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What Is Essay Bot? AIs Writing an Essay for You Might Not Be Safe

sat essay rubric 2021

Writing essays isn’t many people’s favorite part of studying for a qualification, but it’s necessary. Or is it? If you’ve ever sat in front of a computer and felt like you didn’t know where to start, you might have been tempted to get Essay Bot to do the work for you. Before you search for it, here is what you should be aware of.

What is Essay Bot?

Essay Bot is just one of many AI services which are on the increase. The Essay Bot website claims to have an inbuilt plagiarism checker, so you might think this is a positive aspect. However, the unlimited search database is basically information already available on the internet. The site states that the bot searches millions of websites and provides the most relevant information. This all sounds good, perhaps too good.

Is Essay Bot Safe?

Essay Bot might be okay if you just want to create a piece of writing which isn’t related to college work, or for some offline material that isn’t going to be published online and get you into trouble. However, it’s too risky for college work. The software just seems to rewrite content that is already online, and it doesn’t always do this well.

Of course, you could rewrite the text in a way that makes more sense to your essay and addresses the points you want to make, but there are several downsides to this.

You could spend more time rewriting than you would if you simply wrote the complete essay yourself. You may also end up plagiarizing someone else’s work during the rewrites. It’s likely that the words Essay Bot provides are a rearrangement of content already available, and in an attempt to make more sense, you accidentally rewrite some of the text it was taken from.

You could invest in high-quality plagiarism software to prevent this, but is it really worth the cost and the extra time of tweaking and rewriting until the essay becomes completely unique?

Probably not.

Can You Get in Trouble for Using Essay Bot?

sat essay rubric 2021

Yes, you could get in trouble for using Essay Bot if your tutor or anyone else at your college found out.

Most colleges will use a plagiarism checker and if your essay fails this, you will put your place at risk. Each college or university will have different rules, but you could fail the essay, be made to redo the module or lose your place on the course. Education is not cheap, so it doesn’t seem worth the risk.

Even if you manage to craft your bot-written essay into something unique that also makes sense, getting someone to write your essay for you is still cheating. The writer being a bot doesn’t change that.

The easy way to determine if something is wrong is if you ask yourself whether you would admit to your tutor how you crafted your essay. If you wouldn’t tell them, you’re probably breaking the rules and could get into serious trouble if found out.

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We're about to dive deep into the details of that least beloved* of SAT sections, the SAT essay . Prepare for a discussion of the SAT essay rubric and how the SAT essay is graded based on that. I'll break down what each item on the rubric means and what you need to do to meet those requirements.

On the SAT, the last section you'll encounter is the (optional) essay. You have 50 minutes to read a passage, analyze the author's argument, and write an essay. If you don’t write on the assignment, plagiarize, or don't use your own original work, you'll get a 0 on your essay. Otherwise, your essay scoring is done by two graders - each one grades you on a scale of 1-4 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing, for a total essay score out of 8 in each of those three areas . But how do these graders assign your writing a numerical grade? By using an essay scoring guide, or rubric.

*may not actually be the least belovèd.

Feature image credit: Day 148: the end of time by Bruce Guenter , used under CC BY 2.0 /Cropped from original. 

UPDATE: SAT Essay No Longer Offered

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In January 2021, the College Board announced that after June 2021, it would no longer offer the Essay portion of the SAT (except at schools who opt in during School Day Testing). It is now no longer possible to take the SAT Essay, unless your school is one of the small number who choose to offer it during SAT School Day Testing.

While most colleges had already made SAT Essay scores optional, this move by the College Board means no colleges now require the SAT Essay. It will also likely lead to additional college application changes such not looking at essay scores at all for the SAT or ACT, as well as potentially requiring additional writing samples for placement.

What does the end of the SAT Essay mean for your college applications? Check out our article on the College Board's SAT Essay decision for everything you need to know.

The Complete SAT Essay Grading Rubric: Item-by-Item Breakdown

Based on the CollegeBoard’s stated Reading, Analysis, and Writing criteria, I've created the below charts (for easier comparison across score points). For the purpose of going deeper into just what the SAT is looking for in your essay, I've then broken down each category further (with examples).

