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Writing an SAT essay consists of four major stages :

  • Reading : 5-10 minutes
  • Analyzing & Planning : 7-12 minutes
  • Writing : 25-35 minutes
  • Revising : 2-3 minutes

There’s a wide time range for a few of these stages, since people work at different rates. Some people, for instance, will be a lot faster at reading than they are at planning, while it might be the other way around for others. You'll need to find the timing combination that works best for you through a little bit of trial and error.

Writing takes the large bulk of the 50 minutes, but reading and analyzing and planning are equally important parts of the SAT essay writing process.

Stage 1: Read the Passage (5-10 minutes)

There are a couple of different ways to read through the passage on the SAT essay, each with their own advantages. No matter which strategy you use, though, make sure to keep an eye on the time so you don’t run out of time for analyzing and writing!

If you can just read straight through the passage without getting too hung up on details, go for it. This strategy works well for students who are naturally fast readers and don't have trouble getting distracted under time pressure.

If you’re a slow reader, get anxious about reading in timed situations, or find that the subject matter of the article is confusing, you might want to try skimming the article. You can use similar strategies to those you might use on SAT reading passages .

In either case, you'll want to make sure you get a good idea of the way the passage is laid out before you do a detailed pass through it. Why?

You'll probably end up reading through parts of the passage multiple times to make sure you fully understand it. Giving the passage a quick read-through before you do any detailed analysis can help cement which parts you'll want to come back to and which parts aren't as important.

When you go back do a more detailed reading of the article, sure to keep an eye out for argument-building techniques and to try to remain objective . You may want to circle or underline examples of these techniques as you read, which leads right into the next stage of SAT essay writing.

Stage 2: Analyze and Plan (7-12 minutes)

Many students resist planning on the SAT Essay because it already feels like there's not enough time to read and write, let alone take away some of that precious time for planning. But take it from us: you're better off with a plan. This is because the SAT essay graders look for a clear structure : introduction, conclusion, and specific evidence in between. It's almost impossible to create this kind of structure and still write quickly without a plan

You can write all over the passage as you analyze it – circle or underline key points , scribble in the margins, etc. This way, when you go back to quote the author in your essay, you’re not searching the text for the quote or supporting detail.

One way to mark up your passage is by numbering your examples and then circling and numbering any evidence from the passage you’ll be referring to in each paragraph. Another option is to write a brief description of the details from the passage in your planning and outlining, along with the location of the details. Taking this time during the analyzing and planning stage will end up saving you time in the long run.

I personally find it helpful to take notes as I read the passage and then organize them into an essay outline . Below are the TOTALLY LEGIBLE notes I took as I was analyzing the passage for the essay prompt:


As I was reading the passage, I scribbled down key details and the way I’d use them to support my thesis in the essay. For instance, I wrote, “ last paragraph – We need…we need (x4) -> overall use of “we” drawing reader into his POV ” in my notes. This describes what I want to talk about (the author's use of the word "We" and "We need"), what it means (it draws the reader into agreeing with his point of view), and where this is illustrated in the passage (last full paragraph).

I then organized these notes into some semblance of an outline I could use to plan the organization of my essay.


Here's a (rough) transcription of my outline:

Intro Facts/evidence -first paragraph stats and facts - to show issue is real, lend credibility -by not explaining has a couple of effects ->forces reader to draw own conclusions/think about which draws them into the argument ->alt makes reader look to author in rest o/article (b/c had facts at first + so can be trusted) Reasoning -acknowledges counterargument -so very easily could’ve gone on a rant abt twitter which would’ve undercut argument, disconnected from reader -instead, provides examples of when social media has been helpful (Arab Spring) -counterargument is more powerful as a result - take his “unease” more seriously Diction/style -“We” draws reader in, makes author sympathetic (not lecturing) -contrasts b/t ideal + real, b/t prof + amateur engage reader in the comparison, force to admit author is right -language elsewhere reinforces the idea that prof journalism under siege, words like “assailing” and “eroding” Conclusion

You can see that in the section labeled “Diction,” the first point is "We" draws reader in, makes author sympathetic (not lecturing)" .

You can combine these two steps if you’re comfortable enough doing it; I just find that separating them takes the pressure off to make sure that I take notes in an organized fashion.

Stage 3: Write Until 2-3 Minutes Are Left (25-35 minutes)

Once you have your analysis and planning done, it’s time to write like the wind. If you’ve taken notes and planned effectively, you should be able to jump right in and not have to go back and forth too much between the text and your essay.

Body Paragraphs

For most people, writing body paragraphs is easier than writing introductions. If this is the case, start with the body paragraphs, and just leave 10 lines or so at the top of the page to add the introduction later. One example should take up 1-2 paragraphs.

Let's use a methodical structure to try out a body paragraph about how the author uses a counterargument to add support to his own claim. The sample paragraphs below are all taken from an essay that I handwrote (and planned) in the 50-minute time limit.

Sample Body Paragraph

Start with a transition:

In addition to employing facts to his argument’s advantage, Goodman also cunningly discusses the counterargument to his position.

Then (briefly) introduce your topic:

By writing about how social media and man-on-the-ground reporting has assisted the state of foreign news reporting, Goodman heads off naysayers at the pass.

Explain the example’s context and relationship to your thesis:

It would have been very easy for Goodman to ignore the whole issue of citizen reporting, but the resultant one-sided argument would have been much less convincing. Instead, Goodman acknowledges things like “the force of social media during the Arab Spring, as activists convened and reacted to changing circumstances.” As a result, when he partially refutes this counterargument, stating the “unease” many longtime profession correspondents feel over the trend of ‘citizen journalism’ feel, the reader agrees.

Clearly state, in one sentence, how it is proof of your thesis:

Knowing that Goodman takes the power of social media seriously will make the reader more inclined, in turn, to take Goodman’s concern about the limits of social media seriously.

When you put all these pieces together, it’s a winning body paragraph. We start with a smooth transition from the introduction (or previous body paragraph), give enough background to understand why the example is relevant, and then connect it back to the thesis for the knockout punch.

Try to read through this again so the structure really makes sense to you.

Notice how this is formulaic – every one of your body paragraphs can be written in this structure , and you’ll get an excellent score! Having a structure like this will make many students less anxious about the new SAT essay.

You’d then go through the above process with the other 1-2 examples. In some cases, one very good example of the way the author builds his/her argument can be enough, if you can write 2-3 relevant paragraphs about it without repeating yourself. But having two examples is usually safer, because it gives you a better chance to show how well you've understood the passage.

