How is the SAT Essay Scored?
The SAT essay is scored on a scale of 0-6 by two professionally trained readers, where zero is the lowest score, and six is the highest. A score of zero is reserved for those few essays that are completely off topic, and a score of 6 signifies a nearly a perfect essay. Readers who score the essays are well aware of the time constraints placed on test takers and score essays holistically.
Once the two scores have been awarded, they are added together to give a total SAT essay score of 2-12. For example, if Reader A assigns your essay a 4 and Reader B assigns your essay a value of 3, you will receive a score of 7 on your SAT essay. Most essays fall in the range of 2-11.
Adding the scores provides consistency in the rating procedure and prevents essay scorers from assigning values that are either too high or too low. There is an amazing level of consistency when comparing the scores of SAT essays using this procedure. in fact, according to the College Board, fewer than 5% of all SAT essays differ by more than one point. In these rare cases, a third reader is called in to read the essay and make a final determination.
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One of the most common questions about the SAT essay is, “How many paragraphs do I need to write to get a good score?” Well, that answer again depends on various factors.
When writing your SAT essay, the first consideration is what exactly you consider a good score. Good is a relative concept (and one of those abstract, overused words you should omit from all your college writing). Those shooting for 9’s on their essays will have different paragraph lengths from those shooting for 6’s or 12’s, but we discuss goal setting so often at The Right Path that it would be like beating a dead horse (Notice the cliche – another thing to stay away from in your SAT essay) so we will not go into detail about that here.
Basically, when writing the SAT essay, you should try to follow the 3-5 rule. That is 3 to 5 sentences in 3 to five paragraphs. That means you begin with a well written introduction. Follow that up with one to three solid examples to back up your point of view. Finally, a conclusion is an absolute necessity for you to achieve your highest score.
The most important thing about the paragraphs in your SAT essay though is that you demonstrate that you understand the topic, can choose a point of view, and defend that point of view with relevant examples. While three really well written examples in a perfect five paragraph essay would be amazing, most students are not able to accomplish this in a 25 minute time period. The scorers recognize this and would prefer to see that you write one though hopefully two logically planned, smooth flowing, well thought out examples than three or more shoddy, half-developed ones.
So whatever your goal score, be certain to write at least three well developed paragraphs in your SAT essay. Remember to include an introduction, one very well developed example, and a solid conclusion to attain your highest score. If you can add more examples, by all means do, but do not fall into the trap of throwing in half-developed ideas to make your paper look longer. Your high school English teachers probably don’t fall for that, and the expert essay scorers trained by the College Board definitely will not.
If you are like most high school students and have to write a college essay (or several essays!), you may be wondering, “What in the world do I write about?”
Although most college essay questions give guidelines, how you interpret those guidelines can greatly determine the direction of your essay. The best advice about approaching any college admissions essay has to do with the basic theme of knowing who you are and staying true to yourself.
Tips that will work for every college essay:
- Be Yourself – This is the most important part of any college essay. Do not be something you are not. This includes trying to sound too scholarly. Also, write about what you know and like. Do not write of how loved working in a soup kitchen if you hated the whole experience. Your distaste will shine through.
- Write Your Own Essay – Get knowledgable people to revise and edit your work by all means, but be sure your work stays your own. Do not have others make so many changes that it is unrecognizable to you. Many colleges will take the SAT essay or the ACT essay if you chose to take that part of the test (You should!) and compare it to your admissions essay. Any essay too far off tone will seem suspiciously like you had someone else do your work for you. This would not say much about your integrity and can cause an automatic denial of admission.
- Be True to You – No matter how stressed you are about preparing the perfect college essay, be sure you take the first two points to heart. Choosing an essay topic or approach that you are not comfortable with simply because you think it fits a given school does not do you any favors. With over 3,000 colleges and universities to choose from, there is one out there for you. Changing yourself to fit into a given mold may get you into a particular school, but it does not mean you will be happy or successful there.
Twitter is alive with comments such as, “Steps to a College Essay: 1- Open Word 2 Cry.” Remember, the college essay is a chance for you to show yourself, especially when an interview is not possible. Stay true to yourself, do not procrastinate, and have others look over your essay for tips and suggestions rather than complete rewrites.
There is a college out there for you. Put your best word forward and begin writing!