The information in all three charts is taken from the College Board site .

The biggest change to the SAT essay (and the thing that really distinguishes it from the ACT essay) is that you are required to read and analyze a text , then write about your analysis of the author's argument in your essay. Your "Reading" grade on the SAT essay reflects how well you were able to demonstrate your understanding of the text and the author's argument in your essay.

You'll need to show your understanding of the text on two different levels: the surface level of getting your facts right and the deeper level of getting the relationship of the details and the central ideas right.

Surface Level: Factual Accuracy

One of the most important ways you can show you've actually read the passage is making sure you stick to what is said in the text . If you’re writing about things the author didn’t say, or things that contradict other things the author said, your argument will be fundamentally flawed.

For instance, take this quotation from a (made-up) passage about why a hot dog is not a sandwich:

“The fact that you can’t, or wouldn’t, cut a hot dog in half and eat it that way, proves that a hot dog is once and for all NOT a sandwich”

Here's an example of a factually inaccurate paraphrasing of this quotation:

The author builds his argument by discussing how, since hot-dogs are often served cut in half, this makes them different from sandwiches.

The paraphrase contradicts the passage, and so would negatively affect your reading score. Now let's look at an accurate paraphrasing of the quotation:

The author builds his argument by discussing how, since hot-dogs are never served cut in half, they are therefore different from sandwiches.

It's also important to be faithful to the text when you're using direct quotations from the passage. Misquoting or badly paraphrasing the author’s words weakens your essay, because the evidence you’re using to support your points is faulty.

Higher Level: Understanding of Central Ideas

The next step beyond being factually accurate about the passage is showing that you understand the central ideas of the text and how details of the passage relate back to this central idea.

Why does this matter? In order to be able to explain why the author is persuasive, you need to be able to explain the structure of the argument. And you can’t deconstruct the author's argument if you don’t understand the central idea of the passage and how the details relate to it.

Here's an example of a statement about our fictional "hot dogs are sandwiches" passage that shows understanding of the central idea of the passage:

Hodgman’s third primary defense of why hot dogs are not sandwiches is that a hot dog is not a subset of any other type of food. He uses the analogy of asking the question “is cereal milk a broth, sauce, or gravy?” to show that making such a comparison between hot dogs and sandwiches is patently illogical.

The above statement takes one step beyond merely being factually accurate to explain the relation between different parts of the passage (in this case, the relation between the "what is cereal milk?" analogy and the hot dog/sandwich debate).

Of course, if you want to score well in all three essay areas, you’ll need to do more in your essay than merely summarizing the author’s argument. This leads directly into the next grading area of the SAT Essay.

The items covered under this criterion are the most important when it comes to writing a strong essay. You can use well-spelled vocabulary in sentences with varied structure all you want, but if you don't analyze the author's argument, demonstrate critical thinking, and support your position, you will not get a high Analysis score .

Because this category is so important, I've broken it down even further into its two different (but equally important) component parts to make sure everything is as clearly explained as possible.

Part I: Critical Thinking (Logic)

Critical thinking, also known as critical reasoning, also known as logic, is the skill that SAT essay graders are really looking to see displayed in the essay. You need to be able to evaluate and analyze the claim put forward in the prompt. This is where a lot of students may get tripped up, because they think “oh, well, if I can just write a lot, then I’ll do well.” While there is some truth to the assertion that longer essays tend to score higher , if you don’t display critical thinking you won’t be able to get a top score on your essay.

What do I mean by critical thinking? Let's take the previous prompt example:

Write an essay in which you explain how Hodgman builds an argument to persuade his audience that the hot dog cannot, and never should be, considered a sandwich.

An answer to this prompt that does not display critical thinking (and would fall into a 1 or 2 on the rubric) would be something like:

The author argues that hot dogs aren’t sandwiches, which is persuasive to the reader.

