One of the biggest changes to the redesigned SAT is the essay, and specifically that the essay will now be optional. This means that you can now choose whether or not you want to write the Essay based on whether the schools you are applying to require it. In addition, your essay score will not enter into your final numerical score for the SAT; instead, it will be reported separately. 

During the essay portion of the SAT, you get to demonstrate your ability to comprehend source material, analyze an argument, and write effectively. You can think of the Essay section as the part of the test where you get to write your own answer.

You may already be familiar with essay prompts from the old SAT. The old SAT essay prompt asked you to generate your own argument and evidence in response to a fairly general and subjective question. The new SAT essay prompt is very different. Here is a list of the changes made to the SAT essay prompt and what that means for your own preparation:

  • New format: You now get twice as much time to write the Essay—50 minutes instead of 25 minutes. You also get twice as much space to write your essay, with four available answer pages. This allows you to write more as well as have more time for revisions.
  • New prompt style: While the old SAT essay prompt asked you wide-reaching, subjective questions, the new SAT essay prompt asks you to read and analyze a provided passage. The prompt itself is nearly the same on every exam—it is the passage that varies from test to test.

Essay Scoring

While the old SAT was scored using a very general holistic rubric, the new SAT essay is evaluated based on three specific criteria: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Each of these criteria will be scored on a scale of 2-8 yielding a total score range of 6-24. Below is a breakdown of what each of these criteria means and what the College Board expects to see in your essay.

  •  Reading: The College Board wants to see evidence in your essay that you read and understood the passage. There is a very simple way to demonstrate this: quote the passage. The best way to prove that you understood all the nuances of the passages is to use pieces of it effectively in your essay.
  • Analysis: The College Board wants to see that you can analyze the elements of someone else’s argument and use this analysis to craft an argument of your own. You can achieve this by coming up with interesting, supportable claims and selecting strong, relevant evidence to support them.
  • Writing: The College Board wants to see evidence that you can not only come up with a good analysis, but that you can also effectively convey it to your reader. The scorers are evaluating your ability to come up with a coherent organization, use varied sentence structures, and employ good word choice and tone.