Introduction and Conclusion

After finishing your body paragraphs, don't forget your introduction and conclusion paragraphs . Both should briefly mention the author’s argument and the examples you're using to support your thesis, but everything else is up to you. Some students write about the concept in general, and others just try to restate the thesis in different ways. Even a couple of sentences is better than nothing—try to scribble something in even if you're running out of time.

Sample Introduction Paragraph

In the article “Foreign News at a Crisis Point,” Peter S. Goodman eloquently argues the point that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States. Goodman builds his argument by using facts and evidence, addressing the counterarguments, and couching it all in persuasive and compelling language.

Stage 4: Revise (2-3 Minutes)

Much like planning on the SAT essay, revision seems unnecessary to most students. But trust us, it will help your score. There are two reasons for this:

  • Revising helps you change up your vocabulary and fix mistakes and/or illegible words
  • If you know you’ll revise, you can write much faster because you don’t have to worry about making it perfect

On the SAT essay, you can cross out words that you don’t want the grader to read. You don’t need to waste time erasing them, unless you want to replace them with something else.

So what do you do when you revise? Well, let’s take the body paragraph we wrote earlier and revise it. New text is bolded .

In addition to employing facts to his argument’s advantage, Goodman also cunningly discusses the counterargument to his position. By writing about how social media and man-on-the-ground reporting has assisted had some positive impact on the state of foreign news reporting, Goodman heads off naysayers at the pass. It would have been very easy for Goodman to ignore elide over the whole issue of citizen reporting, but the resultant one-sided argument would have been much less convincing. Instead, Goodman acknowledges things like “the force of social media during the Arab Spring, as activists convened and reacted to changing circumstances.” As a result, when he partially refutes this counterargument, stating his the “unease” many for longtime profession correspondents feel over the trend of ‘citizen journalism’ feel, the reader agrees. is much more likely to believe him. After all, Goodman acknowledges that social media does have some power. Knowing that Goodman takes the power of social media seriously will make the reader more inclined, in turn, to take Goodman’s concern about the limits of social media seriously.

At this point, you’ll have a complete winning essay.

Want to see what this essay looks like put all together? Read our article on how to get a perfect 8 on the SAT essay .

Our goal here was to show you how formulaic the SAT essay can be. By making the essay more predictable, you’ll go into every test with a game plan in mind , making the essay much easier (and less scary!).


"Guys guys guys! I figured out a plan for the SAT essay!"

Where to Go From Here

Now you know how to write an SAT essay. To put this information to good use, you need to practice with real SAT essay prompts . We’ve written the most comprehensive guide to SAT essay topics and prompts here .

Aiming for a perfect SAT essay score? Read our guides to get strategies on how to get an 8/8/8 on your SAT essay .

And if you haven’t read our 15 SAT essay tips article yet, do so now!

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Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.

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Thinking about tackling the SAT Essay? Here's what you need to know: you'll be asked to read a text (typically a speech or editorial of some sort) and discuss how the author effectively builds an argument. This might be a familiar task if you’ve done it in school, but if not, don’t worry. The format is straightforward, and with some practice, you can learn how to write a great SAT essay.

What is the SAT essay?

The SAT essay is optional and costs an additional fee of $17.00. Currently, only 25 colleges and universities require the SAT essay. You can find a searchable list of school requirements for the essay here . If there is any chance that you might apply to one of those schools, you should sign up for the essay. If you are not sure where you will apply, you should strongly consider signing up for the essay. Your essay score will appear on every score report you send to colleges, regardless of whether or not the school requires an essay. 

Here are 5 tips for writing a killer SAT essay, should you decide to add on that section:

SAT essay tips

1. Stay Objective

The thing to remember here is that ETS (the company that writes the test) is not asking you for your opinion on a topic or a text. So be sure to maintain formal style and an objective tone. Tip: Avoid “I” and “you.

2. Keep It Tidy

Handwriting is becoming a lost art. Unfortunately, this is one occasion where your skill with a pencil matters. Graders read tons of essays each day. If they cannot decipher your script, they will lower your score. Do yourself a favor and write legibly.

3. (Indented) Paragraphs Are Your Friend

Remember the basic essay structure you learned in school: introductory paragraph, body paragraphs and a conclusion? The SAT essay graders love it! Your introduction should describe the text and paraphrase the argument being made, as well as introduce the specific elements of the passage and argument that you will discuss in the essay. Your conclusion should restate the goal of the passage/argument and sum up the points you made.

Read More: SAT Tips and Strategies

4. For Example…

Use your body paragraphs to back up your thesis statement by citing specific examples. Use short, relevant quotes from the text to support your points.

5. Don't Worry About the Exact Terms for Things

Blanking on terminology? When describing how the author builds his or her argument, “appeal to the emotions” is fine instead of specifically referencing “pathos.” And “comparison of two things” can be used instead of referring to a metaphor. If you do know the official terms, though, feel free to use them!

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how to prepare for the sat essay

The SAT Writing Section (Essay): Here’s What You Need to Know

how to prepare for the sat essay

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The SAT recently revamped itself to more accurately test what students learn in school. The new version is less deliberately tricky and confusing, but it’s still a challenging, exhausting test. Let’s say you’ve taken both the ACT and the SAT and you perform better on the SAT. Now that you’ve chosen it as your go-to test, how do you get through the essay portion, especially if you hate writing?

Fun fact: the SAT has plenty of new practice tests , which include essays. For the purposes of this post, I’ll be working from this practice essay , so it might be useful to have it open as you read. We’ll go through what’s expected, what scoring looks like, and how to go about writing the best essay you can.

Understand What You’re Being Asked to Do

The new SAT no longer asks you to make up ideas and references from scratch (which, honestly, is probably for the best). Instead, it provides you with an essay and asks you to analyze it, much in the same vein as an in-class analytical or an AP English Language essay.

The Assignment

The assignment reads as follows. At the top you’ll see a generic introduction for what to look for as you read:

As you read the passage below, consider how (the author of the passage) uses:

  • 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.

Then, at the bottom, the instructions get specific. For this essay, they read like this:

Write an essay in which you explain how Bobby Braun builds an argument to persuade his audience that the US government must continue to invest in NASA. In your essay, analyze how Braun uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Braun’s claims, but rather explain how Braun builds an argument to persuade his audience.

What does this mean? Essentially, as you read, pick out the techniques the author uses to make his or her point, then write a detailed essay that covers a couple of the main ones. Brush up on your knowledge of literary terms and devices well in advance of writing the SAT essay. You don’t have to know them all, but know the most commonly used ones really well (tone, diction, imagery, simile/metaphor, allusion, rhetorical question, anecdote, and symbolism, to name a few) so you can rely on those. In an argumentative essay, like this one, an author will always use tone, diction (choice of words), and some kind of persuasion technique (Logos? Pathos? Ethos? Anecdote? etc.).

