Should I Take the SAT Essay?

Students often wonder if they need to take the SAT essay…they may have heard it was optional, or that some schools don’t require it, or that it simply doesn’t matter very much. In this article, we’ll go over both what the SAT essay is and whether or not you should take it.

What Is the SAT Essay?

The SAT Essay is an optional section of the SAT offered at the end of the test. On the SAT Essay, you are given 50 minutes to write an essay in response to a given passage. Here’s how that works:

The passage students read will always be a persuasive text (it could be a stand-alone essay, or a speech, or an excerpt from a published work) in which the author makes a specific claim trying to convince the reader of a particular viewpoint.

The goal of the student-produced essay is to analyze the given passage and present an essay analyzing how the author goes about building his/her argument. The passage will change from SAT to SAT, but the essay prompt itself will always stay basically the same:

Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage. Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience.

Note: don’t worry if the content of the passage you read is something you are unfamiliar with. The passages given never require prior knowledge for a student to understand/respond to them!

How Is The SAT Essay Section Scored?


Each essay is graded by two different scorers on a scale of 1-4 for a total of 8 points possible. This score is seperate from the rest of the SAT, meaning it does not affect your composite score out of 1600.

Graders are looking at three different categories:

  1. The first is Reading. A high scoring essay will show that you not only understand the passage, but also that you recognize how the main ideas of the essay interact with its details. The best way to show this is by providing textual evidence through the use of quotes from the passage.
  2. The second is Analysis. Graders want to see how well you understood how the author built his/her argument. This means referencing the author’s use of reasoning or other stylistic/persuasive techniques in the passage. Like Reading, you will also want to use evidence from the given passage to back up your claims.
  3. The third and final category is Writing. This simply means your ability to write well: does your essay follow grammar rules? Does it use formal prose? Is it structured using the typical essay format (intro, body paragraphs, conclusion)?
How Do I Take the SAT Essay?

Currently, students must sign up for the SAT with the essay specifically when they register for the SAT. The cost breakdown (as of the 2019-2020 school year) is $49.50 for just the SAT and $64.50 for the SAT with Essay. If you sign up for just the SAT and want to add the essay portion later, the College Board allows you to do so. However, if you do not sign up for the essay at all, the essay portion will not be attached to your test booklet on the day of the official test.

Should I Take the SAT Essay?

The short answer? Yes.

To write, or not to write?

Some schools require the SAT essay for their application, and others do not…but there is no pattern to which do and which do not. For example, even Ivy League schools vary on whether its required. That means even if you are applying to similar schools, you may not be able to rely on them all not requiring the essay. And here’s the thing: if even one school to which you are applying requires the essay, then you need to take it.

Therefore, we recommend to just take it as a rule-of-thumb. We understand you may not want to sit in a classroom for an additional 50 minutes after such a long test, but trust us…it’s worth it!

You would never want to have 50 minutes cost you being able to apply to your dream school. Since most students take the SAT in their junior year, they usually don’t have a finalized college application list. There’s still summer and fall ahead of you for looking at schools and narrowing down your list.

So: unless you are absolutely sure you are applying to no schools that require the SAT essay, it is always better to just take it.

Here is a link to all the schools that require the SAT essay portion.

Should I Take the SAT Essay Every Time I Take the Test?

Unfortunately, yes. Currently, there is no way to send just the essay portion to colleges. This means that even if you already knocked the essay section out of the park on your last test, you still should take it every time you sit for the SAT.

“I don’t want to miss a thing!”

Think of it this way: say you got a 1400 on your first official and a 7 on the essay portion, and then on the second official you got a 1500 but didn’t take the essay portion. Even if you just wanted to submit your 1500 test, you would have to submit the 1400 as well since it has your essay. Therefore, it is always better to just do the essay so that every official score has an essay attached to it. Also, schools that SuperScore will pick the highest essay score from your tests anyway!

Note: there is no way to take the SAT essay by itself, so if you realize later on you need an essay score you will have to retake the entire test.

How Should I Prepare for the SAT Essay?

Keep in mind that the scorers of the SAT essay read hundreds of essays each day with the same prompt and passage. This means they are not looking for your essay to blow their minds wide open with a completely brand new approach. They are simply looking for you to follow the above standardized set of criteria, and they are judging your essay based on how well it meets them.

The best way to prep for the SAT Essay is practice. If you are taking the essay portion (which we believe you always should), your tutor will assign you practice essays toward the end of your program leading up to the official test. They will then give you feedback on your essay along with an estimate of your score, looking for the same things the official graders of the SAT essay will be. In the meantime though, here are some quick tips to keep in mind for the SAT essay portion:

  • Don’t use the first person (I think, I believe, etc.). Scorers are not looking for your opinion but rather definitive evidence and analysis pulled from the passage.
  • Avoid contractions (can’t, won’t, shouldn’t) as they tend to indicate casual writing.
  • Follow the 5 paragraph essay format you’ve been taught in school and you can’t go wrong (opening paragraph that ends with a thesis statement, 2-3 body paragraphs, concluding paragraph summing up your argument)
  • Don’t just summarize what the author says in a given passage, focus on how he says it, or rather the ways in which he makes the passage convincing or compelling.
  • Pull from the passage! Use direct evidence from the given passage. Keep them short though! Quotes are great, but no essay grader wants to see a student quote copy whole paragraphs. Keep it to a sentence or two per quote, and only 2-3 quotes maximum.
  • Personal opinion is not important! This is outlined in the essay prompt, but please don’t offer your own opinion on the subject matter of the passage. That’s not the goal of SAT essay. Instead, talk about how the author argues their opinion!

That’s it! Now you are completely equipped to prepare for success on the SAT Essay. This will work best with guidance. We highly recommend that you schedule a test prep consultation call with one Testive’s Student Success Advisors to discuss your college goals and what you or your child can do to best ensure success on the SAT. It’s free!

By |2020-02-25T16:14:25+00:00February 14th, 2020|SAT, Uncategorized|

About the Author:

Luke has been tutoring standardized tests for a little under four years now. He’s worked with countless students of varying learning styles, academic levels, and personalities. His experience has given a tool belt of strategies and methodologies needed to help any student succeed! When not tutoring, he is a comedian and filmmaker living in beautiful Los Angeles, California.