Although the SAT essay is going to be optional before long (when the test changes in 2016), as of right now it’s a must. So, love it or hate it, your essay will influence your SAT score, and the admissions offices at the colleges you’ll apply to will see that score. So let’s answer one key question: how much does the SAT essay actually count for?
First, the essay is scored according to its own grading system. There will be two readers—real people, not a Scantron machine!—who read and judge your writing, each assigning a mark of zero to six. Zero is the worst (in case that wasn’t totally obvious), but it’s only used for the absolutely ungradable essays. If you write on a completely different topic than what’s assigned, for example, you will get a zero. That means no memorizing a fantastic essay ahead of time! You have to write on the topic they give you. You’d also get a zero if you wrote in another language, say, or simply put no clear thoughts on paper.
A six, on the other hand, is reserved for long, structured essays that are full of clear, concrete ideas, high-level vocabulary, and correct grammar. There’s a bit more to it, but that’s the gist.
After each reader goes through and marks your essay, the two scores will be added to give you a score of 0–12 (if you actually wrote anything remotely relevant, that’s 2–12).
Then that score, in turn, is added to the raw score from the Writing multiple-choice questions, since the essay is just a part of the Writing Section. The multiple-choice sections count for more points, altogether.
Then, once they have the raw total of your essay score and your multiple-choice score added up, they convert that score into the scaled, 200–800 score.
The Importance of the Essay
The scaled score is a little bit hard to explain—how it’s calculated, I mean—and it’s not worth really getting stuck talking about. All that matters is the zero to twelve score ends up affecting how many hundreds are in that scaled score. And I did say that the multiple-choice counts for more than the essay, but that doesn’t mean the essay isn’t important.
In truth, the SAT essay score counts for around 30% your total writing score—in the ballpark of 200 points, altogether. It’s not the only thing, but it’s a significant piece of the puzzle.
And what about those who say the essay doesn’t matter? Simply put, they’re usually wrong. Most schools were really skeptical of the Writing Section when this version of the SAT first debuted it back in 2005. And sure, some are still not totally signed on, but for the most part it does factor into your admissions. And 99% of the time, you’ll have no idea how much that lady who works in the admissions office cares about your Writing score—you’ll just have to trust that a high score is better than a low one.
And for that high score, you need to put some energy into preparing to write your essay!