We made it to the last Tests Uncovered post! It’s hard to believe our first post of the series was published back in May of 2015. In the months since then, we have covered just about everything students can expect to see on the redesigned SAT exam (making its debut in just over one week!) and the small changes made to the ACT back in the fall.
For a handy reference to every post whenever and wherever, make sure to download parts one and two of our free Tests Uncovered eBook. Click here to download. Keep an eye out for the next installment, which will be released soon!
This week we are taking a look at scoring on the Redesigned SAT Essay Section.
How is the new essay scored?
Students receive three separate essay scores: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Each score gauges a distinct attribute of the essay. Two graders score a student’s essay, and each grader assigns a score from 1–4 point for each of these attributes. The scores are then combined to form three separate scores from 2–8. For example, a students might receive a score of 5, 7, 6, meaning a 5 out of 8 for Reading, a 7 out of 8 for Analysis, and a 6 out of 8 for Writing.
What does the rubric look like?
The complete new SAT essay rubric looks a little intimidating at first glance. However, it repeats the same themes again and again. We’ve included a few key elements here, but you can reference an abridged version of the College Board’s rubric at the end of this blog.
Reading: This score measures how well a student comprehends the passage.
- Does he or she correctly identify the passage’s main idea?
- Does he or she show how passage details reinforce that main idea?
- Does he or she make any factual errors?
- Does he or she reference the right parts of the passage?
Analysis: This score measures how well a student analyzes a passage.
- Does he or she relate each of his arguments back to a central claim?
- Does he or she explain how the author develops his argument?
- Does he or she give examples of the author’s argumentative techniques?
- Does he or she stay focused on the most important parts of the passage?
Writing: This score measures how well a student writes an analytical essay.
- Does it have a thesis?
- Does it have an introduction, body, and conclusion?
- Is there enough sentence variety to keep the reader engaged?
- Did he or she choose the right words to express him or herself?
- Are there any spelling or grammar errors that make it difficult to understand his or her message?
How does this compare to the old SAT?
The old SAT rubric assigned just one grade based on an overall impression how well written an essay was. Now, students receive three equally important scores. These scores measure how well a student reads, interprets, and analyzes a passage as well as how effectively he crafts his own essay. So, a student who analyzes passages well but struggles with spelling and grammar will still have an opportunity to showcase his strengths on test day.
We should also note that the new SAT essay is graded on a smaller scale. Whereas the old SAT essay graders evaluated the essay on a scale of 1–6, new graders must select scores from 1–4. Old graders were expected to assign scores within one point of one another, so they were very reluctant to assign extremely high or low scores. With the change in scale, however, graders will likely be more willing to assign “very high” scores (i.e. 4) or “very low” scores (i.e. 1) because these scores are not as far from the middle as they used to be.
The biggest scoring difference between the old and new SAT essay is that the new SAT essay is no longer required. Whereas the old SAT essay determined one-third of a student’s writing score, the new SAT essay is an optional section scored on its own.
What does this mean for students?
If you prepped for the old SAT essay, do not despair. A lot of what you learned still applies. For example, high-scoring essays must be as long as possible, organized by paragraph, and primarily made up of evidence and analysis. However, the new essay has added several elements you’ll want to be familiar with before test day. Take some time to review the rubric and then consider sitting for a practice exam. If possible, try to take your practice exam with a tutor or company that offers complimentary SAT scoring.
Will the essay be on the PSAT?
No. The PSAT does not include the essay.
The following rubric has been adapted from the College Board’s Official Guide to the SAT.
Update: This post has been updated for the redesigned New SAT, which premiered in March 2016 and has an entirely new (and entirely optional) essay, by David Recine. Here’s what you need to know!
Only want the facts? Here’s the short answer:
Your New SAT essay will be scored by two professional, human, essay readers. Both essay graders will score each of the three different New SAT essay skills (reading, analysis, and writing) in your essay on a scale of 1 to 4, with the combined score expressed as three digits with slashes between them, each digit representing the score you got on one of the New SAT Essay skills components. (A perfect SAT essay score would be 8/8/8.) If you leave your New SAT essay blank or don’t address the essay topic at all, you will receive a score of zero. Now for more detail…
It’s natural that the New SAT essay has its own grading system, independent of the rest of the test; this portion of the test is an optional add-on, and it’s not multiple-choice or fill-in-grid like the rest of the exam. But it’s not immediately obvious how SAT essay scores fit into the big-picture New SAT 1600 point scale or what it means for you.
How SAT essay scores are calculated
The way your writing is graded is, on the surface, about what you would expect it to be. A human reader (a real live person!) takes a few minutes to read over your essay, then gives it a mark from 0-6. The 0 is the bad one, in case you weren’t sure.
Of course, 0 isn’t a real grade—it’s just what you get if write nothing or an essay on a completely different topic. In other words, memorizing a spectacular essay and then copying it down word for word wouldn’t help you. If you don’t write on the SAT essay prompt you’re given, you get nothing even if the writing is on par with Hemingway.
So if you write a single relevant word, then, you’re in the 1-4 range for each of the three New SAT essay skills—but that’s per grader. You see, SAT essay scores come from two readers. It would be pretty absurd if, by a role of the essay-grader dice, you just got that one crotchety old misanthrope who gave everybody a 1 (not that the College Board really hires guys like that), so there’s a safeguard. Two readers have to give similar scores, and you then get a combined score ranging between 2/2/2 and 8/8/8. If their two scores are more than 1 point separate (e.g. a 2 and a 4), then a third grader comes in to settle the dispute. An essay grader, that is. Not an elementary school student. That third reader, we can imagine, is a seasoned veteran. The score they give you would then be factored in to get your new, final 3-digit score.
Those original 1-4 marks are taken from a holistic view of your essay (check out the College Board’s rubric), at least theoretically. That means that there’s no special way to get an 8 (nor a 2)—everything is taken into account. That being said, some factors are more immediately noticeable than others. So be sure to practice fundamental New Sat Writing techniques that demonstrate your command of reading comprehension, rhetorical analysis, and the conventions of academic writing.
How essay grades affect scaled scores
In the previous version of the SAT, essays were a mandatory part of the exam, and essay scores had a significant impact on the final scaled score. However, in the New SAT, the essay is optional and scored completely separately from the main 1600 point four-section exam. On a New SAT score report, your essay score will appear separately from your scaled composite Reading/Writing/Math score—if you choose to take the essay, that is.
Certainly, if you choose to take the New SAT essay and do poorly on it, it can cast an otherwise good SAT score in a different light. A good 1600-scale score can look less impressive next to an essay score of—say—2/2/2 on the optional essay. Still, an essay score of at least 6/6/6 can complement a composite score on the main test nicely. And an 8/8/8 on an SAT essay is likely to impress university admissions representatives, even at universities that don’t require an SAT essay score.
And essay writing is, in some ways, one of the easiest SAT skills to improve. There’s a process you can follow, a structure of analysis, that will ensure decent scores. It’s not actually all that simple to go from a score of 2 to a score of 8 in all three categories, but with practice it’s definitely possible for a student to reach a score of 6 or higher in Reading, Analysis, and Writing. If writing a weak spot of yours, studying for the New SAT essay is still a potentially great opportunity to boost the value of your score report. Taking this optional component of the test is always worth considering.
About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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