How is the essay scored? Two testers will read your essay and will provide a score of 1-4 on three different benchmarks: reading, analysis, and writing.

Did the writer understand the content? Did they quickly summarize the argument/point and then move quickly into their interpretation of it? Did they paraphrase and directly quote?

Did the writer not only identify the right literary terms/devices but assess their uses effectively? In other words, did the writer understand why the author used those devices and say so? Did the analysis integrate into the rest of the essay?

Is there a strong thesis, body paragraphs for each device, and a quick conclusion? (More on organization below.) Is the writing “strong,” i.e., sentence variety, no unnecessary words or repetition, strong words, and sophisticated reasoning?

The testers’ scores are then added together for an aggregate final score. So, a top score would be 8/8/8.

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Final Thoughts

Unless you’re being given extra time, you have exactly 50 minutes to complete the essay. This sounds like a lot (and it’s more than it used to be), but don’t be fooled. You’ll use the time.

Students with special accommodations might be able to take the test on a computer, but otherwise it’s a written test. Your test booklet will be scanned into a computer. If you make a mistake, don’t erase your work, because it causes smudges and can make it hard for the tester to read. Simply cross out and rewrite. The testers are trained not to read crossed-out material. If you’ve been told your handwriting is impossible to read, write a little more slowly than you might otherwise. Choose the style that’s more legible for you: print or cursive. When you write practice tests, give it to someone and ask if they can read it.

You’ll take the SAT essay last, after every other section has been completed. So you’ll be exhausted. There’s no way around that, unfortunately, beyond bringing snacks and water on test day and walking around during breaks to take the focus off your brain for a couple minutes. Practice is key; you’ll want to be able to read an essay quickly, pull out devices, and write a straightforward essay with a minimum of confusion and anxiety. Only practice and memorization of the right information will get you there.

As you prepare to take the SAT, take a look at some example essays that scored highly. It won’t be the same subject matter, but the structure and language will be aspects you can emulate.

Read with the Assignment in Mind

Imagine that your proctor has told you to turn to the essay section. You already know the basic assignment, so you can actually skip the top introduction and dive right in to the essay. Don’t get bogged down with unfamiliar words or the most complex sentences. You don’t need to absorb every single word of the essay. Read to find devices you can use. Circle them and ID them as you go. Don’t be picky right away—just observe and note what you see.

Go ahead and skim the bottom instructions, but even then the first sentence is the only really important one. In this case, the gist is: how does Braun persuade his audience to invest in NASA? Then, go back to the devices you found, and pick out the three strongest and/or most used devices to structure your essay. Can’t find three? Remember, an author always uses tone (point of view) and diction (word choice) so those are two easy ones if you’re stuck.

The process of reading and pulling out devices should take no more than eight minutes.

Make a Quick Outline

I know this one sound counterintuitive, given what I said about time limits, but bear with me. Just starting to write without a clear path is hugely problematic for timed essays. Even the best writers make a mental note of their general direction. Without planning, you might change directions mid-essay, forget your thesis and end up arguing something else, or wander off completely without realizing it.

The outline can be short and sweet. For example, with this practice essay, it could look like this:

Intro: Braun argues that continuing to invest in space tech and research keeps us competitive in the world economy. Devices: logos, imagery, allusion

Body 1: Logos (logic): paragraph 3, 5, 7

Body 2: Imagery: paragraph 4, 6

Body 3: Allusion: paragraph 8

Don’t even bother to include your conclusion in your outline. It’s pretty much the same content as your intro. Also, remember that you don’t need to tackle every aspect or device in the essay. Highlight where your devices are, then focus your analysis to those sections. In the outline above, I’ve structured the devices so that you’re going through the essay in almost chronological fashion. You don’t have to do this, but it makes the essay-writing a bit easier.

The process of outlining should take no more than two minutes.

Write Quickly but Methodically

Don’t waste a lot of breath with a big, drawn out introduction. State the argument of the author in one sentence, then your thesis, which should be a list of the three devices you plan to use. Keep it simple and easy, then move on.

For each body paragraph, make a quick topic sentence explaining which device you’re analyzing. Spend one sentence (ONLY one) summarizing how the author is using the device. Begin to use quotes or paraphrase; after each example, analyze why the author uses the device and the effect it has. About three quotes or examples are usually standard. Then, at the end of the paragraph, use one sentence to sum up the effect the device has on the whole essay. Use sample essays for examples of this structure.

See the numbers at the side of each paragraph? When you quote directly or summarize directly, put the number of the paragraph in parenthesis afterwards to cite where you’re getting the information from.

For your conclusion, simply restate what you’ve said before. If you’re feeling extra-confident, feel free to add a key takeaway from the analysis, but it’s not necessary. So, your conclusion can be two sentences just like your intro.

What if your writing style isn’t advanced or similar to the example essays? Work with a teacher or tutor who can help you develop your skills if you have the time. If not, just write simply and clearly. Don’t use overly technical words. Don’t make really long sentences just for the sake of doing so. Even simple, forceful language can be effective so long as your argument is good. So focus your attention on ensuring that you know what good analysis is and how to replicate it.

You’ll have 35 minutes to write. Keep an eye on the clock, but mostly just focus on writing quickly and clearly.

Leave a Few Minutes for Proofreading

Again, I know you’ll be flying through this essay at lightning speed to get everything done effectively. But this one’s important too. When you write quickly, grammar and spelling can fall by the wayside. That’s totally normal, so don’t freak out. But you will be graded on such aspects in your final score, so leave 5 minutes max at the end to skim through your essay, pinpoint where you made mistakes, cross out the word or phrase, and write the correct word or phrase above it. Try to make corrections clearly so that the tester knows which version to read.

And that’s it! Easy, right? (Totally kidding.) As with everything else, practice will help. If you’re not already doing this kind of essay in class, do a few practice essays at home. Make sure you do the EXACT process start to finish: time yourself, write an outline, and so on. Part of success is building the muscle memory to go into the essay with a solid base of experience and confidence that you’ll succeed.

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10 Tips for the SAT Essay

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1. Follow the rules. Don’t score a zero for failing to follow instructions. Use the essay paper that is provided. Do not write in your booklet. Do not change the question. Do not use a pen.

2. Divide your time. You will have twenty-five minutes to write your essay . As soon as you begin, make a note of the time and give yourself benchmarks and limits. For example, give yourself five minutes to brainstorm for main points (which will become topic sentences), one minute to come up with a great introduction, two minutes to organize your examples into paragraphs, etc.

3. Take a stance. You will be writing about an issue. Readers judge essays on the depth and complexity of the argument you make (and you will be taking a side), so be sure to show that you understand both sides of the issue you’re writing about. However, you can’t be wishy washy!

