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How to Write a SAT Essay: Tips, Scores & Step-by-Step Guide

SAT exam is definitely a headache for most of the students. It is complex and demands to master a variety of skills. It consists of several sections, and today we will discuss SAT essay:  what elements it should include, what grades it is based on and other important details.

You will have 50 minutes to go through a given passage, to analyze arguments of the author and to write your own essay. In case you copy someone else’s ideas and words or won’t even bother to write a few lines, you will get zero points.

Scoring of the essay is made up of two graders, each of which evaluates you from 1 to 4 in the following categories:

  • Reading
  • Analysis
  • Writing

This means that you will get a total of 8 points. Do you want to know how the SAT essay rubric is formed? Then go on reading! The best writers of WriteAnyPapers, including our dissertation writing experts have worked hard to make your SAT essay experience easy!

What is a SAT Essay?

SAT is a standardized test used by college boards across the United States. It was first introduced in 1926, and since then the title and scoring system has changed a few times. It consists of reading, writing and language, math, and essay.

SAT essay is definitely one of the most challenging parts of the test because it demands proficient knowledge of the language, of the discussed topic and possessing outstanding writing skills.

Which colleges require the SAT essay?

Compared to the past, not many schools or colleges require the essay section. For example, if you are willing to enter the Ivy League School, you can breathe out: they don’t need a SAT essay. The same applies to Duke, MIT, Caltech, Georgetown, Chicago, and NYU.  Most of these colleges and universities even recommend students not to choose the essay section, which is a great breakthrough for the past years.

Majority of liberal arts school also don’t require SAT essay. The only exception is Soka University, Amherst and Occidental colleges. In addition, state schools also don’t recommend taking the SAT essay, although there are some variations within states.

However, not depending on the school you are going to enter, it is better to get familiar with a list of colleges that require sat essay and those, which don’t.

SchoolState/CountryRequire or Recommend
Abilene Christian UniversityTXRecommend
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health SciencesNYRecommend
Allegheny CollegePARecommend
Amherst CollegeMARecommend
Art Institute of HoustonTXRecommend
Augsburg UniversityMNRecommend
Austin CollegeTXRecommend
Benedictine UniversityILRequire
Caldwell UniversityNJRecommend
California State University, NorthridgeCARecommend
Central Connecticut State UniversityCTRecommend
Central Michigan UniversityMIRecommend
Cheyney University of PennsylvaniaPARecommend
City University LondonUKRequire
Coastal Carolina UniversitySCRecommend
College of WoosterOHRecommend
Colorado School of MinesCORecommend
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and ArtNYRecommend
Corban UniversityORRecommend
Cornerstone UniversityMIRecommend
Dallas Christian CollegeTXRecommend
Davidson CollegeNCRecommend
Delaware State UniversityDERequire
DeSales UniversityPARequire
Dominican University of CaliforniaCARequire
Eastern UniversityPARecommend
Eastern Illinois UniversityILRecommend
Eastern Nazarene CollegeMARecommend
Five Towns CollegeNYRecommend
Gallaudet UniversityDCRecommend
George Washington UniversityDCRecommend
Georgia Highlands CollegeGARecommend
Greenville UniversityILRecommend
High Point UniversityNCRequire
Hofstra UniversityNYRecommend
Holy Family UniversityPARecommend
Howard UniversityDCRecommend
Husson UniversityMERecommend
Indiana University SoutheastINRecommend
Indiana Wesleyan UniversityINRecommend
Inter American University of Puerto Rico: Barranquitas CampusPuerto RicoRecommend
John Wesley UniversityNCRequire
Juilliard SchoolNYRecommend
Kentucky State UniversityKYRequire
Lehigh UniversityPARecommend
Madonna UniversityMIRecommend
Manhattan CollegeNYRecommend
Martin Luther CollegeMNRequire
Marymount California UniversityCARecommend
Massachusetts Maritime AcademyMARecommend
McMurry UniversityTXRecommend
Molloy CollegeNYRequire
Montana Tech of the University of MontanaMTRecommend
Morehouse CollegeGARecommend
Mount Saint Mary CollegeNYRecommend
Mount St. Joseph UniversityOHRecommend
New Jersey City UniversityNJRecommend
Nichols CollegeMARecommend
North Park UniversityILRecommend
Occidental CollegeCARecommend
Ohio UniversityOHRecommend
Oregon State UniversityORRecommend
Purdue University NorthwestINRecommend
Randall UniversityOKRecommend
Randolph-Macon CollegeVARecommend
Reading Area Community CollegePARecommend
Rowan UniversityNJRecommend
Rutgers University—Camden CampusNJRecommend
Saint Michael’s CollegeVTRecommend
Schreiner UniversityTXRequire
Seton Hill UniversityPARecommend
Shiloh UniversityIARecommend
Shippensburg University of PennsylvaniaPARecommend
Silver Lake College of the Holy FamilyWIRecommend
Soka University of AmericaCARequire
Southern California Institute of ArchitectureCARequire
Southern Illinois University CarbondaleILRecommend
Southern Oregon UniversityORRecommend
Spring Hill CollegeALRecommend
Stanford UniversityCARecommend
Sul Ross State UniversityTXRecommend
SUNY Farmingdale State CollegeNYRecommend
SUNY University at Stony BrookNYRecommend
Texas A&M International UniversityTXRecommend
Texas A&M UniversityTXRecommend
Texas A&M University—GalvestonTXRequire
Texas State UniversityTXRecommend
The King’s CollegeNYRecommend
United States Military Academy (West Point)NYRequire
University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley)CARequire
University of California, Davis (UC Davis)CARequire
University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine)CARequire
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)CARequire
University of California, MercedCARequire
University of California, RiversideCARequire
University of California, San Diego (UCSD)CARequire
University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB)CARequire
University of California, Santa CruzCARequire
University of EvansvilleINRecommend
University of La VerneCARecommend
University of Mary Hardin—BaylorTXRecommend
University of Massachusetts AmherstMARecommend
University of Minnesota, Twin CitiesMNRecommend
University of New EnglandMERecommend
University of North TexasTXRequire
University of the Virgin IslandsVirgin IslandsRecommend
University of ToledoOHRecommend
University of Washington BothellWARecommend
VanderCook College of MusicILRecommend
Virginia Union UniversityVARecommend
Wabash CollegeINRecommend
Webb InstituteNYRecommend
Webber International UniversityFLRecommend
Wesleyan CollegeGARecommend
West Virginia UniversityWVRequire
West Virginia University Institute of TechnologyWVRequire
Western Carolina UniversityNCRequire
William Jessup UniversityCARecommend
William Jewell CollegeMORecommend

