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What’s the average new SAT essay score?

Oct 20, 2020


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In 2019 the average SAT essay score in the Reading and Writing section was 5 out of 8, while the average score on Analysis was only 3 out of 8. The scoring system works as follows: two judges score each section of your essay (Reading, Writing, and Analysis) on a scale from 1 to 4. Their assessments are added together forming an average score between the two judges. For example, the score of 5 on Writing means that one of the judges gave 6 points, while the other gave 4. 

The distribution of scores on a scale from 2 to 8 was very different for each essay part according to the 2019 data. Reading and Writing parts showed a similar trend of having the majority of students scoring 4, 5, and 6 points. While the Analysis section demonstrated quite different statistics: the majority of scores were 2 and 4 (hence the national average of 3).

Why did the Analysis section score lower? Perhaps the most apparent answer is that this part is the hardest of all three. Many students get confused here and provide their opinions instead of analyzing the material. The Analysis section tests how well students can understand the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and persuasive or stylistic elements. Also, this section is relatively new; it was not part of the SAT essay prior to 2016 (before the reform). Hence, many are not simply prepared well enough to excel in this task.

The previous SAT essay score was based on the assessment of the two judges scoring on a scale from 1 to 6, however, there was no division into Reading, Writing, and Analysis. Students got a simple average score of the two judges evaluating their essays holistically. Such an approach received a lot of criticism for being vague and easy to free-ride on, and in 2016 it was replaced with the current SAT essay approach. The essay part became more sophisticated and the time allocated for this task has also increased from 25 to 50 minutes.

Despite those enhancements, the SAT essay score weight in the overall SAT score has decreased. This is because the evidence-based reading and writing are now part of the main SAT score, while the essay task has become optional. Only 10% of colleges now require SAT essay scores in their admissions.

Unless you are sure you are not going to apply to a college that requires an SAT essay score, we recommend that you should still take the essay as part of your assessment. It is not rare that 90% of colleges who do not require SAT essay may still inquire about your essay score as supporting material to your application.

Here are a few very important tips on how you can improve the SAT essay score:

• Understand thoroughly the essay assignment passage. What did the author want to say? What were his arguments, reasoning, supportive evidence? Try to grasp the author’s key point. 

• Outline before you begin writing your essay. This is a key technique if you want to get better as a writer.

• To make your analysis score better, never include your opinion! Instead, show how well you can analyze the author’s argument. Approach it from various angles, but never your personal point of view.

• Edit and proofread. Leave some time to improve your grammar and style. Essay assessment is a biased and subjective exercise and one never knows if the two readers would put a particular (sometimes disproportionate) emphasis on grammar and style.  

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