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The SAT Essay


Anyone who is planning on going to college should take the SAT in high school to demonstrate their readiness for higher education. The SAT essay is an optional section of the SAT, and it’s required by many colleges that wish to gauge applicants’ readiness by the analytical skills they demonstrate in the essay. While the essay is optional, it’s a good idea to spend the extra $17 to take the essay portion of the test and provide the relevant information to college admissions offices. Taking the SAT essay is like completing a test of verbal, analytical and rhetorical skills that can’t be demonstrated in the multiple choice sections of the exam. It’s required for admission to many liberal arts colleges and writing programs, and it helps test takers understand how prepared they are for careers in analytical occupations.

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How to Format the SAT Essay

Formatting for the essay portion of the SAT is simple. The essay consists of a response to an argument presented by a writer taking a position on a political or social issue. The argument presented in the essay prompt won’t be highly upsetting, but it may be slightly controversial, such as the idea that global warming is not caused by human activity. Responses to these prompts should not indicate whether the student agrees or disagrees with the argument. They should be purely analytical without any value judgment of the subject matter or the writer presenting the argument. The talking points to analyze are included in the essay prompt. The student taking the test should address each point listed in the prompt as completely and accurately as possible. There is no word limit for the SAT essay, but submissions under 100 words typically receive low scores. The purpose of the essay is to gauge rhetorical aptitude, so the content of the essay is more important than the word count. The suggested response length is about 400 to 500 words.

The Value of Writing the SAT Essay

The SAT essay provides students with a valuable means to test their skills and aptitude. A good way to think about it is to compare it to a unit test of a software application. The programmer creating the application needs to know how the software will behave in every scenario, but not every unit test puts the program through the full range of possible scenarios. The mathematical and verbal multiple choice sections of the SAT are designed to put students through a rigorous sequence of questions that elicit responses to a wide range of scenarios. The questions are challenging enough to fully exhaust the capabilities of most students, but they’re not broad enough to test students’ capabilities in every situation. That’s why colleges that expect students to have analytical and rhetorical preparation require the SAT essay, and it’s a good reason for anyone planning on enrolling in college to complete the essay portion of the SAT.

Topics Covered by the Essay

The topics covered by the SAT essay prompts are far-reaching and diverse. Writers providing test prompts can potentially cover any topic in modern society, politics or culture. The College Board, which is the company that administers the SAT, provides sample prompts for students wishing to take the practice test. These prompts are put forward in a different format than the actual test prompts. The practice test prompts ask students to formulate an argument based on a premise and a stance taken on an issue. Some of the practice prompts include essay questions about environmental degradation, foreign wars, human consumption, and public resources. They do not include fully-fledged arguments articulated by the people mentioned in the prompts. Instead, they ask students to compose their own arguments based on the topic of discussion and the position of the person mentioned in the prompt. While the practice essay questions are not graded and don’t count toward the total score on the official SAT, it’s important to treat the practice test with seriousness to ensure that it adequately prepares students for the graded test. The essay prompts on the practice test offer the perfect SAT preparation for students of all skill levels.

How the SAT Essay is Scored

The SAT essay is graded by two independent judges who award a score between one and four, with a score of one being the lowest and four being the highest. Test takers can, therefore, receive a total score of between two and eight on the essay portion of the test. Scores for the written portion of the SAT are broken down into three categories: reading, analysis and writing, or RAW. Students receive a grade of between two and eight points for each of the three categories. The scores for reading and writing are straightforward. Graders assess the test taker’s ability to accurately understand the test prompt and express ideas clearly using proper grammar. The score for the category of analysis is based on the test taker’s mastery of analytical and rhetorical concepts, such as reasoning, argumentation, persuasion, and evidence. The scores of each category remain separate from each other and from the scores on other sections of the SAT.

Other Important Information

A few other important points to remember when taking the test can help students avoid problems and ensure a smooth process. According to the College Board, cell phones and recording devices are prohibited during the test, and students who bring prohibited items to the testing site will have their grades canceled. The essay portion of the SAT is handwritten with pencil on paper, so it’s not possible to use a spell checker or online dictionary when composing the essay. Students should prepare for the test by practicing spelling, grammar, and penmanship in a testing environment. Many high schools offer SAT testing practice to help students prepare for the exam, and these workshops can provide valuable experience for students of all skill levels. The official test takes several hours to complete, and students can take breaks between sections of the test. The College Board recommends bringing a watch to keep track of time and a bag with snacks and drinks to stay hydrated and nourished during the test.

Preparing for college admission takes a lot of work and can be somewhat stressful, especially for hardworking students who push themselves for perfection. When it comes to writing the SAT essay, it’s important to remember to relax and not over-analyze the process.