March 2013 Sat Essay Rubric

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.


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!


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.
 

Scoring Criteria

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!


Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!


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