You will pick one side and explain why it is right. Demonstrate that you understand both sides, but pick one and explain why it is correct.

4. Don’t get hung up if you don’t actually have strong feelings one way or the other on a subject. You don’t have to feel guilty about saying things you don’t really believe. Your task is to show that you can craft a complex argument essay. That means you will have to make specific statements about your position and expound upon your individual points. Just take a side and argue it !

5. Don’t try to change the subject. It may be tempting to change the question to something that is more to your liking. Don’t do that! Readers are instructed to assign a zero score to an essay that doesn’t answer the question provided. If you try to change your question, even slightly, you are taking a risk that the reader will not like your answer.

6. Work with an outline! Use the first few minutes to brainstorm as many thoughts as possible; organize those thoughts into a logical pattern or outline; then write as quickly and neatly as you can.

7. Talk to your reader. Remember that the person scoring your essay is a person and not a machine. As a matter of fact, the reader is a trained educator—and most likely a high school teacher. As you write your essay, imagine that you are talking to your favorite high school teacher.

We all have one special teacher who always talks with us and treats us like adults and actually listens to what we have to say. Imagine that you are talking to this teacher as you write your essay.

8. Start with a fabulous or surprising introductory sentence to make a great first impression. Examples: Issue: Should cell phones be banned from school property? First sentence: Ring, ring! Note: You would follow up on this with well-crafted, fact-filled statements. Don’t try too much cute stuff! Issue: Should the school day be extended? First sentence: No matter where you live, the longest period of any school day is the last one.

9. Vary your sentences to show that you have a command of sentence structure. Use complex sentences sometimes, mid-sized sentences sometimes, and two-word sentences a few times to make your writing more interesting. Also--don’t keep repeating the same point by rewording it several ways. Readers will see right through that.

10. Write neatly. Neatness counts to some degree, in that the reader must be able to read what you’ve written. If your writing is notoriously difficult to read, you should print your essay. Don’t get too hung up on neatness, though. You can still cross out mistakes that you catch as you proofread your work.

The essay represents a first draft. Readers will like to see that you did, in fact, proof your work and that you recognized your mistakes.

Further reading:

How to Write a Descriptive Essay

  • How to Write a Great Process Essay
  • 6 Steps to Writing the Perfect Personal Essay
  • Write an Attention-Grabbing Opening Sentence for an Essay
  • How to Write Your Graduate School Admissions Essay
  • 14 Ways to Write Better in High School
  • Writing Cause and Effect Essays for English Learners
  • Private School Application Essay Tips
  • How to Write a Persuasive Essay
  • Tips for the 8 University of California Personal Insight Questions
  • How to Write a Narrative Essay or Speech
  • How to Write a Great College Application Essay Title
  • How to Write a Great Essay for the TOEFL or TOEIC
  • How To Write an Essay
  • How to Structure an Essay
  • How to Write the Graduate Admissions Essay
  • How to Ace Your University of Wisconsin Personal Statements

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How to Prepare for an SAT Essay

Student holding SAT books

If college is like the mansion of your future opportunities, your SAT score is like the padlock on the front door. Not to freak you out or anything, but getting a good SAT can mean the difference between being accepted at the college of your dreams or spending the next two years doing night classes at your local community school. And, while you might be able to muddle your way through the math and multiple-choice tests, you can’t fake a good SAT essay.

Here are some of the best tools and tricks to nail your SAT essay writing and get a high score. With a little hard work and preparation, you can dominate your SAT essay without even breaking a sweat.

Prepare with Literature

Before you ever step into the testing room, you need to have read some things. Not only will this help with your essay, but it will give you additional insight when doing the English part of the multiple-choice test. The more literature you’re familiar with, the stronger you can make your case. That doesn’t mean you have to read everything in the world. Simply read and understand and a handful of very versatile books and you can use them to support your essay no matter what the topic.

Some excellent books include:

  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • Hamlet, William Shakespeare
  • Night, Elie Wiesel
  • Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  • The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway
  • The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

Understand the SAT Essay Rules and Format

First of all, you need to make sure that you’re following the simple rules so that your essay doesn’t get disqualified. This means:

  • Bringing a pencil to write with. All essays in pen will be thrown away.
  • Write only on your answer sheet. If you write in your test booklet, you will receive a zero.
  • Don’t cheat! The test board computer scores your tests, comparing them with 10,000 others. They will catch you if you cheat .

Read the Instructions

It seems simple, but it’s the area that most often disqualifies an SAT test taker. According to the CollegeBoard, “An off-topic essay will receive a score of zero.” That means that if you don’t read the prompt correctly and specifically answer the question at hand, you are flirting with a no-score paper.

Here’s a typical prompt from the SAT essay section:

You have twenty-five minutes to write an essay on the topic assigned below. Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.

“Many persons believe that to move up the ladder of success and achievement, they must forget the past, repress it, and relinquish it. But others have just the opposite view. They see old memories as a chance to reckon with the past and integrate past and present.” – Adapted from Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, I’ve Known Rivers: Lives of Loss and Liberation

Assignment: Do memories hinder or help people in their effort to learn from the past and succeed in the present? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

The things to remember are:

  • You have 25 minutes to complete every part of the essay. That means, you need to complete your pre-writing (brainstorming, notes, etc) in about 5 minutes so you have time to physically write your essay.
  • You need to understand the quote. This is a quote about the value of the past on a person’s future. Start thinking now of books, stories, and ideas about the topic.
  • You need to have a point of view. That means you need to express an opinion and support it with evidence.

Write a Thesis with Words from the Prompt

You only have 10 minutes, so use your prewriting time effectively. On your essay directions page, circle the main question that needs to be answered in the prompt. Also, determine if this is an explanatory essay or an argumentative essay.

Now, write a thesis statement that will provide a guide for your essay using important words in the prompt. Circle these words quickly while you’re reading the prompt so you can find them faster. For the prompt above, a possible thesis statement might be something like:

Memories can be effective learning tools, but only if we don’t allow them to drag our behavior into the past.

Clearly, this statement answers the question using words from the prompt, but it also shows that the writer has some depth of thought and will be developing this idea for the reader.

Create Two Supporting Paragraphs Using Evidence

Now, you need to write two supporting paragraphs that develop your point of view. These need to follow the directions to the letter. That means, if they ask you for personal experiences and reading to support your ideas, you need to include both.

Introduce your evidence and then explain how it answers the question. For example, the explanation for each sentence of evidence is in bold:

When I was younger, I spent some time in jail. Although it taught me a lot about the effect a simple act can have on an entire life, I can’t spend my time dwelling on it. The past is only a helpful learning tool if you can gain wisdom without repeating the mistake that taught you that wisdom. In Hamlet, that same lesson is taught to the audience as they see Hamlet repeating the mistake to avoid taking action by avenging his father’s death. The result is not only that Hamlet doesn’t learn his lesson until it’s too late, but that his inability to learn from his past causes harm to everyone around him.