While this does evaluate the prompt (by providing a statement that the author's claim "is persuasive to the reader"), there is no corresponding analysis. An answer to this prompt that displays critical thinking (and would net a higher score on the rubric) could be something like this:

The author uses analogies to hammer home his point that hot dogs are not sandwiches. Because the readers will readily believe the first part of the analogy is true, they will be more likely to accept that the second part (that hot dogs aren't sandwiches) is true as well.

See the difference? Critical thinking involves reasoning your way through a situation (analysis) as well as making a judgement (evaluation) . On the SAT essay, however, you can’t just stop at abstract critical reasoning - analysis involves one more crucial step...

Part II: Examples, Reasons, and Other Evidence (Support)

The other piece of the puzzle (apparently this is a tiny puzzle) is making sure you are able to back up your point of view and critical thinking with concrete evidence . The SAT essay rubric says that the best (that is, 4-scoring) essay uses “ relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made. ” This means you can’t just stick to abstract reasoning like this:

That explanation is a good starting point, but if you don't back up your point of view with quoted or paraphrased information from the text to support your discussion of the way the author builds his/her argument, you will not be able to get above a 3 on the Analysis portion of the essay (and possibly the Reading portion as well, if you don't show you've read the passage). Let's take a look of an example of how you might support an interpretation of the author's effect on the reader using facts from the passage :

The author’s reference to the Biblical story about King Solomon elevates the debate about hot dogs from a petty squabble between friends to a life-or-death disagreement. The reader cannot help but see the parallels between the two situations and thus find themselves agreeing with the author on this point.

Does the author's reference to King Solomon actually "elevate the debate," causing the reader to agree with the author? From the sentences above, it certainly seems plausible that it might. While your facts do need to be correct,  you get a little more leeway with your interpretations of how the author’s persuasive techniques might affect the audience. As long as you can make a convincing argument for the effect a technique the author uses might have on the reader, you’ll be good.

body_saywhat

Say whaaat?! #tbt by tradlands , used under CC BY 2.0 /Cropped and color-adjusted from original.

Did I just blow your mind? Read more about the secrets the SAT doesn’t want you to know in this article . 

Your Writing score on the SAT essay is not just a reflection of your grasp of the conventions of written English (although it is that as well). You'll also need to be focused, organized, and precise.

Because there's a lot of different factors that go into calculating your Writing score, I've divided the discussion of this rubric area into five separate items:

Precise Central Claim

Organization, vocab and word choice, sentence structure, grammar, etc..

One of the most basic rules of the SAT essay is that you need to express a clear opinion on the "assignment" (the prompt) . While in school (and everywhere else in life, pretty much) you’re encouraged to take into account all sides of a topic, it behooves you to NOT do this on the SAT essay. Why? Because you only have 50 minutes to read the passage, analyze the author's argument, and write the essay, there's no way you can discuss every single way in which the author builds his/her argument, every single detail of the passage, or a nuanced argument about what works and what doesn't work.

Instead, I recommend focusing your discussion on a few key ways the author is successful in persuading his/her audience of his/her claim.

Let’s go back to the assignment we've been using as an example throughout this article:

"Write an essay in which you explain how Hodgman builds an argument to persuade his audience that the hot dog cannot, and never should be, considered a sandwich."

Your instinct (trained from many years of schooling) might be to answer:

"There are a variety of ways in which the author builds his argument."

This is a nice, vague statement that leaves you a lot of wiggle room. If you disagree with the author, it's also a way of avoiding having to say that the author is persuasive. Don't fall into this trap! You do not necessarily have to agree with the author's claim in order to analyze how the author persuades his/her readers that the claim is true.

Here's an example of a precise central claim about the example assignment:

The author effectively builds his argument that hot dogs are not sandwiches by using logic, allusions to history and mythology, and factual evidence.

In contrast to the vague claim that "There are a variety of ways in which the author builds his argument," this thesis both specifies what the author's argument is and the ways in which he builds the argument (that you'll be discussing in the essay).

While it's extremely important to make sure your essay has a clear point of view, strong critical reasoning, and support for your position, that's not enough to get you a top score. You need to make sure that your essay  "demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay."

