Mystified by the SAT Essay? Unsure of where to start? Well, you’ve come to the right place! This article will illuminate the all aspects of the SAT Essay, including its instructions, whether or not to take it, and preparation strategies. After reading it, you should be able to advise your child on the best course of action given his or her situation.
What Is the SAT Essay?
The SAT Essay is a section of the SAT. While the Reading and Writing & Language Sections are multiple-choice, the essay section asks students to write their own responses. The SAT Essay is designed to resemble a college assignment, and the College Board suggests that students should take it to show colleges that they’re “ready to come to campus and write.” The SAT Essay changed significantly after the College Board redesigned the test in 2016, so let’s review the instructions for this section.
The SAT Essay is always the first section of the test. Students have 50 minutes to answer a prompt that they’re given at the beginning of the allotted time. The style of prompt constitutes the major difference from previous versions of the SAT. Where the older prompts were more open-ended, students are now given a short passage written that they have to analyze. The College Board notes that while all prompts are different, all make an argument, support it with evidence and reasoning, and are written for a broad audience. A few recent examples include excerpts from Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and a State of the Union address by John F. Kennedy.
After your student reads the given passage, they must write an essay that considers how the author builds an argument to persuade his/her audience. This is a super-important part of the instructions, because it means that your child should not write about their opinions on the passage itself. Rather, their response should analyze how the makes their argument. Check out the section below for more tips on how to write the SAT Essay.
- The Essay is one of three sections on the SAT
- It’s optional
- In 50 minutes, students must analyze a passage and consider how an author builds an argument
Should My Child Do the SAT Essay?
Recently, several students have asked me if they should write the SAT Essay. Although the essay section is optional on the new SAT, I told them that it makes sense to do it for three main reasons. First, it’ll give college admissions officers a more complete portrait of your student’s academic abilities. Elite colleges generally require the SAT Essay, and so skipping it could prevent your student from applying to more competitive institutions. Second, the SAT Essay is straightforward once your student understands the prompt. As discussed above, the task is to analyze an argument, rather than discuss personal opinions. Third, the SAT Essay is literal entertainment for the exam. If your student chooses not to write it, he or she will have to sit for 50 minutes waiting for others to finish the section. While the College Board does not require students to do the SAT Essay, there’s no reason not to!
How Should My Child Prepare for the SAT Essay?
Like other sections, students who prepare often score better on the SAT Essay. As I noted above, the first step for success is to understand what the prompt asks for in their response. When your student receives the SAT Essay, they should take a few minutes to fully read the short passage that they’re given. Taking about five minutes to underline major arguments, find the author’s evidence, and identify the audience makes for a more structured and focused response.
Next, students should sketch a brief outline. College Board scorers like essays that adhere to the five-paragraph structure often used in high school. In their introduction, students should identify the passage’s central argument and list three types of evidence, reasoning, or other persuasive techniques used by the author. Your student will explore each identified rhetorical element in the three body paragraphs of their essay. For example, the powerful imagery used in “I Have a Dream” could be the topic of one of the body paragraphs. In all cases, your student can benefit from keeping the author’s audience in mind. If their essay can make connections to how each identified literary item connects to the audience, the can achieve high scores on reading and analysis. The conclusion should be brief, mainly summarizing the three body paragraphs without extrapolating too much. No student wants to mess up a great essay at the end! For a detailed guide on prepping for the SAT Essay, check out Testive’s video:
How Is the Essay Scored?
The SAT Essay is scored on three metrics: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Students can earn 2 to 8 Points on each metric, for a maximum score of 24. Two scorers read each essay, and they assign a score of 1 to 4 for each metric. These independent scores are then added together to calculate the composite score for the SAT Essay. For more information on scoring, check out the College Board website.
The SAT Essay can seem daunting to students, and there has been confusion about the prompt due to the recently redesigned exam. I hope that this article clarified what your student should expect for the SAT Essay. Although its optional, I recommend that students write the essay because many colleges require it for admission. Importantly, the prompt asks students to dissect an argument in a passage, rather than create their own. Testive has a useful video on preparation, and our coaches are usually happy to look over practice essays written by your student. Ultimately, the SAT Essay is not too difficult to prepare for and can highlight your student’s writing skills during the college admissions process.