The redesigned SAT Essay asks you to use your reading, analysis, and writing skills.
It’s About the Real World
The SAT Essay is a lot like a typical college writing assignment in which you’re asked to analyze a text. Take the SAT with Essay and show colleges that you’re ready to come to campus and write.
What You’ll Do
- Read a passage.
- Explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience.
- Support your explanation with evidence from the passage.
The SAT’s essay component has had a total makeover:
- It’s optional—but some schools will require it. Get College SAT Essay policies.
- You have 50 minutes to complete your essay, 25 minutes more than the required essay on the old SAT.
- You won’t be asked to agree or disagree with a position on a topic or to write about your personal experience.
Watch the Video
The Essay Prompt
The prompt (question) shown below, or a nearly identical one, is used every time the SAT is given.
As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
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.
You can count on seeing the same prompt no matter when you take the SAT with Essay, but the passage will be different every time.
All passages have these things in common:
- Written for a broad audience
- Argue a point
- Express subtle views on complex subjects
- Use logical reasoning and evidence to support claims
- Examine ideas, debates, or trends in the arts and sciences, or civic, cultural, or political life
- Always taken from published works
All the information you need to write your essay will be included in the passage or in notes about it.
What the SAT Essay Measures
The SAT Essay shows how well you understand the passage and use it as the basis for a well-written, thought-out discussion. The two people who score your essay will each award between 1 and 4 points in each of these three categories:
Reading: A successful essay shows that you understood the passage, including the interplay of central ideas and important details. It also shows an effective use of textual evidence.
Analysis: A successful essay shows your understanding of how the author builds an argument by:
- Examining the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and other stylistic and persuasive techniques
- Supporting and developing claims with well-chosen evidence from the passage
Writing: A successful essay is focused, organized, and precise, with an appropriate style and tone that varies sentence structure and follows the conventions of standard written English.
Take a look at the SAT Essay rubric, or guidelines, scorers use to evaluate every essay.
Who Should Take the SAT with Essay
You don’t have to take the SAT with Essay, but if you do, you’ll be able to apply to schools that require it. Find out which schools require or recommend the SAT Essay. If you don’t register for the SAT with Essay at first, you can add it later.
SAT fee waivers cover the cost of the SAT with Essay.
If you take the SAT with Essay, your essay scores will always be reported along with your other scores from that test day. Even though Score Choice™ allows you to choose which day’s scores you send to colleges, you can never send only some scores from a certain test day. For instance, you can’t choose to send Math scores but not SAT Essay scores.
Reminder: Check the Score Choice policies of every college you’re applying to, because some schools require you to send scores from every time you’ve taken the SAT. If this sounds intimidating, keep in mind that many colleges consider your best.
Get the inside story on your SAT score report and find out what the numbers mean.
- Total score: 400–1600
- Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section: 200–800
- Math Section: 200–800
- SAT Essay: Three scores ranging from 2–8
Take a closer look at the SAT score structure.
Putting Your SAT Scores in Perspective
Your score report provides a lot of feedback, and it might be hard to know where to start. Mean scores, percentiles, and benchmarks—described below—can help you put your scores in perspective. Subscores and cross-test scores can help you identify strengths and weaknesses. But your score report won’t tell you if you passed because there’s no such thing as a passing score.
Getting into College
If you’re wondering whether your score will help you get into your top-pick colleges, you can use BigFuture’s College Search to find out how their freshmen scored. But keep in mind that although SAT scores are important, colleges consider a lot of other factors when they make admission decisions.
Comparing Your Scores
You might also be wondering what you would have scored if you’d taken the old SAT, last given in January 2016. The SAT Score Converter compares scores on the current SAT, the old SAT, and the ACT.
Retaking the SAT
As you learn more about scores, keep in mind that many students take the SAT for the first time in the spring of their junior year, and then again in the fall of their senior year. Students usually do better the second time. Use your SAT scores to get free practice recommendations by linking your College Board and Khan Academy® accounts.
If you took the SAT before March 2016 and you like the scores you have, you don’t have to take it again just because there’s a new test. Colleges plan to accept scores from both tests for a few years. But there’s no advantage to taking one test over the other because the College Board provides tools that help colleges compare and interpret scores accurately and fairly.
Making Sense of the Numbers
Score ranges, mean (average) scores, benchmarks, and percentiles can be used to see if you’re on track for college readiness.
For the next few years, norm groups for the score ranges, mean scores, and percentiles will be derived from research data, not the prior year’s test-taking populations. A norm group, also called a reference population, is the group whose data your results are compared to.
Tests can’t measure exactly what you know, and many factors can affect your score. After all, no two days are the same, and if you were to take the SAT three times in a week or once a week for a month, your scores would vary.
That’s why it’s helpful to think of each score as a range that extends from a few points below to a few points above the score earned. Score ranges show how much your score might change with repeated testing, assuming that your skill level remains the same.
Usually, section scores for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and for Math fall in a range of roughly 30 to 40 points above or below your true ability. Colleges know this, and they receive the score ranges along with your scores to consider that single snapshot in context.
Mean (Average) Scores
Your score report will show you the mean, or average, scores earned by typical U.S. test-takers per grade. Unless your score is much lower than average, you’re probably developing the kinds of reading, writing and language, and math skills you’ll need in college.
College and Career Readiness Benchmarks
You’ll see a benchmark for each section of the SAT. Benchmarks are the scores that represent college readiness. In other words, if you score at or above the benchmark, you’re on track to be ready for college when you graduate high school. Use the detailed feedback in your online score report to see which skills need the most improvement.
Educators: Learn more about benchmarks.
A percentile rank is a number between 1 and 99 that shows how you scored compared to other students. It represents the percentage of students whose scores fall at or below your score. For example, a test-taker in the 57th percentile scored higher than or equal to 57 percent of test-takers.
You’ll see two percentiles:
The Nationally Representative Sample percentile compares your score to the scores of typical 11th- and 12th-grade U.S. students.
The User Percentile—National compares your score to the scores of typical college-bound U.S. 11th- and 12th-grade SAT takers.