How Do I Prepare for the SAT Essay Prompt?

September 16, 2016 

6855538268_d698f73704_m.jpgTo succeed in something new, it’s important to understand it. This rule of thumb is no different for the new style and structure of the SAT, which has recently undergone a makeover. Between 2005 and 2016, the SAT was broken up into three sections: Math, Reading, and Writing, which included the essay and multiple-choice language questions. Since March of this year, the SAT has undergone a complete overhaul.

Reminiscent of its pre-2005 format, the SAT is worth a total of 1600 points again. The Math section is worth up to 800 points, and then the Reading and Writing sections combined are also worth up to 800 points. You can read more about the scoring of these sections here. The SAT essay prompt is now a separate, optional section with its own scoring rubric. Let’s take a closer look at the SAT Essay so you can fully understand what has changed and what your student can do to prepare for the Essay section of the new SAT.

Old vs. New

Not only is the Essay section now optional (and separate from the Writing and Language section), but what is required of students has changed dramatically as well. Since 2005, test takers were given only 25 minutes to read a prompt, decide whether to argue for or against the passage, and write a well-thought-out essay using examples from literature, history, current events, and their personal experiences to defend their position—which could be pretty intimidating for students. With the new format, students will instead be asked to read a passage and then explain how the author constructs his or her argument. Using analysis, reading comprehension, and clear writing skills, test takers will describe how the author builds his or her argument, but they will not have to choose whether or not they agree themselves with the writer’s position. This section is also now 50 minutes long, twice the previous allotted time, giving students ample time to read the passage carefully and show off their writing skills.

Scoring the New Essay

With a new format comes a new rubric. Previously, the Writing section, which included the essay as well as multiple-choice grammar questions, was worth 800 points, the same amount the Reading and Math sections were worth. Now being a separate and optional part of the exam, the SAT Essay has its own scoring system entirely and does not factor into the 1600-point scale. Each essay is graded in three categories: reading, analysis, and writing. Each of these categories is given a score between 1 and 4 by two different graders, rendering three separate scores ranging between 2 and 8 each. A perfect score is a 24 (each grader giving the essay a 4 in each of the three categories).


20950028301_778512a1cd_m.jpgIt’s true—the new SAT Essay section is optional. However, it can be recommended or required by the college or university you or your child is applying to. Be sure to know what each college requires prior to signing up for the test.

How to Prepare

What the SAT Essay measures is something you do every day: evaluate someone’s argument or point of view. From commercials to political debates, we are inundated with opinions that people feel very strongly about, and consciously or not, we deconstruct them in order to understand them. So, practicing is easy. Reading a magazine, a friend’s politically charged Facebook post, or a newspaper article, and then putting into your own words how they built their argument through facts, historical examples, reasoning, and persuasive techniques are all ways to prepare for the SAT Essay.

However, completing sat essay prompts will give you the best feel for the kinds of prompts you can expect, as well as the timing and how you should pace yourself come test day. A+ offers free practice SATs to students in the Philadelphia area. These practice exams include the essay portion and students receive detailed feedback about their essay with their score report.

Click here to register for a free proctored SAT practice exam.

Learn more about A+ one-to-one SAT tutoring options for students in the Philadelphia area.



Photo credits:

Caleb Roenigk
The Chopras Global Education



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