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.
Reading Scoring Guide
Analysis Scoring Guide
Writing Scoring Guide
Score of 4
- Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text.
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and of most important details and how they interrelate, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the text.
- Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text.
- Makes skillful use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating a complete understanding of the source text.
Score of 3
- Demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text.
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details.
- Is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text.
- Makes appropriate use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating an understanding of the source text.
Score of 2
- Demonstrates some comprehension of the source text.
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details.
- May contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text.
- Makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating some understanding of the source text.
Score of 1
- Demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text.
- Fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s).
- May contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text.
- Makes little or no use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating little or no understanding of the source text.
Score of 4
- Offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task.
- Offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing.
- Contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made.
- Focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.
Score of 3
- Offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task.
- Competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing.
- Contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made.
- Focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.
Score of 2
- Offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task.
- Identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance, or one or more aspects of the response’s analysis are unwarranted based on the text.
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made.
- May lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.
Score of 1
- Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little or no understanding of the analytic task.
- Identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s choosing.
- Or numerous aspects of the response’s analysis are unwarranted based on the text.
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant.
- May not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task.
- Or the response offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary).
Score of 4
- Is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language.
- Includes a precise central claim.
- Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion. The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.
- Has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.
- Shows a strong command of the conventions of standard written English and is free or virtually free of errors.
Score of 3
- Is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language.
- Includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea.
- Includes an effective introduction and conclusion. The response demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.
- Has variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates some precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.
- Shows a good control of the conventions of standard written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing.
Score of 2
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language.
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea over the course of the response.
- May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion. The response may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout the response.
- Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive.
- Demonstrates general or vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive. The response may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone.
- Shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding.
Score of 1
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language.
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea.
- Lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion. The response does not have a discernible progression of ideas.
- Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive. The response demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate. The response may lack a formal style and objective tone.
- Shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing.
We've written the best guide to the SAT essay available anywhere.
To craft this guide, we have carefully read all official material available on the SAT essay from the College Board and read the best SAT books we could find and extracted the most important things you need to know to succeed on the essay section. Based on this research, we're confident that this is the most complete and comprehensive resource available for the SAT essay.
This guide gets deep into every aspect of the SAT essay, from the rubric to prompts to the nuts and bolts of how to write a high-scoring essay. You'll learn the best tips and strategies to use to maximize the value of your SAT essay practice as well as how much time to devote to prepping for the essay.
If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to SAT essay and how to improve your SAT essay scores, this guide is invaluable. Rather than trying to put all the information we've distilled into one long article, we've created this multi-sectioned guide to serve as a table of contents to each of our more in-depth articles.
We'll start by taking a high-level look at the importance of the SAT essay to colleges and which schools care about your SAT essay score. The next section delves into more of the details of the SAT essay prompt and rubric and outlines step-by-step how to write a perfect-scoring SAT essay. The third part of this guide takes you through tips and strategies to use with the SAT essay. Finally, we'll end with a brief rundown of our articles on the old SAT essay, which have some general writing guidance that's still useful for the current essay.
We suggest reading through this guide in order your first time through, as you would any other test prep resource. Alternatively, if you're just looking for a refresher on certain areas, you can use this guide as a reference you can jump around in as needed.
What Do Colleges Think About the SAT Essay?
Something that makes the SAT essay different from all the other sections of the SAT is its optional nature. The articles in this section will inform you about why colleges don't all require the SAT essay and whether or not it makes sense for you to take the SAT with the essay.
Does the SAT Essay Matter? Expert Guide
With the changes to the SAT essay, the importance of your SAT essay score to your college applications has grown somewhat murky. Read this article to find out why colleges still require the essay and what kind of effect it has on your college application.
Should I Take the SAT Essay? How to Decide
There are both positive and negative aspects of taking the SAT essay. This guide goes through different arguments for and against taking the SAT essay and helps you figure out which scenarios apply for you.
Which Colleges Require the SAT Essay? Complete List
Depending on which colleges you want to apply to, you may not need to take the SAT essay at all. Find out if the schools you're interested in require or recommend you take the SAT essay with this article.
Understanding SAT Essay Prompts and the SAT Essay Rubric
The next set of articles unpack the SAT essay prompt and the best way to fulfill the requirements of the essay task. You'll learn how to write consistently high-scoring SAT essays and how to preplan examples and explanations to use on the real SAT essay.
New SAT Essay Prompts: How Are They Changing?
If you're just starting your prep or are unfamiliar with the SAT essay, this article is a great introduction to the essay section. In it, we analyze the difference between the old SAT essay and the current essay for those who took the old SAT and want to see how the new essay differs. This article is also a good summary to come back to if you need a refresher on what the SAT essay asks you to do.
SAT Essay Prompts: The Complete List
One of the most important ways to improve at writing the SAT essay is to practice with official SAT essay prompts. In this article, you'll find all the free and publicly released official SAT prompts currently available, along with instructions on the best ways to use the prompts in your studying.