Write a Conclusion

If you leave your essay without a conclusion, it is likely to get scored far lower than you deserve. You need at least one or two sentences that sum up your ideas and leave the reader thinking. Make a statement about how this idea can affect the future, talk about the importance of the subject, or show how this topic applies to you. The idea is to be interesting, provocative, and committed to your point of view.

6 Things You Should Never Do

Even a person who does all of these things can get marked down for sloppy writing and poor writing style. Here are some things to avoid at all costs:

  • Sloppy Handwriting. Write neatly so that everyone can read – not too small or too big.
  • Using Ostentatious Words. That means “overinflated language.” Write like you talk.
  • Using Slang or Cussing. So, write like you’d talk if you were in a high-profile job interview .
  • Being Overly Creative. The goal is to see if you can write a simple essay. Don’t rap or write poetry.
  • Writing concluding statements at the end of body paragraphs. It’s just not necessary.
  • Overusing Adjectives and Adverbs. It’s really, superbly, undeniably, not even remotely effective.
  • Using the Same Sentence Structure Every Time. Vary your sentence length.

If you have any other tips on SAT essays to add or want to share your experience – you are welcome to leave the comments!

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How to Prepare for the SAT Essay

In this article we will explore one proven method for preparing for the SAT essay. But first, a bit of history:

The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a college entrance and placement exam that was first administered in 1926. The SAT is created for the College Board by the Educational Testing Service. In 2005, the College Board modified the exam by adding a writing section and an essay along with adding Algebra II content to the math section and other changes. How to best prepare for the SAT essay is the focus of this article.

One way to improve your score on the SAT essay is by developing a particular formulaic approach and then practicing it over and over again until even the most difficult prompt will be answerable.

The reason this approach works is that your essay will be graded by specifically trained high school or college teachers who will review your essay holistically and grade it on a scale of 1 to 6. Each essay response will be graded by two people and their scores will be averaged together for your final score. These two individuals will be looking for your essay to contain certain components and if you give them what they're looking for, they'll reward you with a high score.

The SAT essay will be comprised of an essay prompt or question for which you will have 25 minutes to compose an answer. This essay question or prompt will most likely consist of an idea or opinion, on which you will need to choose a side and construct an argument. Here is a sample prompt:

Are people best defined by what they do? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.

Read the prompt carefully. Notice that it asks you a yes or no question. Whether you answer yes or no doesn't matter at all. There is no right answer to this question. Rather, what is important is how well you back up your response with evidence.

After first choosing a side, you will construct an opening paragraph in which you state your thesis. You will then need to develop three distinct examples to back up your choice, devoting one paragraph to each example. You will end your response with a concluding paragraph where you restate your thesis. That makes for a total of 5 paragraphs. Here is how it looks in outline form:

Paragraph #1: State your thesis. Indicate with what evidence you will prove your point.

Paragraph #2: Example #1

Paragraph #3: Example #2

Paragraph #4: Example #3

Paragraph #5: Conclusion; restate thesis and review your evidence.

You will probably find it difficult to choose and elaborate on three distinct examples, at least at first. That is why it's important that you practice this formula repeatedly. It's OK if at first you can only come up with two examples. But the more you practice, the easier it will become. And the more essay prompts you expose yourself to, the easier your brain will find it to come up with three distinct examples about something you likely have never thought about.

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how to prepare for the sat essay

How To Prepare For The SAT Essay Section


3 Essential Skills To Master Before Taking the ACT


Should I Take The ACT or SAT?


Although the essay portion of the SAT is optional, it may be in your best interest to take it. It’s strongly recommended because it offers you an opportunity to showcase your skills in comprehension, logic, and of course, writing. College is going to require a lot of writing from you so the more you practice this, the better you’ll be set up for the future. The lessons learned in AP Language and Composition and AP Literature and Composition will prepare you for the essay on the exam and college in general.

After taking one or both of these courses, you will have the skills necessary to craft an “A” worthy essay for any course. There is no need to worry if you have never taken classes like this before or if taking both seem scary. Below are some tips that will help you prepare for the essay that has been inspired by AP courses.

Understand The SAT Essay Prompt

Teachers will say the “AP” in AP Lit and Comp is for “address the prompt.” This will be the golden rule to follow no matter what subject you’re writing for. Being that the SAT essay prompt is available online for students, you’ll be able to familiarize yourself with it before test-day. The only aspect of the prompt that will change is the reading sample you will be analyzing and referencing. By addressing the prompt early, you’ll be able to know exactly what the prompt is asking and save time when discerning what is being asked of you.

Prepping this way will allow you more time to read the sample closely and take away key elements that will help you during the writing process. Once you’re familiar with the prompt make sure to practice following the points they want you to address. Failure to follow the prompt will result in a test-reader not giving you full marks.

Never Summarize, Always Analyze On The SAT Essay

How boring would it be to have someone explain the plot of your favorite show when you know exactly what happens? Simply summarizing the reading for the prompt will not showcase your comprehension skills that are necessary to your success in taking the exam.

Unfortunately, no matter how many teachers, tutors, and test prep coaches say it, many students will only summarize the reading and that is not what the exam will ask of you unless explicitly stated. Most likely, you will be asked to analyze the argument made in the reading – the complete opposite of summarizing a text. The analysis portion consists of drawing out something new from the excerpt or trying to get into the author’s head and explore why they used a particular voice or choice of words.

If it helps, use scrap paper to briefly write down your thoughts on it and write reference points to back up your argument and analysis. Consider this to be your pre-writing so that you can ensure you’re confident in the points you are drawing out. The more prepared you are in what you’re talking about, the less likely you will be to summarize the reading.

Take Practice Tests Often

Whether it’s with a tutor or not, taking practice tests will benefit you in the long run. You should try your best to mimic the test-taking conditions, but if you are worried about running out of time, short change yourself while practicing on your own. This will allow you to have the peace of mind of knowing you can complete the assignment effectively in less than the allotted amount of time.

If you’re working on your own, ask a teacher to review your work and tell you where you can improve so you can pinpoint the areas you need to work on. Note that your best resource for all practice materials can be found at the official College Board website.

Always Read Everything

You’ve heard this one before, but it’s worth repeating and remembering. Reading everything in the test booklet will help you improve your comprehension speed and writing. The better you are at reading and understanding, the easier it will be to analyze details that will make your essay stand out. This will especially come in handy if you are currently enrolled in an AP English course.