What does this mean? Part of the way you can make sure your essay is "well organized" has to do with following standard essay construction points. Don't write your essay in one huge paragraph; instead, include an introduction (with your thesis stating your point of view), body paragraphs (one for each example, usually), and a conclusion. This structure might seem boring, but it really works to keep your essay organized, and the more clearly organized your essay is, the easier it will be for the essay grader to understand your critical reasoning.

The second part of this criteria has to do with keeping your essay focused, making sure it contains "a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas." You can't just say "well, I have an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion, so I guess my essay is organized" and expect to get a 4/4 on your essay. You need to make sure that each paragraph is also organized . Recall the sample prompt:

“Write an essay in which you explain how Hodgman builds an argument to persuade his audience that the hot dog cannot, and never should be, considered a sandwich.”

And our hypothetical thesis:

Let's say that you're writing the paragraph about the author's use of logic to persuade his reader that hot dogs aren't sandwiches. You should NOT just list ways that the author is logical in support of his claim, then explain why logic in general is an effective persuasive device. While your points might all be valid, your essay would be better served by connecting each instance of logic in the passage with an explanation of how that example of logic persuades the reader to agree with the author.

Above all, it is imperative that you make your thesis (your central claim) clear in the opening paragraph of your essay - this helps the grader keep track of your argument. There's no reason you’d want to make following your reasoning more difficult for the person grading your essay (unless you’re cranky and don’t want to do well on the essay. Listen, I don’t want to tell you how to live your life).

In your essay, you should use a wide array of vocabulary (and use it correctly). An essay that scores a 4 in Writing on the grading rubric “demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice.”

You’re allowed a few errors, even on a 4-scoring essay, so you can sometimes get away with misusing a word or two. In general, though, it’s best to stick to using words you are certain you not only know the meaning of, but also know how to use. If you’ve been studying up on vocab, make sure you practice using the words you’ve learned in sentences, and have those sentences checked by someone who is good at writing (in English), before you use those words in an SAT essay.

Creating elegant, non-awkward sentences is the thing I struggle most with under time pressure. For instance, here’s my first try at the previous sentence: “Making sure a sentence structure makes sense is the thing that I have the most problems with when I’m writing in a short amount of time” (hahaha NOPE - way too convoluted and wordy, self). As another example, take a look at these two excerpts from the hypothetical essay discussing how the author persuaded his readers that a hot dog is not a sandwich:

Score of 2: "The author makes his point by critiquing the argument against him. The author pointed out the logical fallacy of saying a hot dog was a sandwich because it was meat "sandwiched" between two breads. The author thus persuades the reader his point makes sense to be agreed with and convinces them."

The above sentences lack variety in structure (they all begin with the words "the author"), and the last sentence has serious flaws in its structure (it makes no sense).

Score of 4: "The author's rigorous examination of his opponent's position invites the reader, too, to consider this issue seriously. By laying out his reasoning, step by step, Hodgman makes it easy for the reader to follow along with his train of thought and arrive at the same destination that he has. This destination is Hodgman's claim that a hot dog is not a sandwich."

The above sentences demonstrate variety in sentence structure (they don't all begin with the same word and don't have the same underlying structure) that presumably forward the point of the essay.

In general, if you're doing well in all the other Writing areas, your sentence structures will also naturally vary. If you're really worried that your sentences are not varied enough, however, my advice for working on "demonstrating meaningful variety in sentence structure" (without ending up with terribly worded sentences) is twofold:

  • Read over what you’ve written before you hand it in and change any wordings that seem awkward, clunky, or just plain incorrect.
  • As you’re doing practice essays, have a friend, family member, or teacher who is good at (English) writing look over your essays and point out any issues that arise. 

This part of the Writing grade is all about the nitty gritty details of writing: grammar, punctuation, and spelling . It's rare that an essay with serious flaws in this area can score a 4/4 in Reading, Analysis, or Writing, because such persistent errors often "interfere with meaning" (that is, persistent errors make it difficult for the grader to understand what you're trying to get across).

