Does the SAT Essay Matter? – Don’t Stress it Too Much

If you’re applying to college in the U.S., you will most likely need to take the SAT or ACT exam. This is because most colleges require the SAT or ACT as part of the application. The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, is administered by the College Board. It consists of four sections and an optional essay. The four sections cover: Reading, Writing and Language, Math (no calculator), and Math (calculator). Since the essay is listed as optional, you may be asking yourself, does the SAT essay matter?


That’s a really good question with an interesting and somewhat variable answer. We will look at everything you need to know about the SAT scoring overall, and provide more insight into the essay. After reading this, you should be able to make an informed decision for whether or not you should take the SAT essay or skip it.



Student taking essay portion of SAT

Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash


SAT Subject Scoring

Before jumping into the essay specifically, let’s break down how the SAT is scored. Upon completion of the test, you can receive a score between 400 and 1600. Each topic is given a raw score. This is the number of questions that you answered correctly.


Then, the College Board performs a process called “equating” based on data. That gives you a score between 200 and 800 for the two general sections, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. The College Board doesn’t provide much insight into how “equating” works.



SAT Essay Scoring

The SAT essay used to be required, whereas the ACT essay has always been optional. Recently, the College Board made the SAT essay optional, too.


Students are provided with 50 minutes to write an essay.


The new SAT essay asks students to analyze how the author built his or her argument.


Grading for the essay requires two readers who grant it a score between 2 and 8. Then, your final score is the average of their two grades.


The essay’s score is provided separately to your overall SAT score when it is sent to colleges.



Does The SAT Essay Matter?

Now, you may be asking yourself, “Should I skip the SAT essay entirely?”


The fact of the matter is that only about 10% of colleges still require it. But, keep in mind, this could change. It’s best practice to check with your school of choice directly before taking the SAT to see if they require it or not.


A good way to find out if your school requires the SAT essay is to google: “[school name] SAT requirement.” If the school you want to attend requires it, then it’s a no brainer — you must complete the essay.


Some people will suggest you take the essay anyways, in case you decide later to apply to a school that requires it. Also, it’s worthwhile to keep in mind that you cannot take just the essay portion separately. If you decide later that you will need it, you will have to take the whole exam again. That means you will have to pay again and dedicate three to four more hours of your time to complete the exam.



Pros of Taking the SAT Essay


There may be benefits of completing the essay portion of the SAT exam. If you decide to complete the essay, you will have:


1. Ensured that you can apply to any school


2. Potentially increased your application (even if schools may not require it, they may use the score as an indication of how well you can write)



Cons of Taking the SAT Essay


If you know for a fact that you won’t need the SAT essay, it may be worth skipping it. This is because:


1. It costs an additional $14 extra


2. It adds about an hour to the test which is already three hours


3. It will require more studying and exam preparation



Student preparing for SAT essay

Photo by Kyle Gregory Devaras on Unsplash



How to Prepare for the SAT Essay

If you decide to take the SAT essay, then you should come prepared. The SAT essay presents you with a passage that is between 650 and 750 words. You’ll have to read, digest, and interpret the passage. Then you will be asked to analyze and explain how the author made his or her argument.


To prepare, you can consider performing the following:


1. Study sample passages and prompts


2. Conduct practices by writing responses and timing yourself for 50 minutes


3. Read op-ed pieces from published outlets to see how others write and structure arguments


4. Ask different people you trust to read and grade your practice essays



On the test day, be sure to do the following:


1. Read the prompt carefully


2. Allocate time to read the excerpt


3. Outline your response


4. Write clearly, concisely, and with as few errors as possible


5. Leave time for editing



Not All Colleges Require the SAT

While you may be considering whether or not to take the SAT essay section, you should know that some colleges don’t require the SAT at all. This is particularly true of many online universities.


At the University of the People, there are few requirements to enroll. The main two must-haves include: English proficiency and proof of high school completion.


There has been much debate about how hard and unequal the playing field is to be accepted into American universities. This is even true of the SAT and ACT as it is less of a test of intelligence and more of a test-taking skills test.


So, for some who can afford private tutoring and SAT courses, they may have an advantage over students who study alone.


As such, the University of the People believes in offering quality, tuition-free higher education to students from all around the world. It doesn’t matter how well you do or don’t do on standardized tests.


Instead, the utmost importance is that you have a will to learn.



The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that taking the SAT essay portion is a subjective decision. While it is optional, there are some schools that still require it (taking away its status as being optional).


If you are dead set on attending a certain school that does not require the essay portion, then you can save money and time by not taking it.


However, if you are unsure of where you may end up applying, it could be in your best interest to complete the essay. Before you sign up for the SAT, perform your research and be sure of your decision.




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