While you are preparing for AP testing, you can also be preparing for the SAT at the same time. Two birds, one stone. If you’re not a voracious reader, try asking a teacher for materials that aren’t too advanced so you can begin to work your way up.

Not feeling confident in what you’re doing is going to be the biggest obstacle you face during test-taking and preparation. To calm your nerves, prepare to the best of your ability, take a deep breath, and make sure that you don’t neglect self-care along the way. Taking out the necessary time to better your skills will ensure that you’re ready and rested for the essays on the SATs and AP exams!

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Test Anxiety

Conquer Test Anxiety: Top 5 Techniques for Calming Nerves

How to Perform Well on SAT, ACT Test Day

Get good rest, prioritize questions that have answers you know and take advantage of breaks, experts say.

how to prepare for the sat essay

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If the time pressure starts to feel overwhelming, some breathing exercises may help. Counting down from 10 paired with a focus on inhaling and exhaling can help calm nerves.

Stress isn't necessarily a new feeling for high school students, but taking a standardized test like the ACT or SAT can bring its own set of challenges.

These college entrance exams are somewhat unfamiliar settings for many students and come at a time in their lives when they haven't developed many strategies to cope with the pressure, says Ginger Fay, a consultant for Green Apple College and Guidance, a college admissions consulting firm.

No matter how much test prep a student has done, test day can be a struggle.

"It’s helpful for students to recognize that this is a high-stakes moment," Fay says. "It will come with stress , just like the beginning of a race. There’s a lot of stress in that moment. Hopefully it helps you burst into energy and helps you do your very best. But it can sometimes get in your way."

Experts say the SAT's move to a digital format should help students feel more at ease, since many are already comfortable with technology, but preparing for the test and maintaining perspective can also go a long way. Here are eight tips that can help students perform well on test day.

Take Practice Tests

Success on test day is all about preparation and knowing what to expect. One of the best tools for that is a practice test, experts say.

It can be especially beneficial for students taking the new digital SAT for the first time, says Michelle Hunt, a college admissions exam prep teacher at Kaplan, which provides prep for standardized tests and other educational services.

Test takers can log in to the College Board's Bluebook app to take a practice SAT test that will mirror what they'll see on test day. This will help minimize any "surprises" and familiarize test takers with certain test functions, such as the built-in graphing calculator, she says.

The new digital, adaptive SAT is two hours and 14 minutes, while the ACT lasts two hours and 55 minutes. Doing a few practice questions is better than nothing, but experts advise taking a full-length practice test for each to best prepare, especially for the ACT, Hunt says.

"We know the (ACT) overall is longer, but even the individual sections are very lengthy," she says. "Having that mental endurance is a different type of prep than they’ll have for the SAT."

Get Plenty of Mental and Physical Rest

While it might be tempting to cram or study the night before, experts say that time is better used relaxing and getting to sleep early enough to feel refreshed the next morning.

"You should have already done just about all of the heavy lifting over the past three-to-four months by focusing on any academic weakness prior to the test," Pierre Huguet, CEO and co-founder of admissions consulting firm H&C Education, wrote in an email. "Students should focus on lowering their stress level as much as possible at this stage. That isn't accomplished by actively focusing on 'not stressing' but rather by proactively engaging in activities that will take your mind off the test."

Huguet says any prep the day before rarely has a significant impact on students' scores. Instead, he recommends students go for a walk, read a book or play video games, as long as none of those activities keeps them up late.

Eat a Good Breakfast

Going to sleep at a good time makes it easier to wake up early enough to eat a good breakfast, which preferably would include protein, Fay says.

"Eat it before you go to the test site, so that you’ve had a little bit of time to digest it," she says. "So all the blood and energy is not targeted on your stomach, because you want it back in your brain."

Pack Essentials the Night Before

Getting items ready the night before and having them by the door can ease the process on the morning of test day and alleviate feelings of stress and anxiety, Fay says.

Items that experts recommend bringing are water, snacks with protein or a little bit of sugar, several No. 2 pencils, a small pencil sharpener, a sweater in case it gets cold and a calculator that's fully charged or has extra batteries if it requires them.

Experts also stress that students remember to take their test ticket and photo identification. Students with accommodations should print out the letter from the College Board or ACT that describes the accommodations and make sure it's packed as well, Fay says.

“Preparation will help build your confidence,” she says. “When you hit a stressful situation, what you really want to think is, ‘I’ve got this,’ rather than, ‘I’m not ready for this.’ Every chance you have to go in feeling more confident and more prepared is better and will help you do whatever you’re capable of on test day.”

Focus on One Question at a Time

The timed aspect alone of each test can cause stress for many students, experts say, and it can be tempting to rush through questions, not read them thoroughly or misunderstand them. Some questions may even be designed to trip test takers up.

The adaptive nature of the new SAT may add another layer of stress, since how students do on an early set of questions determines the difficulty of subsequent questions.

"A few early mistakes can really hurt your overall score, especially because the test sends you to the easier second module, with a cap on your score ceiling, if you miss too many," says Carl Foreman, a master tutor for education consulting company IvyWise. "That means that if you're choosing between being thorough and being fast, choose thorough more often than not."

It's important to be aware of that, but test takers shouldn't concern themselves with which tier of questions they fall into, Hunt says. She says the digital version, where students click a button rather than fill in bubbles, may help some students get through the test quicker.

"Students like to try to predict and second-guess themselves," she says. "Focus on what’s on the screen in front of you. Live in that question and then you move on."

If the pressure starts to feel overwhelming, some breathing exercises may help, Fay says. Counting down from 10 or another similar counting method paired with a focus on inhaling and exhaling can help calm nerves.

Complete Questions You Know First

There's no rule that requires test takers to complete questions in order, so if time is a concern, experts suggest skipping the hard questions and completing the easier ones first.

"There’s no value in spending five minutes on one question when you could answer five questions in the same minute,” Fay says. “If you get stuck, you are better off moving on than overdoing answers. If it’s taking you longer than a minute to work out a math problem or to figure out where the comma goes in a sentence, then it’s probably in your best interest to move on."

When test takers encounter a difficult question, they should select an answer but make a note to return to it. The digital SAT includes a review module to remind test takers of questions they flagged. This needs to be done manually on the ACT.

There’s no penalty for a wrong answer, so experts suggest that test takers guess if they're unsure. Strategically, it's best to guess the same letter for every question that stumps you, Fay says.

Take Advantage of Breaks

The SAT offers a 10-minute break between the reading and writing section and the math section, while the ACT offers a 15-minute break following the math section and an additional five-minute break before the optional writing section.

Test takers should use these breaks to recharge and regroup. These breaks allow test takers to use the restroom, stretch their legs and eat a snack.

