Wondering about the new SAT essay scoring rubric? We’ve got that, and more!
It’s a fact of academic life that you need to write essays. You’ve done it in high school and you’ll write even more in college. Unless you’re in a creative writing class – and sometimes even then – you’ll be given directions about the format and general topic of the essay, and how well you follow those directions counts in your grade. The same thing applies to the SAT essay. It’s optional, as you know, but we encourage you to write it for some really good reasons; see Should I take the New SAT Essay for more about those reasons.
While your high school and college essays are probably read and graded by the teacher or teaching assistant, your SAT essays are read and scored by professionals who are trained to assess the essay in terms of exactly what the SAT is looking for in a good essay. There’s nothing ambiguous about the scoring criteria; the SAT has it down to a science.
SAT readers/scorers are generally high school or college teachers with experience in reading and grading essays. They’re thoroughly trained, have to pass tests to qualify as SAT readers, and once certified, are expected to absolutely conform to the scoring rubric—no personal opinions, no comments—just a number score from the rubric. Two scorers read each essay and if their scores diverge too much, a third reader scores it as well. Each reader gives a score of 1-4 for each of three criteria, the two scores are added, and the student gets three essay scores ranging from 2-8, one for each criterion.
So what are the criteria that readers so rigidly follow?
New SAT Essay Scoring Criteria
- Demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text
- Fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s)
- May contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes little or no use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates some comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details
- May contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details
- Is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes appropriate use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and most important details and how they interrelate
- Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes skillful use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea
- Lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion; does not have a discernible progression of ideas
- Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate; may lack a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea
- May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion; may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout
- Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive; may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding
- Is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language
- Includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea
- Includes an effective introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has variety in sentence structures; demonstrates some precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a good control of the conventions of standards written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing
- Is cohesive and demonstrates highly effective use and command of language
- Includes a precise central claim
- Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has a wide variety in sentence structures; demonstrates consistent use of precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a strong command of the conventions of standards written English and is free or virtually free of errors
- Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little to no understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing
- Numerous aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant
- May not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task
- Offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary)
- Offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance
- One or more aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- May lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task
- Competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task
- Offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
The essay components are Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Reading refers to how well you demonstrate understanding of the text; analysis covers how well you examine the structure and components of it, and writing, as you might expect, assesses your ability to write clear, correct, and cohesive prose.
There’s a lot of detail under each score, but note that for reading, the scores go from the highest, “thorough,” (4) to the lowest, “little or no comprehension” (1). In the middle are “some” and “effective,” scores of 3 and 4 respectively, and probably where most students score. More or less the same scale, with different words, also applies to analysis and writing. It’s worth reiterating that SAT readers are held exactly to this scale and the specific breakdown under each score.
Now here’s a question for you. How long do you think each reader is expected to spend on reading, assessing, and scoring the essay? The answer is a minute or two. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to know and follow directions, read the text with structure and the writer’s elements in mind, think clearly, and write strongly from the very beginning. That’s quite a challenge, but keep checking in this blog site and we’ll give you some really good tips about meeting the challenge and writing a essay with the winning score of 8-8-8.
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Worried about changes to the SAT essay scoring after the launch of the new SAT in March 2016? Don’t be! Although the essay’s scoring has changed, the College Board (the folks who make the test) has been really clear about how the new SAT essay will be scored.
First things first: the minimum score you can receive is 2 and the maximum score you can earn is 8. That’s because two different graders will be scoring your essay on a scale of 1-4. However, you’ll be getting these scores in three different categories: reading, analysis, and writing. It sounds a little confusing at first, so let’s take a look at how it works in action.
The SAT Essay Process
On test day, you’ll take 50 minutes to write the SAT essay. The SAT essay’s now optional, by the way, but some schools will still require that you take it. You’ll read a passage and then write an essay on a given topic:
- “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.”
Notice! This topic is the same every time! It’s only the passage itself that changes. You’ll then analyze the argument and write your essay.
The Scoring Process
Once you hand in your test, your essay will go to one scorer. He or she will give you a score of 1-4 based on how well you understood the reading, another score of 1-4 based on how well you analyzed the argument, and a final score of 1-4 based on how well you wrote your own response. The essay then travels to a second grader, who repeats this process. Finally, the scores in each category are added together, for three overall scores of 2-8.
How do you get those perfect triple 8s? The College Board lays out exactly what they’re looking for in their essay-scoring rubric. An essay that scores a 4 in reading will show that you’ve understood the text thoroughly—that includes the central ideas, important details, and how they all work together to create an argument. In terms of analysis, an essay scoring a 4 will be insightful and demonstrate a “sophisticated understanding of the analytical task.” In other words? Make sure your essay evaluates how the author uses evidence, reasoning, and stylistic elements to make his or her point.
A lot of students worry about the “Writing” score, but you don’t have to be Shakespeare to ace this section of the test (or get a perfect Writing score). What you should do is make sure that your writing is precise and clear. Include an introduction and conclusion; vary your sentence structures; keep it formal; and leave several minutes to proofread at the end of the 50 minutes. Voila! The new SAT essay!
(A Quick PS)
The score for the essay is no longer included in the total 400-1600 SAT score. Instead, you’ll receive your three essay scores separately.
Wondering how the ACT and SAT essays compare? Check this out.
About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a TOEFL and SAT/ACT blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and is currently a doctoral candidate at University College London. She has taught the TOEFL for six years, and worked with nearly 1,000 students in that time. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. When she’s not teaching or studying, she’s either riding (horses), or writing (fiction), a pair of activities that sound so similar that it confuses even native English speakers. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
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