Everything You Need To Know About The SAT Essay

Taking the SAT can be a source of stress for many high school students, and a lot of them are confused about the SAT essay. 

Does every SAT taker have to complete the SAT essay section or is it optional? 

How much time will you get to complete this section? 

What does this section really entail? 

These are just some of the many questions that students want answers to. 

Unfortunately, students sometimes end up reading outdated information, which could be disastrous. When the new SAT came into effect in 2016, the essay component underwent significant changes. The new SAT essay rules, requirements, and even the time limit are quite different from the old SAT. When you are looking for information on the SAT essay, make sure the information is about the new SAT. 

We’ve put together everything you need to know about the redesigned SAT essay section so you are better prepared for this important test. 
The SAT essay section changed in 2016.

Is the SAT Essay Optional? 

Yes, it is. With the redesigned SAT, the essay component is optional. You can choose to take the SAT with or without the essay. This may sound appealing to most students. After all, why take an additional test if you have the option not to? Moreover, not all colleges require the essay portion. So really, should you consider taking it at all or just strike it off your list right away? 

Before rushing into any decisions, there’s something you should know. Some schools may not require you to complete the SAT essay, but others do. How does this affect you? If you decide not to complete the essay component, you won’t be eligible to apply to colleges that require it. This immediately limits the list of colleges you can apply to. 

How much of an impact will this be to you? Should you take a gamble and opt-out of the essay section? That depends entirely on you. If you are very particular about which schools you want to attend, you don’t want to limit your options. On the other hand, if you are more flexible with your school options, you could leave the essay out. 

One way to protect your best interests is to do your college search first. Find out if those you are interested in applying to require applicants to complete the SAT essay. If they do, you have no option but to complete this section. If they don’t, we still recommend that you complete it anyway, as it will boost your application. Completing the essay – and scoring highly in this section – is a great way to show off your reading, analysis, and writing skills. 

Sending SAT Essay Scores to Colleges

Sending your essay scores to your chosen colleges is straightforward. 

College Board allows you to choose which day’s test score to send to your shortlisted schools. This is great because you can choose to send only the test where you scored the highest. 

Once you’ve made your choice, all the scores of that test are sent in one complete report. You cannot break up the report and only send select high scores. If you’ve chosen to complete the essay, your essay scores will be reported along with your other scores of that test day. 

It is important to remember that different schools have different score check policies. Some allow you to send only your best score, while others want to see the scores from all the tests you’ve taken. In this case, all your SAT essay scores will be sent along with your math, reading and writing scores. 

A Look at the SAT Essay – What to Expect

In the SAT essay section, you are given one passage of about 650 – 750 words. You have 50 minutes to read through the passage and analyze it. 

Analyzing the passage does not mean simply stating what the passage is about. It’s also not about agreeing, disagreeing, or sharing your personal opinion about the content. What you are required to do is first identify the point that the passage makes. Then explain at length how the passage builds a persuasive argument to convince readers. 

Let’s say the topic of your passage is, “Global warming isn’t as dire as environmentalists claim it is.” The passage then provides a compelling explanation about why the author thinks this way. Now, you may be passionate about this topic and agree or disagree with this statement. However, you must be very careful not to share your opinions for or against this argument. Don’t get carried away with the information presented or your feelings on this topic. Be objective. Stay focused on what you are required to do – explain how the author assembled the facts and built their argument.   

You can use examples to support your essay. In fact, you should use examples, but these must be extracted from the passage itself. You cannot use examples from other sources to explain your analysis of the passage.      

How the SAT Essay is Scored

The SAT essay is scored separately from the other sections on the SAT. The scores from both sections are not combined. 

Every SAT essay is assessed and scored by two separate evaluators. The assessment is based on three categories – Reading, Analysis, and Writing. You can earn a score of anywhere between 1 and 4 in each of these categories. The individual scores are then added together to give you a total score on your essay. 

Tips for Acing Your Essay

  • Make sure your essay has an introduction and a conclusion
  • Only use information from the passage itself 
  • Always read the prompt before the passage
  • Be objective when reading the passage and writing your essay 
  • Identify the most relevant details of the passage and focus your essay on those details 
  • Keep your style of writing formal
  • Avoid using first person in your essay 

It may seem like there’s a lot of do’s and don’ts and a lot to remember about answering the SAT essay. Answering a few practice essays before your test date will help you prepare so you can ace the SAT essay section.


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