On the other hand, if they occur in small quantities, grammar/punctuation/spelling errors are also the things that are most likely to be overlooked. If two essays are otherwise of equal quality, but one writer misspells "definitely" as "definately" and the other writer fails to explain how one of her examples supports her thesis, the first writer will receive a higher essay score. It's only when poor grammar, use of punctuation, and spelling start to make it difficult to understand your essay that the graders start penalizing you.

My advice for working on this rubric area is the same advice as for sentence structure: look over what you’ve written to double check for mistakes, and ask someone who’s good at writing to look over your practice essays and point out your errors. If you're really struggling with spelling, simply typing up your (handwritten) essay into a program like Microsoft Word and running spellcheck can alert you to problems. We've also got a great set of articles up on our blog about SAT Writing questions that may help you better understand any grammatical errors you are making.

How Do I Use The SAT Essay Grading Rubric?

Now that you understand the SAT essay rubric, how can you use it in your SAT prep? There are a couple of different ways.

Use The SAT Essay Rubric To...Shape Your Essays

Since you know what the SAT is looking for in an essay, you can now use that knowledge to guide what you write about in your essays!

A tale from my youth: when I was preparing to take the SAT for the first time, I did not really know what the essay was looking for, and assumed that since I was a good writer, I’d be fine.

Not true! The most important part of the SAT essay is using specific examples from the passage and explaining how they convince the reader of the author's point. By reading this article and realizing there's more to the essay than "being a strong writer," you’re already doing better than high school me.

body_readsleeping

Change the object in that girl’s left hand from a mirror to a textbook and you have a pretty good sketch of what my junior year of high school looked like.

Use The SAT Essay Rubric To...Grade Your Practice Essays

The SAT can’t exactly give you an answer key to the essay. Even when an example of an essay that scored a particular score is provided, that essay will probably use different examples than you did, make different arguments, maybe even argue different interpretations of the text...making it difficult to compare the two. The SAT essay rubric is the next best thing to an answer key for the essay - use it as a lens through which to view and assess your essay.

Of course, you don’t have the time to become an expert SAT essay grader - that’s not your job. You just have to apply the rubric as best as you can to your essays and work on fixing your weak areas . For the sentence structure, grammar, usage, and mechanics stuff I highly recommend asking a friend, teacher, or family member who is really good at (English) writing to take a look over your practice essays and point out the mistakes.

If you really want custom feedback on your practice essays from experienced essay graders, may I also suggest the PrepScholar test prep platform ? I manage the essay grading and so happen to know quite a bit about the essay part of this platform, which gives you both an essay grade and custom feedback for each essay you complete. Learn more about how it all works here .

What’s Next?

Are you so excited by this article that you want to read even more articles on the SAT essay? Of course you are. Don't worry, I’ve got you covered. Learn how to write an SAT essay step-by-step and read about the 6 types of SAT essay prompts .

Want to go even more in depth with the SAT essay? We have a complete list of past SAT essay prompts as well as tips and strategies for how to get a 12 on the SAT essay .

Still not satisfied? Maybe a five-day free trial of our very own PrepScholar test prep platform (which includes essay practice and feedback) is just what you need.

Trying to figure out whether the old or new SAT essay is better for you? Take a look at our article on the new SAT essay assignment to find out!

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points?

Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep classes . We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your SAT score by 160 points or more.

Our classes are entirely online, and they're taught by SAT experts . If you liked this article, you'll love our classes. Along with expert-led classes, you'll get personalized homework with thousands of practice problems organized by individual skills so you learn most effectively. We'll also give you a step-by-step, custom program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

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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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sat essay rubric 2021

What Is The Grading Rubric For The SAT Essay?

When you take the SAT, the last section you will see is the optional Essay. For this part of the test, you will have 50 minutes to read a selected passage, analyze the author’s ability to make a persuasive argument, and write an essay detailing your analysis.

While many colleges and universities do not require applicants to take the SAT with Essay, I always recommend that students give it a shot. If you do well on this section of the SAT, you will show admissions officers that you are prepared to handle college-level writing, which can boost your chances of admission.

How do you do well on the SAT Essay?

