When it comes to the new SAT essay, the College Board is very helpful—they always use exactly the same format for the SAT essay, give you exactly the same directions, and ask you to include exactly the same kind of information in your essay. Because this never changes, you’ll know the directions ahead of time and save yourself time on the test. Here’s what you’ll see on the essay portion of the SAT.
New SAT Essay: The Passage
First there’s a passage for you to read and analyze. According to The College Board, all passages are written for general audiences, focus on a reasoned argument, and are taken from published works in the general areas of arts, sciences, civics, politics, or culture. They all require analysis of complex, subtle subject matter. Let’s see exactly what this means.
- Written for general audiences. Understanding the passage doesn’t require any special knowledge of content or vocabulary. They are the kinds of passages any high school student should be able to understand and analyze.
- Focused on a reasoned argument. On the SAT, arguments have nothing to do with conflicts, disagreements or fights. A reasoned argument is simply an author’s topic with his conclusion and the evidence he uses to back it up. Your job is to analyze how he builds his argument to persuade his readers to his point of view.
- Published works. All passages are taken from existing works; none are made up specifically for the SAT. Topics can include excerpts from political speeches, historical documents, personal calls for action, and the like. The essay prompts for the four tests in the current SAT Official Guide are a call for conservation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., an essay on the pros and cons of students using digital media, and a first-person essay on the benefits of natural darkness
- Analysis of subtle subject matter. You’ll have to do some real thinking to understand the f important points in the essay. Writers seldom state ideas in simple sentences such as “I think everyone should vote.” More likely the idea will be a more subtle form, such as “The right to vote freely and without intimidation is a fundamental hallmark of a democracy and a way to make one’s political choices heard.” Making connections and inferences will be important in analyzing the passage’s subject matter.
New SAT Essay: The Directions
That’s what you need to know about the passage. Now what about the directions for your essay? As we’ve already said, they’re always the same. The prompt (question) shown below, or a nearly identical one, is used for every essay question.
|As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.|
|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.|
So what does all of that mean? We broke it down into 5 essential components:
1. Your task is to analyze the argument, so you’ll need to focus on conclusion and evidence, and to consider how the author builds that argument. Note that the testmaker gives you a head start here, suggesting that you include analysis of evidence, reasoning, and stylistic elements.
2. How nice that’s included in the second set of directions! The testmaker pretty much tells you what the essay is about.
3. Even nicer—the testmaker encourages you to use the features in the first set of directions, but note that you can develop your own.
4. Focus on relevant features. The passage author may add some tangential information which is not important to her primary argument. Don’t spend any time on these. You may not have enough time to write everything that you think of, so prioritize your points and include those which are most pertinent to the argument and how the author develops it.
5. Your essay won’t include a personal point of view. As the instructions say, “Your essay should not explain whether or not you agree with (author’s) claims.” “Claims,” by the way, is another word for argument, which is another way of saying what the author thinks and why. Be very careful here. Don’t analyze the essay for your own opinion, but only for the argument itself and how the author supports it. If you write about your own opinion, you’ll get a low score on the essay.
You’ll have 50 minutes to write the essay, which will come at the end of the SAT. You’re given two double-sided, lined pages to write on, so be sure you can include everything you want to say in that space, but don’t feel you need to fill up all the pages. Writing just for the sake of taking up space is a bad idea, and one the readers will recognize and penalize you for.
Because the format and directions for the SAT essay are always the same (but the passage changes), you can memorize them and practice writing essays. Pay close attention to doing exactly what the instructions say, spend some time thinking before writing, prioritize your points, and write clearly and well (more about that in yet another blog), and you’ll score well on this optional, but important part of the SAT.
The redesigned SAT Essay asks you to use your reading, analysis, and writing skills.
It’s About the Real World
The SAT Essay is a lot like a typical college writing assignment in which you’re asked to analyze a text. Take the SAT with Essay and show colleges that you’re ready to come to campus and write.
What You’ll Do
- Read a passage.
- Explain how the author builds an argument to persuade an audience.
- Support your explanation with evidence from the passage.
The SAT’s essay component has had a total makeover:
- It’s optional—but some schools will require it. Get College SAT Essay policies.
- You have 50 minutes to complete your essay, 25 minutes more than the required essay on the old SAT.
- You won’t be asked to agree or disagree with a position on a topic or to write about your personal experience.
Watch the Video
The Essay Prompt
The prompt (question) shown below, or a nearly identical one, is used every time the SAT is given.
As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
- reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
- stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
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.
You can count on seeing the same prompt no matter when you take the SAT with Essay, but the passage will be different every time.
All passages have these things in common:
- Written for a broad audience
- Argue a point
- Express subtle views on complex subjects
- Use logical reasoning and evidence to support claims
- Examine ideas, debates, or trends in the arts and sciences, or civic, cultural, or political life
- Always taken from published works
All the information you need to write your essay will be included in the passage or in notes about it.
What the SAT Essay Measures
The SAT Essay shows how well you understand the passage and use it as the basis for a well-written, thought-out discussion. The two people who score your essay will each award between 1 and 4 points in each of these three categories:
Reading: A successful essay shows that you understood the passage, including the interplay of central ideas and important details. It also shows an effective use of textual evidence.
Analysis: A successful essay shows your understanding of how the author builds an argument by:
- Examining the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and other stylistic and persuasive techniques
- Supporting and developing claims with well-chosen evidence from the passage
Writing: A successful essay is focused, organized, and precise, with an appropriate style and tone that varies sentence structure and follows the conventions of standard written English.
Take a look at the SAT Essay rubric, or guidelines, scorers use to evaluate every essay.
Who Should Take the SAT with Essay
You don’t have to take the SAT with Essay, but if you do, you’ll be able to apply to schools that require it. Find out which schools require or recommend the SAT Essay. If you don’t register for the SAT with Essay at first, you can add it later.
SAT fee waivers cover the cost of the SAT with Essay.
If you take the SAT with Essay, your essay scores will always be reported along with your other scores from that test day. Even though Score Choice™ allows you to choose which day’s scores you send to colleges, you can never send only some scores from a certain test day. For instance, you can’t choose to send Math scores but not SAT Essay scores.
Reminder: Check the Score Choice policies of every college you’re applying to, because some schools require you to send scores from every time you’ve taken the SAT. If this sounds intimidating, keep in mind that many colleges consider your best.