You know the ancient saying–if you want to pass the test, you need to understand the grader.
What? You’ve never heard that? Well, it’s true. If you understand just how your SAT essay is graded, you’ll have a much better idea about how to write a killer one. For more fantastic tips…come on a journey with me.
So you’ve just finished your SAT essay. You’ve crossed all your Ts, dotted all your Is, and you’re about to turn it in to your proctor, after which your essay will end up in some dark, cold abyss somewhere, never to be seen again…
Stinks, doesn’t it? After all, you spent SO much time studying for the SAT, writing practice essays, and learning all the essay tricks and hints. Wouldn’t it be nice to know what happens to your essay after you’ve turned it in? Or better yet, wouldn’t it be nice to know how your essay will be scored?
Well, you’re in luck! Lookin’ for answers? We’ve got ’em.
After reading this blog post, you’ll have a better idea of how exactly the SAT essay is scored, and you’ll take comfort in knowing that your essay isn’t wasting away in some ditch somewhere.
How are SAT essays scored?
Before I talk about the specifics of the SAT essay grading scale, and the makings of a perfect essay, it’s important that you understand the SAT essay grading process.
Sooo… Where exactly does my essay go?
Ah, great question.
After you turn your essay in, your essay gets scanned and sent off to two different essay readers via the interweb. (Note: “interweb” is a slang term, and you probably shouldn’t use it in your essay. Carry on.)
These readers read your essay thoroughly and, based on a number of criteria, assign your essay a score out of 6. The two readers scores are then combined, so your total score is out of twelve.
If the scores of the two readers differ by more than a point, a third grader is brought in (this rarely happens).
Readers are supervised by online scoring leaders, who, according to CollegeBoard, are “experienced essay readers with special training in online scoring” (whatever that means).
So you get the idea—your essay gets digitally sent off to a couple former teachers or grad students looking for some extra cash. But how do they actually score your essay? What criteria are you judged on?
What am I scored on?
Here’s a little snippet that should help, taken directly from the CollegeBoard website:
Pretty reasonable, right? After all, this is the SAT Reasoning Test (ba-dum-TSH).
Basically, they want to see that you can make logical connections to support some sort of argument or claim (your thesis) and that your paper is generally well-written (good vocabulary, organization, grammar, sentence structure, etc.).
If I had to pick one piece of criteria I think is most important, I’d say that you must draw from examples to support the claim of your essay, whether they be from history, literature, personal experience, or something you made up (you can make up examples in your essay, did I mention that?).
What am I NOT scored on?
Fortunately for those of you with bad penmanship, the quality of one’s handwriting is not taken into consideration when assigning their essay score. In fact, the SAT readers are actually trained to be able to decipher even the sloppiest handwriting!
Also, to those of you who are under the impression that a longer essay is a better essay, I’d hate to break it to you, but you are sadly mistaken. The SAT essay readers are instructed not to judge an essay on its length, but rather its quality.
BUT DON’T GO CRAZY. Just because the SAT readers aren’t supposed to judge you by your handwriting or the length of your essay, it does not mean that you should write a sloppy 2-sentence essay.
It is often very difficult to produce a quality essay in less than 3 paragraphs, and while the neatness of your handwriting cannot hurt you, it can only help!
What does my score mean?
As I mentioned earlier, your total SAT essay score is calculated by taking the sum of the scores assigned to you by two separate readers. Let’s say you receive a score of 10. That means that each essay grader gave you a score of 5 (scores cannot differ by more than one point).
Here’s a quick rundown of what each score means:
Score of 0—receiving a score of 0 means that you did not even attempt to write an essay on the given prompt. So if, for whatever reason, you decided to draw a pretty picture instead, that’s probably why you got a 0.
Score of 1—a score of 1 means that, while you did attempt the assignment and answered the question, you did so in a flawed manner. You probably did not include any relevant examples, and displayed consistent grammatical and spelling errors. If you simply write, “I agree” in the essay booklet, you will receive a score of 1.
Score of 2—a score of 2 basically means that, while you did make an effort to include examples to support your argument, the essay was not well organized and the examples given were not logically connected to the essay’s main argument. (So, if you say “I agree that cell phones should be allowed in classrooms…because I love Channing Tatum, and my friend and I went to lunch yesterday, and Sally Ride was the first American woman in space,” you’d get a 2.)
