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Because students and parents often have no basis of comparison, it can be hard to know if your SAT essay score is good or bad.
In the first place, most folks don’t know the requirements or grading policies of the SAT essay, or how to improve their score.
Since the SAT is all about competition (for the highest score, the best percentile, the spots at top colleges and college scholarships), you really ought to know how your SAT score stacks up against other students’ scores.
In this article, we’ll look at some basic facts about the SAT essay system before deciding if you’ve got a good SAT essay score or a bad one!
What is the SAT Essay anyway?
I’ve covered this elsewhere (read What is the SAT Essay?) so I suggest taking a detour through that article if you’d like the in-depth report.
In a nutshell, though, here’s a breakdown of the SAT essay:
- Timed (25 minutes)
- “Random” yet predictable essay prompts
- Structure and organization are essential
- Spelling and grammar contribute to score
- Vocabulary use can also shift your score up or down.
- Your neatness and handwriting also matter
- Not graded on accuracy of your evidence
- Unlike any other essay you’ve written in school
Who will grade my SAT essay?
The SAT Essay represents the only section of the test that is not graded by machine. It’s the only portion of the SAT where there is a human grader checking your work.
Typically, graders are high school teachers and college professors that are working a side job to generate some extra income.
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The graders are highly trained in order to produce predictable, repeatable, standardized grades across essays. Your essay will be read by two graders, who will each assign an independent score to your writing, in order to assure that you get fair consideration.
It’s also worth being aware that the graders are reading extremely quickly and will spend less than three minutes reading and scoring each essay… and probably less than two minutes.
That means they’re looking more at the “big picture” of your argument than the tiny nuances and details.
How does the SAT essay scoring system work?
The SAT essay is graded on a scale of 1-6 by the two different graders, and then the two scores are added to produce a final score of 2-12.
The grading rubric is meant to be “holistic,” or combine all important elements of an essay. I’ll tell you right now, it’s not exactly a perfect system, but it is at least fairly predictable and standardized.
Here are some of the major points you will be graded on:
- Staying on topic and answering the prompt
- Being clear throughout your argument
- Writing a longer essay (a page or more is good)
- Staying well-organized
- Using interesting and varied sentence structure
- Using and explaining concrete, specific evidence
- Using proper grammar and spelling
- Using correct, powerful, and well-chosen vocabulary in your essay
This hits the highlights of the essay – also check out What Exactly is on the SAT Writing?
How are the Essay and Grammar scores combined?
Basically, the Grammar multiple-choice section is way more important to your Writing score – about 70% or slightly more.
The essay is going to be 30% or less of your overall Writing Section score. In fact, I know that you can turn in a perfect grammar section and not even turn in an essay at all (i.e. get a score of “0” on the essay) and still end up with a 650 on the Writing section, which is far above the national average and quite respectable in its own right.
If you’re short on study time, I want you to forget about the essay and study the grammar rules on the test – this will have far more of an impact on your final score.
What is the average SAT Essay score?
Although the College Board doesn’t release a ton of specific information about SAT essay scores, I’ve had the chance to estimate the average score at about a 6, based on my experience as a tutor.
What is a good SAT essay score?
Ok, I’m going to give you two answers to this question.
Answer #1 – The Realistic Answer:
This is a “comparative” way of looking at your score, and knowledge means power: If you do the research to know what your competition is scoring, you need an essay score that puts you in a competitive range with them, so you should study until you’re ready.
Answer #2 – The Harsh Tutor’s Answer:
If you’re not getting a 10, 11, or 12, you’re not doing well enough. You need to improve your essay-writing.
What is a bad SAT essay score?
Again, I’ll give two answers along the lines of the above.
Answer #1: A bad SAT essay score keeps you from your top-choice colleges and scholarships
Make sure the information you’re getting is current. If your essay score is not competitive with other applicants’ scores, then you have a “bad SAT essay score” at the moment, right?
Answer #2: The Harsh Tutor’s Answer
If you’re scoring below a 10, you are not doing very well on the SAT essay.
Everyone can score a 10 or above on the SAT Essay!!
How much does your essay score matter?
The answer to this question can depend a lot on where you’re applying to college, as well as your other section scores and other factors.
The short answer is: it matters enough that you should worry about it.
Is it possible to raise your SAT essay score?
Absolutely. Practice, preparation, and knowledge can make a huge difference in your final score.
Top 30 Examples to Use as SAT Essay Evidence (e-Book)
Write the Best SAT Essay of Your Life! (e-Book)
SAT Grammar Crammer: Top 12 Rules of SAT Writing (e-Book)
Conquer SAT Vocabulary (Video Course)
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