recommends that the primary sections of the tests determine your planning. Compass’ content experts have also written a piece on how to attack the ACT essay .

Key links in this post:

ACT and SAT essay requirements ACT Writing scores explained Comparing ACT and SAT essay tasks The use of first person in ACT and SAT essays Understanding the “audience and purpose” of the ACT essay Compass proctored practice testing for the ACT, SAT, and Subject Tests

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.


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Hi! I’m a high school junior who took the October and November SATs. I got a 1500 on October and then retook it to get a 1590 in November. I’m very happy with my score, but my essays are troubling me. I got a 6-4-6 in October and thought I would improve in November, but I got a 6-3-6. I really cannot improve my actual SAT score, but I don’t understand the essay. I’ve always been a good writer and have consistently been praised for it in English class and outside of class. Is this essay score indicative of my writing skill? And will this essay hurt my chances at Ivy League and other top tier schools? None of the schools I plan on applying to require it, but, since I have to submit it, will it hurt my chances? Thank you so much.

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Maya, The essay is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Honestly, a 6-4-6 is a fine score and will not hurt your chances for admission. It’s something of an odd writing task, so I wouldn’t worry that it doesn’t match your writing skills elsewhere.

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By request: I was an SAT essay scorer, AMA

15 sat essay score

EDIT: I really can't believe that this was on the front page for most of the day. Thus I shall go down in history as the perpetrator of the MOST BORING AMA EVER. WOW.

Following up on this request , I was an SAT scorer employed by Pearson. I scored SAT essays for one school year. Frankly, it was a lousy job, because I taught English all day and then went home and scored essays in the evenings. It wasn't worth it financially, either--$12/hour for training and $17/hour for scoring (back then, anyway. Might be another $1-$2/hour more now. Whee.) Which, given that I already had my normal grading load to keep up with, wasn't enough to make it worth it.

That said, I didn't do it for the money--I did it to learn more about the essay so that I could help my students better prepare for it. In that respect, it was a successful endeavor.

I am no longer an SAT essay scorer, and if I were, I wouldn't be doing this AMA. Even with that, this is still a different account than the one I regularly post with--I had to sign an NDA when I left, and while I think it was only good for four years, I'd still rather be safe than sorry, on the off chance I ever decide that I want to work for them again.

It's been a few years, and it looks like I dumped most of my emails from that time, but I do have this one as proof . Hopefully that's enough proof for y'all.

To answer the questions in the original thread:

Why people score what they do, what you guys look for, etc.

We're given a pretty fair amount of training on how to score and what to look for. Honestly, if you look at the Essay Scoring Framework , it's pretty comprehensive. That's a rather broad question, so I'm not entirely sure what else to answer.

1.Has anyone ever stapled money inside a test booklet that you received? 2. If someone has, did you give them the max credit?

SAT essays are scanned, and we read them on a computer. So, no.

I lied a lot in my essay, did you notice?

Whether or not we noticed is irrelevant, since we're not allowed to score on correctness of content.

What was the most memorable thing you've read/happened during grading?

Honestly, nothing sticks out. We had to score ~20-30 essays an hour to keep the pace they wanted us to, and I did my scoring after a full day of teaching high school English, so generally I was pretty cross-eyed by the time I was through.

has there been any that you had to drop reading because of the quality.

Nope. In fact, those are easier to score, since it's not like my day job teaching HS English where I have to give meaningful feedback on each essay. The hardest ones were the 3/4 and 4/5 ones. 1s, 2s, and 6s were pretty easy to spot from a mile away.

Incidentally, not correcting your "has" is making me twitchy. So I'll just nudge you and remind you that it should be "Have there been..."

How do you determine plagiarism? Since the essays are hand-written I can't see an automated system working very well.

Since testing is conducted in a controlled environment and the questions aren't known ahead of time, it's pretty difficult to plagiarize. That said, there is a process for flagging suspected plagiarism. In my year of scoring, I don't think I ever used this process.

I remember when I did AP Modern European History test I was on loritabs for my broken arm. I remember finishing the essay, something about communism and Stalin, then since I had answered the question I went on to write about how Stalin loved piggys and how he loved to rub their warm pink bellies and run through the fields with them. 4/5 bitches!

I might have docked you a point for that, but not more than that as long as you fully answered the question. I never saw anything like that on the SAT essay, though. Sadly.

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To summarize this AMA:

"Anything fun happen?" "No."

Pretty much.

4 more replies

Yes. I've also jumped on tables and recited poetry.

Kids, lets rap

The teacher who inspired that film/character teaches at my university. I even took a class with him and he's a great teacher, but he will never talk about the film, because apparently it reminds him of his dead friend. I got to the University of Connecticut btw.

can someone explain this reference?

1 more reply

Do you score essays better when they adhere to the standard Introduction (with a Thesis Sentence), Body, Body, Body, Conclusion format?

I've always figured that a Thesis Paragraph post-Introduction was always more effective at expressing my main point.

I don't give essays any better or worse a score for conforming to the standard "five paragraph essay" format than ones that don't. That said, those are generally the ones in which students are able to be the most organized in the 30 minutes that they get to write the essay. As long as I know the argument you're trying to make, I'm not going to dock you for having a thesis paragraph post-introduction. But in a short essay like that, that's much more difficult to effectively pull off than it would be in, say, a longer research paper.

I do have to say that, from a scorer's standpoint, the standard five-paragraph format is MUCH easier to score. But it's also hideously boring, repetitive, and often devoid of creativity. I think it has its place, and the SAT essay is a good place for that. But I've seen a lot of essays work that didn't adhere to that.

Scorers on most Pearson projects are specifically instructed not to grade the 5-paragraph essay any better or worse than other organizational techniques.

Do you ever feel guilty about giving people bad scores? Did someone ever write about their personal life and it was so sad you gave them a higher grade than they deserve? How thoroughly did you read through the essays?

Nope and nope to your first two questions. I'm an English teacher--we're generally pretty heartless. :-) Ok, I'm not really, but no, I haven't.

To answer your third question, we have to average 2-3 minutes per essay with our scoring time, or the system actually flags us and makes us redo some of our training.

Generally in that time, I'd read each essay twice. Sometimes three times, depending on the essay.

In your opinion, what should a top essay have? I've heard to put at least 1 pop culture reference and 1 historical reference.

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  14. By request: I was an SAT essay scorer, AMA : r/IAmA

    I scored SAT essays for one school year. Frankly, it was a lousy job, because I taught English all day and then went home and scored essays in the evenings. It