“Getting that hit of a little bit of sugar or a little bit of protein can help you remain focused,” says Amy Hubbard, head of college counseling and readiness at educational technology company Knovva Academy.

Remember That Test Results Don't Define You

The ACT and SAT are only part of the college application. Most colleges are test-optional, and some – including the entire University of California system – are test-blind, meaning they won't consider test scores even if a student submits them.

It helps to remember that it's just a test, Foreman says, and if students perform poorly they can always take it again . Many schools allow test takers to "superscore," meaning a student's highest scores from each section on all test attempts are combined to create a new composite score.

"Just assume you’re going to do better next time anyway,” Foreman says. “This is just to see how it is. Just do your best."

Searching for a college? Get our  complete rankings  of Best Colleges.

35 Colleges With the Highest SAT Scores

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The SAT is going all digital in March. Here's what you need to know

5-minute read.

how to prepare for the sat essay

If you're one of those many high school students — or parents — wondering what to expect of the new all-digital SAT, we have you covered.

The last-ever paper SAT was administered in December.

Whether you’re planning to take the SAT in a test center on a weekend or in school on a school day, a new, completely digital version of the exam will be administered across the U.S. beginning on March 9 after the College Board, the company that develops and administers the SAT, piloted the digital test in 2021. talked to two tutoring companies, Ridgewood-based Aspen Tutoring and Manhattan-based Bespoke Education, to learn what’s new and answer key questions.

Is the new digital SAT test still three hours?

No — the more streamlined test is about two hours long now. And there will be shorter reading passages rather than a few long texts, the College Board said.

Are the questions the same as on the paper SAT?

The digital test questions cover the same concepts as the paper version, but there are formatting differences on the digital test and two substantive changes in the English section, said Sarah Burton of Aspen Tutoring.

The first is that vocabulary features more prominently on the digital test than on the paper version.

“On the SAT test that we have been tutoring since it was last revamped in 2016, vocabulary was almost absent,” Burton said. “There was so little of it, but now they are bringing it back, not in a major way, but it is more prominent.”

The other substantive difference is what Burton calls “synthesis questions.” These read like bullet points or notes on a topic. The test taker is asked to synthesize the information contained in those bullet points in response to a question.

There are two modules now. How does that work?

The test is now adaptive, meaning it occurs in two stages, or modules. The second stage changes depending on your performance in the first stage.

For both the English and math sections, the difficulty of Module 2 changes based on student performance in Module 1, with targeted questions that are harder if you meet certain benchmarks in Module 1 and easier questions if you don’t.

“Everyone has the same first section, and then that will feed you into either an easier or harder second module,” said Tim Levin, CEO of Bespoke Education.

Unlike on the paper test, the digital test questions are worth more in the second module. To get those top scores in the 750 to 800 range, you really need to feed your way into the harder second module, Levin said.

Students should be especially careful about making calculation errors or other mistakes in Module 1 of math, Burton said. Due to the test’s adaptive nature, the highest scores depend on how difficult the second module is, so students should play it safe by checking their work in the first module.

What if the second module seems easy?

If that second module feels too easy, students should not fixate on it out of a fear that they’re botching the test, said Meaghan Ozaydin of Aspen Tutoring. “Focus on what you know. Don’t get in your head about something being too hard or too easy. That’s a huge problem for kids. They get stressed out and it becomes paralyzing,” she said.

Can I skip around on the digital SAT?

Test takers can now move back and forth between questions within a module. They can preview later questions and review earlier questions, if time permits.

Can I bring a calculator to take the digital SAT?

Calculators are permitted throughout the test, but not required. The digital SAT has a built-in calculator for the math section.

How long is the English section of the new SAT?

English has just two sections, called Reading and Writing. Students have 64 minutes to answer 54 questions. The questions and time are split evenly between the two modules.

How about the math section?

The math section has a total of 44 questions that need to be answered in 70 minutes. Here, too, questions and time are split evenly between modules.

Do I still need to bring a pencil?

Yes, but it doesn’t have to be a No. 2 for filling in answer bubbles. A pen or pencil can be used for scratch work. Also, bring snacks and drinks to be kept under your desk during testing, and a Wi-Fi-enabled device that has enough charge to last three hours on which to take the test.

What if I don't have a mobile device for the test?

Schools usually supply devices if students don't have their own.

Students  who need to borrow a device from the College Board  will need to register and request their device earlier than the registration deadline — at least 30 days before test day.

Should I practice for the digital SAT if I already took the paper version?

Yes, because the digital test has tools and widgets, including a calculator that students must familiarize themselves with, said Levin, of Bespoke Education. Download the Bluebook app from and use the SAT Test Preview.

The preview familiarizes students with digital testing tools needed during the test to cross out answers, display or hide a countdown timer and do other tasks.

“It’s important to get used to the various tools that they have available on the Bluebook app," Ozaydin said. "That's really helpful if you want to learn how to cross out options and flag questions and learn how to most efficiently navigate the test.”

The app also has four sample tests students can use to practice. That’s “a decent amount of material,” Burton said, but less than what tutors are used to. “We normally have so much material to work with, and now we have four tests,” she said.

Do I still have time to sign up for the March SAT?

Yes, registration is open for the spring 2024 digital SAT. You can check dates and deadlines  and find a test center close to you at .

The deadline to register for the March 9, 2024, sitting of the digital SAT is Feb. 23. The deadline for the May 4 session is April 19, and the deadline for the June 1 exam is May 16.

Is the digital SAT less stressful than the paper version?

With teen mental health and stress related to college admissions a growing problem in schools and among youth, it isn't clear whether the digital SAT will be any less stressful overall, despite its shorter length and digital format.

Burton said Aspen Tutoring tries to mitigate student stress by “taking the temperature of the room” during classes and putting the SAT’s importance in perspective — as one piece of a larger puzzle, be it college or life.

“I do think it’s a less intimidating test than the old one, and I think for kids this will be a benefit,” Burton said.

Is SAT scaling changing for the digital version?

"In general, what the College Board has said is that scaling is not going to change, so 1400 on the paper test is the same as 1400 on the digital," Levin said.

Students who took the test last year in Europe, where Bespoke has an office, are “doing at least as well on the digital SAT if not better,” Levin said. It's “intuitive,” and kids are finding it easier to take once they’ve practiced, he said.

Is the SAT coming back as a college application requirement?

The pandemic saw many colleges and universities switch their admissions policy to go test-optional, but the consensus among experts is that highly competitive schools still consider the SAT and the ACT.

And the SAT is still a top predictor of eventual college success.

So SAT scores could be returning as an admissions requirement. “This is the wave of the future. SAT scores are an important data point,” Levin said.