How to Get a Perfect 8|8|8 SAT Essay Score
Excelling on the SAT essay requires understanding the difference between an almost-perfect and a perfect-scoring essay. This article will take you through my complete analysis of a perfect-scoring SAT essay and how to improve your score. You'll learn what to be sure to do and what to avoid when writing and the key areas to focus on for maximal score increase.
How to Write an SAT Essay, Step by Step
Learn the ins and outs of writing a perfect-scoring SAT essay by following along as we go through the reading, analyzing and planning, writing, and revising stages of a sample essay. You'll get to see the whole process, from scribbled handwritten planning notes to the polished final product. At each step, you'll also discover strategies to enhance your SAT essay writing process.
SAT Essay Rubric: Full Analysis and Writing Strategies
Dive into the intricacies of SAT essay scoring with this item-by-item look at the SAT essay rubric. You'll learn about what you need to accomplish in your essay to achieve high Reading, Analysis, and Writing scores. Plus, you'll get tips on the best way to use the rubric as part of your SAT essay practice.
6 SAT Essay Examples to Answer Every Prompt
Every SAT essay requires reading a passage and analyzing how the author constructs her argument. You can't prepare ahead of time by analyzing the exact passage that will be used, but you can familiarize yourself with techniques frequently used to add impact to argumentative essays.
Learn how to identify the six persuasive techniques most commonly found in SAT essay prompts and the effect each technique has on the reader with this guide.
SAT Essay Strategies and Tips
Now you've gotten both a basic understanding of what the SAT essay is and a good grasp of what's required to write the best SAT essay possible. Huge success!
The next step is to take that knowledge and understanding and apply it in the most effective ways. To help you with that, we've compiled our top strategies and tips for when to take the SAT essay and how to make your SAT essay practice as efficient as possible.
SAT Essay Tips: 15 Ways to Improve Your Score
Your time is a limited and valuable resource when it comes to the SAT essay, both in terms of how much time you have to spend prepping and the 50 minutes you get to analyze and write about the prompt on the real SAT. Read this article to find out what tweaks you can make to your essay writing process that will have a large positive impact on your essay score.
Does Messy Handwriting Hurt Your SAT Essay Score?
Essay graders are trained to read all sorts of handwriting, so it's not likely your essay will be completely thrown out because the graders can't read it. However, even occasionally illegible handwriting can still affect your essay score in negative ways. Find out how messy handwriting might negatively affect your essay score and how to fix the problem in this article.
Old SAT Essay Info
This final section contains a collection of our articles on the old version of the SAT essay, which completely changed format and scoring with the March 2016 administration of the test.
The articles in this section are useful mainly for historical interest and students who are curious about the scoring and format of the old essay. You can also skim these articles for general writing tips that are still applicable for the new SAT essay.
What Is A Good SAT Essay Score?
Learn how to set your target SAT essay score and why it's important for your studying. This article is geared towards the old SAT essay, but the general concepts are still applicable for the new SAT essay.
What's the Average SAT Essay Score?
Read this article to get a good idea of how scores were distributed on the old SAT essay and how they affected students' old SAT Writing scores (update coming soon).
Why You Shouldn't Copy Skeleton Templates for the SAT/ACT Essay
This discussion of plagiarism and the SAT essay uses examples from the old SAT, but the warning it conveys about copying other people's writing and passing it off as your own on the SAT essay is still relevant.
How Does SAT Essay Length Affect Your Score?
This article discusses the old SAT essay wisdom of "the longer your essay, the higher your score," and suggests explanations for why SAT essay length and essay scores were correlated.
The scoring, prompt, and timing information are all for the old SAT, but the factors affecting length are still operative on the new SAT essay.
SAT Essay Scoring: The Real Story
Read this article for a good introduction to scoring on the old SAT essay and how your essay score affected your overall old SAT Writing score.
The Most Reliable SAT Essay Template and Format
The prompts for the old SAT essay fell into predictable categories, which made it possible to plan out the structure ahead of time. This article teaches you how to create your own SAT essay templates for the old SAT. (Update coming soon for the New SAT!)
How to Attack SAT Essay Prompts and Raise Your Score
Read this article for a thorough dissection of the old SAT essay prompt and how to use information from this analysis to preplan examples to use on your essay.
SAT Essay Strategies from Real SAT Essay Graders
Get the inside scoop on essay grading for the old SAT with these strategies amalgamated from the reports of official SAT essay graders.
SAT Essay Examples for the 6 Types of Essay Prompts
Learn about the old SAT essay prompt and the different categories of questions that students were asked to consider.
Train the SAT Essay with Real Examples
Get a real feel for what old SAT essays were like with the real essay samples analyzed in this article.
Do Longer SAT Essays Really Score Higher?
Read this article for a general discussion of old SAT essay length and what features your essay needed to have for a high score.
There's a lot of information in this guide to digest, but your SAT essay practice shouldn't stop at reading this articles and strategy guides. The best way to prep for the SAT essay is to write timed essays in response to real SAT essay prompts.
Before you score your essay on the rubric, be sure to read through our guide to diagnosing your weaknesses and reviewing your mistakes. The article uses examples of multiple choice questions, but the strategies of honing in on your weak spots work equally well for the essay.
Above all, stay motivated! And if you liked this guide, don't forget to read our other ultimate SAT prep guides for SAT Reading, Writing and Language, and Math.
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