Score of 3—a score of 3 means that your essay was okay. You included relevant examples and wrote an essay that, for the most part, makes sense, but you may have strongly lacked in other areas (reasoning, sentence structure, grammar, etc.).
Score of 4—a score of 4 means that your essay is doing everything right, but could be doing a lot more. You probably showed okay reasoning skills, but maybe you could have broadened your vocabulary a bit, or varied up sentence structure a little more.
Score of 5—a score of 5 means your essay is really good, but that it’s missing…something. You may have made a good argument, and provided adequate examples to support your reasoning, but your essay is just missing that WOW factor.
Score of 6—a score of 6 means that your essay was perfect, save for a couple small errors. Essays with scores of 6 typically have some quality that makes them stand out, such as a strong voice.
So don’t worry! Your essay doesn’t just disappear when it leaves your hands.
Actually, the folks at CollegeBoard put a whole lot of effort into making sure that your essay is handled with care, and that you receive only the grade that you deserve.
And now you know:
- Two graders read your essay and give it a score of 0-6.
- SAT graders are trained to decipher even the sloppiest handwriting.
- If you try to answer the question, you’ll get at least a 1.
What are your experiences with essay-writing? Are you nervous about the essay portion? Did you write a killer essay and you’re just trying to re-live the moment? Let us know in the comments!
Dressler Parsons spent most of her childhood in an adobe house her father built in rural Arizona. Right now, she's taking so many business and art classes at Barrett, the Honors College at Arizona State University, and plans to graduate in Fall 2016 with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, and a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Intermedia. And, handily enough, her SAT scores and grades qualified her for ASU's Presidential Scholarship (worth $24,000), as well as the AIMS tuition waiver. She is passionate about showing people their potential for a bright, beautiful future. In her free time, she cooks edible things and knits inedible ones.
SAT® Essay Writing Scoring for the Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy Now Powered by Turnitin
Nearly seven million students took either the SAT® or PSAT/NMSQT in the 2015-2016 school year.1 Of those test takers, 2.5 million prepared for the SAT exam using an innovative program that was launched by the College Board and Khan Academy in June of 2015.
Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy – developed through a partnership with the College Board and Khan Academy – supports and reinforces what students are learning in the classroom by helping them focus on the knowledge and skills essential for college readiness. All students can access, at anytime and anywhere, free, personalized practice for the SAT based on their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT or previous SAT results.
As part of the practice program, students also have the chance to take six full-length practice exams that include the optional essay–two of which are automatically scored using Turnitin Scoring Engine, right now. Never before have students been able to practice and prepare for the essay portion of the exam and get both immediate as well as consistent scores back.
Score consistency is important, because the accuracy of the score speaks to its relevance for helping students improve. Incorrect scoring can lead to improper preparation. Likewise, accurate scores can help guide students to better writing.
Turnitin Scoring Engine® is more than just a scoring program. Most essay scoring systems consider only text complexity (length of sentences and words) to assess student writing. Scoring Engine looks not just at complexity, but also at the substance of the writing, assessing students ability to read, analyze, and write. This is what the SAT essay portion is really intended to assess.
Looking ahead, students will be able to not only receive scores for their essays, they will also be able to engage in targeted practice with specific and actionable feedback. This formative feedback will be provided through Turnitin Revision Assistant®, another Turnitin program that leverages the same technology that powers the essay scoring, but towards the goal of providing feedback and not just a score.
The key to writing success is practice and timely, actionable feedback. Revision Assistant was designed to specifically address this need. Evlyn, a student in New York, said: “It bettered my writing. When I see feedback, it helps me.”
Revision Assistant will also be integrated into the Official SAT Practice and give students a chance to get feedback that will support their essay writing preparation.
Providing both Turnitin Scoring Engine and Turnitin Revision Assistant within the Official SAT Practice program gives students the chance to improve their writing–the one factor on the SAT that has been highlighted as the “best indicator of academic success.”2
With the College Board and Khan Academy, Turnitin recognizes and supports writing success, whether to prepare students for a test, for the classroom, or for their futures overall.
Turnitin Integrates Formative Writing Tools into College Board Programs to Support Student Practice (Press Release)
Turnitin Scoring Engine is available on a customized basis for writing assessment needs.
Turnitin Revision Assistant is available as a standalone program and also available as part of the College Board’s SpringBoard®, a comprehensive 6-12 math and English instructional program.