New SAT Essay: It’s Now Optional!

Here's what you need to know about the new SAT essay

Source: Flickr user kristinnador.

One question, completely optional: That’s the new SAT Essay.

If you have read my other articles about the pieces of the new SAT, you’ve probably noticed a trend. The test sections have all been redone to reflect a “college assignment” kind of feel. It’s all about the “real world”, and it’s no different with the SAT essay test.

So what does this part of the test look like? An extra 50 minutes, that’s what. The previous version of the SAT had a required essay component that you only had 25 minutes to complete. (Talk about a hand cramp)

During these 50 minutes, you’re still only writing one essay. Just like the questions in the Evidence-Based Reading & Writing part of the SAT, the essay question is based on a single passage. But, you aren’t agreeing or disagreeing with what the author is saying, and you definitely won’t have to share any personal experiences.

Instead, you are explaining how the author of the passage constructs their argument. This is quite similar to the essay section of the GRE. Taking into account the evidence, examples presented, reasoning, and other stylistic elements, how has the author tried to persuade their audience?

You are essentially being asked to break down the passage and extract the most compelling pieces. Does this piece successfully persuade the audience of the author’s claim?

Who Should Take the New SAT Essay?

When deciding whether or not to sign up for the SAT essay, make sure you are aware of the application requirements for the colleges you’re interested in attending. College Board has a list of college essay policies here.

Having said that, if the school doesn’t require it and you submit the score anyway, it won’t, in most cases, hurt you. You cannot, however, choose to send the SAT test scores without the Essay score if you take the tests on the same day.

About the New SAT Essay Passage

  • It is written for a broad audience
  • A point will be argued with the goal of persuading an audience
  • The author will use logic, evidence, and reasoning to support a claim
  • Passages will focus on arts, sciences, civics, culture, or politics
  • Each passage will be taken from a published piece of writing

Note: The essay will NOT require you to bring in any prior knowledge on the subject–everything you need for your essay can be found in the passage

What’s Being Measured on the New SAT Essay?

The SAT essay is essentially measuring your ability to comprehend and analyze a piece of writing. It’s sort of a meta-analysis of your writing skills. Not only will you be scored on your own writing ability in the essay that you construct, but also in your ability to read and analyze the passage that’s provided–two ways of assessing your writing prowess.

There will be two people “grading” your essay based on the following 3 categories:

1. Reading  

  • Did you understand what the author was trying to convey?
  • Could you identify the main points?

2. Analysis

  • Can you explain how the author built their argument?
  • Hint: Use specific examples from the passage to support your analysis
  • How did the author use evidence, reasoning, and other techniques to persuade the audience?

3. Writing

  • Essay organization
  • Appropriate style and tone with varied sentence structure
  • You will be evaluated on your grammar, usage, and mechanics–brush up on your Language Arts skills

How is the New SAT Essay Scored?

As previously mentioned, two people will be scoring your essay. Their scores are then added together. So, there is a range of 2-8 for each of the 3 categories (reading, analysis, and writing) with 6-24 total.

Subscores are reported for each section of the SAT, including the Essay. This means that when you receive your results, you will actually be able to see which scores you were given for each category.

Practicing for the New SAT Essay

Being successful in college can be difficult without good writing skills. Because of this, colleges like to have a feel for your abilities before they’ll admit you. Some choose to gain this through requiring submission of a personal essay, others prefer a simple standardized score.

If you have never taken a standardized essay test, I would highly recommend a practice round. College Board has a few sample questions available. Test yourself and see how you do.

Again, make sure you are aware of the application requirements for the colleges you are interested in. If they don’t require it, you don’t have to take it. It’s as simple as that.  


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