Your essay will be scored by two graders who will give you a score between 1 and 4 in three areas: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Their scores will be combined, and this will give you a total score out of 8 for each of these three areas. But isn’t writing subjective? Are graders just going to award scores based on their own personal opinions of your essay?

Not exactly.

Like all of the other sections of the SAT, there are specific guidelines for grading the SAT Essay. If you take note of these guidelines and use them to prepare for this part of the SAT, you will be more likely to do well on the SAT Essay section.

sat essay rubric 2021

Reading Scoring Rubric

Analysis scoring rubric, writing scoring rubric, tips for sat essay success.

If you want to score highly on each of the categories above, there are some key factors that you need to keep in mind:

Stay true to the text

When you write, make sure that you are accurately and adequately representing the author’s ideas and quotes in your essay. If the ideas you mention are not supported by the passage or you shift the quotes you use to better fit your analysis, it will be a good sign that you didn’t fully comprehend what you read.

Think critically

When you look at the rubrics above, you will see that you need to do more than just surface-level writing that summarizes and regurgitates the author’s ideas. Make sure that you think critically and provide analysis.

Stay organized

Your readers do not want to see you jump from idea to idea with no rhyme or reason. Come up with a main claim to provide direction for your essay and show that your ideas are progressing through the use of an organized layout with an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

Use strong vocabulary

While you definitely do not want to misuse words you do not know, it is always a good idea to try and step up your word choice and diction for your SAT Essay. Try not to repeat the same words over and over and (when appropriate) throw in an SAT vocab word from your flashcards.

Switch up your sentence structure

If your essay is entirely comprised of simple sentences, you will probably get a low score on the writing section. Switch between simple, compound, and complex sentences so that you demonstrate strong control of your writing.

For more tips and strategies to help you conquer the SAT Essay section, check out our SAT prep courses at Prep Expert .

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SAT Essay Scores Explained

On january 19th, 2021, college board announced that they will no longer administer the sat subject tests in the u.s. and that the essay would be retired. read our blog post  to understand what this means in the near term and what the college board has in store for students down the road., our articles on subject tests and the sat essay will remain on our site for reference purposes as colleges and students transition to a revised testing landscape..

sat essay rubric 2021

Why are there no percentiles for the essay on an SAT score report?

No percentiles or norms are provided in student reports. Even colleges do not receive any summary statistics. Given Compass’ concerns about the inaccuracy of essay scoring and the notable failures of the ACT on that front, the de-emphasis of norms would seem to be a good thing. The problem is that 10% of colleges are sticking with the SAT Essay as an admission requirement . While those colleges will not receive score distribution reports from the College Board, it is not difficult for them to construct their own statistics—officially or unofficially—based on thousands of applicants. Colleges can determine a “good score,” but students cannot. This asymmetry of information is harmful to students, as they are left to speculate how well they have performed and how their scores will be interpreted. Through our analysis, Compass hopes to provide students and parents more context for evaluating SAT Essay scores.

How has scoring changed? Is it still part of a student’s Total Score?

On the old SAT, the essay was a required component of the Writing section and made up approximately one-third of a student’s 200–800 score. The essay score itself was simply the sum (2–12) of two readers’ 1–6 scores. Readers were expected to grade holistically and not to focus on individual components of the writing. The SAT essay came under a great deal of criticism for being too loosely structured. Factual accuracy was not required; it was not that difficult to make pre-fabricated material fit the prompt; many colleges found the 2–12 essay scores of little use; and the conflation of the essay and “Writing” was, in some cases, blocking the use of the SAT Writing score—which included grammar and usage—entirely.

With the 2016 overhaul of the SAT came an attempt to make the essay more academically defensible while also making it optional (as the ACT essay had long been). The essay score is not a part of the 400–1600 score. Instead, a student opting to take the SAT Essay receives 2–8 scores in three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. No equating or fancy lookup table is involved. The scores are simply the sum of two readers’ 1–4 ratings in each dimension. There is no official totaling or averaging of scores, although colleges may choose to do so.