SAT essay score explained

Scoring your SAT essay is thoroughly designed and the main points are following:

  • Two graders will read and score it.
  • Every person will give each aspect of the essay (reading, analyzing and writing) from 1 to 4 points.
  • These three scores are not added. There are also no SAT essay percentiles.

Every grader follows clear requirements and guidelines in order to evaluate each essay objectively. Below are the elements of SAT essay scoring:

4–    Shows great understanding of the given passage.

–    Demonstrates comprehension of main ideas of the text, as well as of its details and arguments.

–    Contains no mistakes of factual and interpretation nature.

–    Shows an ability to use evidence from the text (quotes or paraphrases).

3–    Shows a good understanding of the passage.

–    Demonstrates comprehension of central ideas and details.

–    Free from major mistakes.

–    Shows proper use of the elements from the source passage.

2–    Shows partial understanding of the passage.

–    Demonstrates comprehension of key ideas but not of central details.

–    Can contain mistakes in facts or interpretations.

–    Shows limited ability to use evidence.

1–    Shows no understanding of the source passage.

–    Cannot demonstrate an understanding of key ideas of the text.

–    Contains a variety of mistakes.

–    Cannot use quotations or paraphrases from the text.

You can also read our article on SAT scores range and percentiles to have a better understanding of how the exam works in general.

How to write SAT essay?

By now, you know how a sat essay score is composed, so it is the right time to discuss every stage of the writing process. Remember, SAT essay time is 50 minutes, so it is crucial to use it wisely and to be prepared well in advance.

1. Read the passage

At the beginning of the writing section, you will need to read a particular passage. There are several reading strategies depending on your strengths and on the type of the given passage. However, you should always remember about the time. It is recommended to spend no more than 10 minutes on reading the text.

If you can have a general look on the text without going too deep into details, just do it! Such a strategy is perfect for students who read fast and have no troubles with tight time limits. However, if you are reading slowly, always get nervous or feel that the topic difficult, it is better to try skimming.

Not depending on the SAT essay practice you choose, you will probably need to read the text a few times before completely understand it. However, giving the text a quick look before reading it carefully will help you to orient in the text.

2. Analyze and plan

The stage of analyzing and planning should last from 7 to 12 minutes. However, most of the students think that they already have too little time to waste it on planning.  Based on our experience, this stage is crucial and will eventually pay off.

A SAT essay should follow a clear structure (introduction, main ideas, and conclusion) in order to impress graders. Without an outline, it is almost impossible to keep up with a clear structure.

You are allowed to do any types of marks on the paper: circle and underline main points, make notes on free spaces and so on. In addition, you can assign certain numbers to evidence or arguments and then link those numbers with details in your outline.

When you read the passage, it is advised to make notes, organizing them in an outline. Below are the elements of a winning outline that you can use in your own essay:

  • Facts and evidence
  • Reasoning
  • Dictionary
  • Conclusion

You can delete some of the elements or add your own depending on the topic and structure of the passage. Remember, your average sat essay score will be greatly influenced by the outline you create.

3. Write the essay

If you have taken the above sat essay tips seriously, by this stage, you already have an outline and a clear plan. That is why the stage of writing won’t take you long, and you’ll manage to get to the point at once. Usually, the writing stage will take you half an hour.

Body paragraphs

Most of the students find it much simpler to write the main paragraphs before the introduction. If you are one of them, it is better to start with the body at once and simply leave a few lines on top of the page to write the introduction at the end.