Why did Dartmouth just reinstate the SAT as a requirement?

Dartmouth College, an Ivy League institution, has reinstated SAT scores as an admissions requirement beginning with undergraduate applicants for the Class of 2029, after doing away with it for four years.

Dartmouth found that low-income students who did not submit scores that they thought were too low were likely passed over for admission to the school in the test-optional system.

A “misperception” about high and low scores can harm students, the university said. “A score that falls below our class mean [or average] but several hundred points above the mean at the student's school is 'high' ... it has value as one factor among many in our holistic assessment,” it said in a statement.

Watch CBS News

Taking the SAT in March? No need to sharpen a pencil

By Aubrey Gelpieryn

Updated on: February 8, 2024 / 9:39 AM EST / CBS News

Over nearly a century, millions of American high school students have sharpened pencils and cracked open pamphlets to take the SAT. But this spring, they can leave the pencils at home. Starting next month , the College Board's exam will only be available digitally, as U.S. students join their international peers, who moved to the digital exam last year.

There's also renewed conversation about college readiness exams. While many colleges dropped their SAT or ACT testing requirements during — and even before — the pandemic, Dartmouth College announced it is reinstating a policy of having prospective students submit their test scores starting with the class of 2029. Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced in 2022 it was bringing back its testing requirement .

What's different in the digital SAT?

The new test will also be significantly shorter and give students more time to answer each question. High schoolers, however, report mixed emotions about the new format.

"We talk about it all the time," said Ellie Mancini, a high school junior. "Some of us like it better online. Some of us don't want it at all. But I think a lot of us just want to get it over with."

Mancini plans to take the SAT for the first time this May. She doesn't plan to do any formal preparation ahead of the exam, but she did take the Preliminary SAT, or the PSAT, digitally in the fall. She said she would have preferred the option of taking it on paper.

"I think it's kind of ridiculous to have to do math online and do it in your head, or do it on a scrap piece of paper," Mancini said.

The test itself has also gone through major shifts. Reading passages are much shorter, a calculator can be used for the entire duration of the math portion and the total testing time has shrunk from three hours to two. Students have the choice to use a tablet or a laptop.

The new version is adaptive, meaning questions change depending on how the student performs as the test progresses. This also increases test security, since every test is unique. Priscilla Rodriguez, who oversees the SAT and PSAT divisions at the College Board, highlighted this as a major benefit of the digital exam compared with its paper predecessor. 

Adaptive testing makes the test shorter which Rodriguez said brings "the stress levels down for students." Students taking the digital exam "feel like they were able to show what they've learned in reading, writing and math and not show how quickly they can answer questions," she said.

Junior Olivia Padro, who used a tablet to take the digital PSAT, said she preferred the digital version to pencil and paper, especially an on-screen indicator saying how much time remained.

"Instead of me looking up at my teacher every five seconds to know how much time I have left in the session, it was all provided for me on my iPad," said Padro, 16. "So I knew how much I had to pace myself."

  • Dartmouth College brings back standardized testing admissions requirement

How will the digital SAT work?

Students have two sign-up options: They can register ahead of time through the College Board website and take the test at a designated Saturday location, or if their school offers "SAT School Day" they can reach out to their principal or counselor to take the test during school hours on a designated weekday.

Some students who took the digital PSAT fell victim to technical difficulties. Start time was delayed by about one hour for Padro and her classmates in Staten Island, New York, after what the College Board called "a surge in traffic on the application" affected schools in the eastern U.S.

"It was a painful lesson to learn. And one we took really seriously," said Rodriguez. "But we don't anticipate any issues like that going forward."

And College Board needed to figure out how students without stable wireless internet could take the exam. 

"The student needs to be connected to Wi-Fi at the moment that they start the test and at the moment they finish and really in between they don't have to," said Rodriguez, which minimizes the amount of bandwidth the test uses.

To address concerns about access, especially in rural areas , College Board connected with schools ahead of the PSAT. Only eight schools needed more bandwidth to support the exam, and they were sent additional routers. 

Students who don't have access to a laptop or tablet can apply through the College Board for a device to be delivered to their testing location.

While Rodriguez told CBS News the College Board is prepared to provide a device to every student who is unable to get one through other means, a disclaimer on the College Board website reads: "Submitting a request does not guarantee that College Board will provide you with a loaned testing device."

How can students prepare to take the SAT online?

Anna Cantirino, who coordinates test preparation programs for the nonprofit Student Sponsor Partners which in part provides SAT tutoring to low-income students , said she believes getting comfortable with the digital format may take time for some students.

"This year may be a little rocky," said Cantirino. "I don't think it will make a difference on how a student will perform once they become familiar with it." 

Lisa Speransky, the founder and CEO of Ivy Tutors Network, also said test familiarity can heavily impact a student's score. She recommends students complete the SAT practice tests online. 

"If you're taking a digital test, prepare digitally," said Speransky. "It's such a completely different experience to sit there with paper and then to do the tests online, so you really want to be preparing the way that you take the test."

The College Board offers four full-length digital practice test options on the same app that students will use when they sit for the SAT. It also has a partnership offering free SAT prep through Khan Academy.

What about the ACT?

The ACT is also opening up a digital testing option for U.S. students; however, students can choose to take either the digital or a paper version. The content will remain the same regardless of the test format and students opting to take the digital version will be provided with a computer at their testing location. Its nationwide launch comes after a pilot program in December with 5,000 students. CEO Janet Godwin said the server is prepared to handle hundreds of thousands of students on testing days.

"I'm not going to pretend that there won't ever be any issues because it is technology and stuff does happen, but we feel very confident in the testing that we've performed," Godwin said.

Godwin said ACT is waiting to see the response to this new format before making any movement toward digital-only testing.

"We think over time, more and more students are going to want to choose that online experience. But we're going to offer both for a period of time just to help people get used to the different options," Godwin said.

Keeping a paper version available also addresses concerns about internet connectivity. Godwin says in testing locations and schools where there isn't the bandwidth to support a digital exam, paper tests will be provided.

"Another reason why we're leaving a paper option is to make sure that we're not leaving out any schools from having the opportunity to offer the ACT to students in their area. Because there are still some pockets in the U.S. where bandwidth is an issue," Godwin said.

If students are unsure which exam they should take, Speransky, advises taking practice tests for both the SAT and ACT in their preferred formats and comparing the results.

 "We want students to be focused on the test that they have the highest starting score in," Speransky said.

Padro plans to take both the SAT and the ACT digitally.

"It keeps my options open, and it can never hurt to just try both," said Padro. "I don't think pen and paper would be necessary. I feel like it would be okay for me to just do it online."

  • College Board

Aubrey Gelpieryn is a producer with CBS News Streaming.

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