Readers avoid extremes

What is almost universally true about grading of standardized test essays is that readers gravitate to the middle of the scale. The default instinct is to nudge a score above or below a perceived cutoff or midpoint rather than to evenly distribute scores. When the only options are 1, 2, 3, or 4, the consequence is predictable—readers give out a lot of 2s and 3s and very few 1s and 4s. In fact, our analysis shows that 80% of all reader scores are 2s or 3s. This, in turn, means that most of the dimension scores (the sum of the two readers) range from 4 to 6. Analysis scores are outliers. A third of readers give essays a 1 in Analysis. Below is the distribution of reader scores across all dimensions.

What is a good SAT Essay score?

By combining multiple data sources—including extensive College Board scoring information—Compass has estimated the mean and mode (most common) essay scores for students at various score levels. We also found that the reading and writing dimensions were similar, while analysis scores lagged by a point across all sub-groups. These figures should not be viewed as cutoffs for “good” scores. The loose correlation of essay score to Total Score and the high standard deviation of essay scores means that students at all levels see wide variation of scores. The average essay-taking student scores a 1,080 on the SAT and receives just under a 5/4/5.

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College Board recently released essay results for the class of 2017, so score distributions are now available. From these, percentiles can also be calculated. We provide these figures with mixed feelings. On the one hand, percentile scores on such an imperfect measure can be highly misleading. On the other hand, we feel that students should understand the full workings of essay scores.

The role of luck

What is frustrating to many students on the SAT and ACT is that they can score 98th percentile in most areas and then get a “middling” score on the essay. This result is actually quite predictable. Whereas math and verbal scores are the result of dozens of objective questions, the essay is a single question graded subjectively. To replace statistical concepts with a colloquial one—far more “luck” is involved than on the multiple-choice sections. What text is used in the essay stimulus? How well will the student respond to the style and subject matter? Which of the hundreds of readers were assigned to grade the student’s essay? What other essays has the reader recently scored?

Even good writers run into the unpredictability involved and the fact that essay readers give so few high scores. A 5 means that the Readers A and B gave the essay a 2 and a 3, respectively. Which reader was “right?” If the essay had encountered two readers like Reader A, it would have received a 4. If the essay had been given two readers like Reader B, it would have received a 6. That swing makes a large difference if we judge scores exclusively by percentiles, but essay scores are simply too blurry to make such cut-and-dry distinctions. More than 80% of students receive one of three scores—4, 5, or 6 on the reading and writing dimensions and 3, 4, or 5 on analysis.

What do colleges expect?

It’s unlikely that many colleges will release a breakdown of essay scores for admitted students—especially since so few are requiring it. What we know from experience with the ACT , though, is that even at the most competitive schools in the country, the 25th–75th percentile scores of admitted students were 8–10 on the ACT’s old 2–12 score range. We expect that things will play out similarly for the SAT and that most students admitted to highly selective colleges will have domain scores in the 5–7 range (possibly closer to 4–6 for analysis). It’s even less likely for students to average a high score across all three areas than it is to obtain a single high mark. We estimate that only a fraction of a percent of students will average an 8—for example [8/8/8, 7/8/8, 8/7/8, or 8,8,7].

Update as of October 2017. The University of California system has published the 25th–75th percentile ranges for enrolled students. It has chosen to work with total scores. The highest ranges—including those at UCLA and Berkeley—are 17–20. Those scores are inline with our estimates above.

How will colleges use the domain scores?

Colleges have been given no guidance by College Board on how to use essay scores for admission. Will they sum the scores? Will they average them? Will they value certain areas over others? Chances are that if you are worrying too much about those questions, then you are likely losing sight of the bigger picture. We know of no cases where admission committees will make formulaic use of essay scores. The scores are a very small, very error-prone part of a student’s testing portfolio.

How low is too low?

Are 3s and 4s, then, low enough that an otherwise high-scoring student should retest? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. In general, it is a mistake to retest solely to improve an essay score unless a student is confident that the SAT Total Score can be maintained or improved. A student with a 1340 PSAT and 1280 SAT may feel that it is worthwhile to bring up low essay scores because she has previously shown that she can do better on the Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math, as well. A student with a 1400 PSAT and 1540 SAT should think long and hard before committing to a retest. Admission results from the class of 2017 may give us some added insight into the use of SAT Essay scores.

