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Rachel Kapelke-Dale

SAT Essay Scoring

Worried about changes to the SAT essay scoring after the launch of the new SAT in March 2016? Don’t be! Although the essay’s scoring has changed, the College Board (the folks who make the test) has been really clear about how the new SAT essay will be scored.

First things first: the minimum score you can receive is 2 and the maximum score you can earn is 8. That’s because two different graders will be scoring your essay on a scale of 1-4. However, you’ll be getting these scores in three different categories: reading, analysis, and writing. It sounds a little confusing at first, so let’s take a look at how it works in action.

The SAT Essay Process

On test day, you’ll take 50 minutes to write the SAT essay. The SAT essay’s now optional, by the way, but some schools will still require that you take it. You’ll read a passage and then write an essay on a given topic:

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      “Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/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/her] audience.”

Notice! This topic is the same every time! It’s only the passage itself that changes. You’ll then analyze the argument and write your essay.

The Scoring Process

Once you hand in your test, your essay will go to one scorer. He or she will give you a score of 1-4 based on how well you understood the reading, another score of 1-4 based on how well you analyzed the argument, and a final score of 1-4 based on how well you wrote your own response. The essay then travels to a second grader, who repeats this process. Finally, the scores in each category are added together, for three overall scores of 2-8.

Scoring Criteria

How do you get those perfect triple 8s? The College Board lays out exactly what they’re looking for in their essay-scoring rubric. An essay that scores a 4 in reading will show that you’ve understood the text thoroughly—that includes the central ideas, important details, and how they all work together to create an argument. In terms of analysis, an essay scoring a 4 will be insightful and demonstrate a “sophisticated understanding of the analytical task.” In other words? Make sure your essay evaluates how the author uses evidence, reasoning, and stylistic elements to make his or her point.

A lot of students worry about the “Writing” score, but you don’t have to be Shakespeare to ace this section of the test (or get a perfect Writing score). What you should do is make sure that your writing is precise and clear. Include an introduction and conclusion; vary your sentence structures; keep it formal; and leave several minutes to proofread at the end of the 50 minutes. Voila! The new SAT essay!

(A Quick PS)

The score for the essay is no longer included in the total 400-1600 SAT score. Instead, you’ll receive your three essay scores separately.

Wondering how the ACT and SAT essays compare? Check this out.

About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a High School and Graduate Exams blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and a PhD from University College London. She has taught test preparation and consulted on admissions practices for over eight years. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!

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