To give you a better idea of how the body paragraphs should be structured and how to write a sat essay, let us use an example. It is a SAT essay, where a counterargument is used in order to add value to the author’s claims. Remember, it was written within a 50-minute limit.

  • Begin with transitions:

Smith not only provides arguments to support the advantages of his theory but also discusses a few counterarguments of the critics.

  • Then you need to introduce the topic in a few words:

With the help of proving the importance of highlighting foreign affairs through social media and reports of regular citizens, Smith manages to keep his critics silent.

  • Explain the context and how it is related to the thesis statement:

Smith could simply ignore all the power and potential of local reporting, but it could be taken for a one-sided opinion, and his own ideas would be not so convincing. Instead, Smith shows that he sees the problem and understands how much use social media and freelance journalists bring to highlight the news and spread it over the world. Unfortunately, professional journalists and reporters not always have enough freedom to remain objective.

  • Support your claim in a single sentence:

Readers will take Smith’s concerns on social media limits seriously after seeing that he admits the strength and power of the internet over the news.

When you collect all the above pieces, you will have a great body paragraph and can surely expect a good SAT essay score.

Remember, all paragraphs of your essay can be written in the above structure, so you don’t need to think about which strategy to apply in every particular case. Try to find at least one strong argument that the author has to support your own ideas. However, if you can find more, it will be a big plus.

Introductory paragraph and conclusion

Once you finish working on the main paragraphs of your SAT essay, you should also write the first and the last sections. Both of them should be brief and clear and mention the arguments of the author. Don’t forget to write a few lines about the arguments that you have chosen to support your ideas.

The rest is up to you. You can either give a general overview of the subject or stick to a few main details, restating them in your own way.

So even if you lack inspiration or have no time left, it is better to write a few sentences than to write nothing at all. In the most desperate cases, you can summarize the arguments from the body paragraphs and enumerate them in your introduction or conclusion.

4. Revise

As well as planning and outlining, most of the students don’t take revising very seriously. However, it will definitely influence your score and will only take you a few minutes to complete.

Here is why revising is so important:

  • It helps to eliminate grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes. You can also change words or even sentences to make the text more appealing and readable.
  • When you decide to revise the essay, you will write faster and will know that you don’t need to make it flawless at once.

Luckily, the SAT essay allows you to fix mistakes and crosswords without any influence on the score. You won’t have to spend time on erasing words or even rewriting the whole essay over again.

We recommend you prepare yourself to this stage by reading our essay revising guide.

SAT essay tips to make the exam easy

Do you have any questions left on how to write SAT essay? We have collected the most valuable tips that you can use:

  1. Always remain objective. The first and probably the most important thing you must remember is that ETS, company that forms the tests is not interested in your personal opinion on the subject. That is why you need to stick to the formal style, remain objective, and minimize using ‘I’ or ‘you.’
  2. Your essay should be tidy. Handwritten papers are not so popular nowadays, but the SAT remains an exception and takes your handwriting seriously. Every day graders read lots of different essays, and they lower the score if it is impossible to decipher what you wanted to say.
  3. Indent paragraphs and follow the structure. Graders love when students stick to the common structure (introduction, main paragraphs, and conclusion). That is why you need to put everything on place: the introduction should explain the text and contain paraphrased arguments from the body; main paragraphs need to discuss the text and consist of examples; the conclusion is for restating the goal of the given passage and for summing up your main points.
  4. Use examples. To make your argumentation stronger, you will need to back the thesis with concrete examples from the text. Don’t hesitate to use quotes to back your ideas and arguments.
  5. Don’t get stuck on the vocabulary. Luckily, SAT essay doesn’t require mastering the vocabulary, so if you don’t remember a specific term, you shouldn’t worry. Just use your own words and continue writing instead of wasting precious time on remembering the terminology.  However, if you know a specific term, always use it, and it will be a big plus.

SAT essay rubric

Students are not only interested in the assignment itself but also want to know how sat essay score percentiles are formed. Let us have a detailed look at every score and the skills you need to possess to gain one of them.

Score 1. Inadequate

  • The student shows little or no skills in using and controlling language.
  • The essay doesn’t contain a clear idea or main claim.
  • There is no introduction and conclusion. Progression of main ideas is absent.
  • There is no sentence structure variety. They repeat, and the word choice is very limited. The tone of the work is not formal.
  • The essay contains multiple mistakes and shows poor English proficiency.

Score 2. Partial

  • The text shows weak skills in controlling and using language.
  • A clear central idea is absent or changes throughout the text.
  • The essay has a poor introduction and conclusion. Progression of claims is present but weak.
  • Repetitive sentence structures.
  • Poor word choice, lots of repetitions.
  • The essay contains mistakes and shows that the student is not aware of standards of formal written English.

Score 3. Proficient

  • The text is comprehensive and shows good language control.
  • The text contains the main idea and claim.
  • There are a good introduction and conclusion.
  • Multiple sentence structures are used.
  • Standards of written English are accurately followed.

Score 4. Advanced

  • The text demonstrated outstanding use of language.
  • There is a clear central idea.
  • The essay has a powerful introduction and conclusion.
  • A wide range of sentence structures is applied.
  • Written English and vocabulary are flawless.
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