Will colleges continue to require the SAT Essay?

For the class of 2017, Compass has prepared a list of the SAT Essay and ACT Writing policies for 360 of the top colleges . Several of the largest and most prestigious public university systems—California, Michigan, and Texas, for example, still require the essay, and a number of highly competitive private colleges do the same—for example, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

The number of excellent colleges not requiring the SAT Essay, though, is long and getting longer. Compass expects even more colleges to drop the essay requirement for the classes of 2018 and 2019. Policies are typically finalized in late spring or during the summer.

Should I skip the essay entirely?

A common question regarding SAT scores is whether the whole mess can be avoided by skipping the essay. After all, if only about 10% of colleges are requiring the section, is it really that important? Despite serious misgivings about the test and the ways scores are interpreted, Compass still recommends that most students take the essay unless they are certain that they will not be applying to any of the colleges requiring or recommending it. Nationally, about 70% of students choose to take the essay on at least one SAT administration. When looking at higher scoring segments, that quickly rises to 85–90%. Almost all Compass students take the SAT Essay at least once to insure that they do not miss out on educational opportunities.

Should I prepare for the SAT Essay?

Most Compass students decide to do some preparation for the essay, because taking any part of a test “cold” can be an unpleasant experience, and students want to avoid feeling like a retake is necessary. In addition to practicing exercises and tests, most students can perform well enough on the SAT Essay after 1–2 hours of tutoring. Students taking a Compass practice SAT will also receive a scored essay. Students interested in essay writing tips for the SAT can refer to Compass blog posts on the difference between the ACT and SAT tasks  and the use of first person on the essays .

Will I be able to see my essay?

Yes. ACT makes it difficult to obtain a copy of your Writing essay, but College Board includes it as part of your online report.

Will colleges have access to my essay? Even if they don’t require it?

Yes, colleges are provided with student essays. We know of very few circumstances where SAT Essay reading is regularly conducted. Colleges that do not require the SAT Essay fall into the “consider” and “do not consider” camps. Schools do not always list this policy on their website or in their application materials, so it is hard to have a comprehensive list. We recommend contacting colleges for more information. In general, the essay will have little to no impact at colleges that do not require or recommend it.

Is the SAT Essay a reason to take the ACT instead?

Almost all colleges that require the SAT Essay require Writing for ACT-takers. The essays are very different on the two tests, but neither can be said to be universally “easier” or “harder.” Compass recommends that the primary sections of the tests determine your planning. Compass’ content experts have also written a piece on how to attack the ACT essay .

Key links in this post:

ACT and SAT essay requirements ACT Writing scores explained Comparing ACT and SAT essay tasks The use of first person in ACT and SAT essays Understanding the “audience and purpose” of the ACT essay Compass proctored practice testing for the ACT, SAT, and Subject Tests

Art Sawyer

About Art Sawyer

Art graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University, where he was the top-ranked liberal arts student in his class. Art pioneered the one-on-one approach to test prep in California in 1989 and co-founded Compass Education Group in 2004 in order to bring the best ideas and tutors into students' homes and computers. Although he has attained perfect scores on all flavors of the SAT and ACT, he is routinely beaten in backgammon.

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Hi! I’m a high school junior who took the October and November SATs. I got a 1500 on October and then retook it to get a 1590 in November. I’m very happy with my score, but my essays are troubling me. I got a 6-4-6 in October and thought I would improve in November, but I got a 6-3-6. I really cannot improve my actual SAT score, but I don’t understand the essay. I’ve always been a good writer and have consistently been praised for it in English class and outside of class. Is this essay score indicative of my writing skill? And will this essay hurt my chances at Ivy League and other top tier schools? None of the schools I plan on applying to require it, but, since I have to submit it, will it hurt my chances? Thank you so much.

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Maya, The essay is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Honestly, a 6-4-6 is a fine score and will not hurt your chances for admission. It’s something of an odd writing task, so I wouldn’t worry that it doesn’t match your writing skills elsewhere.

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