Wondering about the new SAT essay scoring rubric? We’ve got that, and more!
It’s a fact of academic life that you need to write essays. You’ve done it in high school and you’ll write even more in college. Unless you’re in a creative writing class – and sometimes even then – you’ll be given directions about the format and general topic of the essay, and how well you follow those directions counts in your grade. The same thing applies to the SAT essay. It’s optional, as you know, but we encourage you to write it for some really good reasons; see Should I take the New SAT Essay for more about those reasons.
While your high school and college essays are probably read and graded by the teacher or teaching assistant, your SAT essays are read and scored by professionals who are trained to assess the essay in terms of exactly what the SAT is looking for in a good essay. There’s nothing ambiguous about the scoring criteria; the SAT has it down to a science.
SAT readers/scorers are generally high school or college teachers with experience in reading and grading essays. They’re thoroughly trained, have to pass tests to qualify as SAT readers, and once certified, are expected to absolutely conform to the scoring rubric—no personal opinions, no comments—just a number score from the rubric. Two scorers read each essay and if their scores diverge too much, a third reader scores it as well. Each reader gives a score of 1-4 for each of three criteria, the two scores are added, and the student gets three essay scores ranging from 2-8, one for each criterion.
So what are the criteria that readers so rigidly follow?
New SAT Essay Scoring Criteria
- Demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text
- Fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s)
- May contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes little or no use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates some comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details
- May contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details
- Is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes appropriate use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and most important details and how they interrelate
- Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes skillful use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea
- Lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion; does not have a discernible progression of ideas
- Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate; may lack a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea
- May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion; may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout
- Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive; may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding
- Is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language
- Includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea
- Includes an effective introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has variety in sentence structures; demonstrates some precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a good control of the conventions of standards written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing
- Is cohesive and demonstrates highly effective use and command of language
- Includes a precise central claim
- Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has a wide variety in sentence structures; demonstrates consistent use of precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a strong command of the conventions of standards written English and is free or virtually free of errors
- Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little to no understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing
- Numerous aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant
- May not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task
- Offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary)
- Offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance
- One or more aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- May lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task
- Competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task
- Offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
The essay components are Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Reading refers to how well you demonstrate understanding of the text; analysis covers how well you examine the structure and components of it, and writing, as you might expect, assesses your ability to write clear, correct, and cohesive prose.
There’s a lot of detail under each score, but note that for reading, the scores go from the highest, “thorough,” (4) to the lowest, “little or no comprehension” (1). In the middle are “some” and “effective,” scores of 3 and 4 respectively, and probably where most students score. More or less the same scale, with different words, also applies to analysis and writing. It’s worth reiterating that SAT readers are held exactly to this scale and the specific breakdown under each score.
Now here’s a question for you. How long do you think each reader is expected to spend on reading, assessing, and scoring the essay? The answer is a minute or two. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to know and follow directions, read the text with structure and the writer’s elements in mind, think clearly, and write strongly from the very beginning. That’s quite a challenge, but keep checking in this blog site and we’ll give you some really good tips about meeting the challenge and writing a essay with the winning score of 8-8-8.
< Previous: What’s tested on the SAT: the New SAT Essay
Next: 5 Must-Know SAT Writing Tips >
Wait, wait – not so fast! Let’s break this down a little. After all, understanding how a test is scored is absolutely vital to, well, getting the highest SAT score possible on it.
Furthermore, some of you may still be thinking: “Uh…isn’t it 2400?”
The Quick Answer
It used to be. Up until January 2016, the highest possible score on the SAT was 2400. As of March 2016, however, the highest possible score is now 1600, as it was for most of the twentieth century. So what gives? Were parents just protesting that they wanted to know how well they’d done in comparison to their kids?
Not exactly. Here’s what happened:
The Long Answer
On the “old” (pre-March 2016) SAT, there were three sections: reading, writing, and math. Each section had a possible score of between 200 and 800, for a total composite (overall) score of between 600 and 2400. However, that writing section presented a problem. A significant amount of the score was made up of the grade students received on an essay. Anecdotal evidences indicates that many colleges reasoned that because the essay grading was subjective, the writing score was not so useful for admissions—and so they’d ignore it, making the actual score they were looking at between 400 and 1600.
The College Board, the company that makes the SAT, caught on to this (they’re pretty bright over there). They began a redesign of the test that not only made the essay a score separate from the composite score, but also reworked the test in other areas to make it more relevant to what students were learning in school and to what they’d be learning in college.
Highest SAT Score: Section Scores
So! Now, the multiple-choice section of the test is broken down into two categories: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (which includes both reading passages and English grammar and usage questions), and Math. Within each of these sections, you can score between 200 and 800 (“section scores”), for a total score of 400 to 1600 (“total score”).
SAT Subscores and Cross-Test Scores
However, you’ll also receive subscores in the Reading/Writing section: in two separate categories (Reading/Writing & Language), you’ll receive a subscore out of a possible 40 points. This also holds true for Math, though that section doesn’t have subscores.
But wait, there’s more! Now, there’ll also be “cross-test” scores, also out of 40 points. These subscores, as their name implies, cross the tests and apply to Reading, Writing, and Math—basically, any question that has a Science, History, or Social Studies context.
New SAT Essay Score
Whew! After all that, the new essay scoring is pretty simple: three scores between 2-8 in the categories of Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The good news, though? It’s now optional, as it is on the ACT. Heads up, though: some colleges may continue to require it.
Head spinning? We don’t blame you! Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember this:
The highest SAT score on the new test is 1600. End of story.
P.S…Go here for updated information on SAT Score Ranges for the Top 100 Colleges and Universities!
About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a TOEFL and SAT/ACT blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and is currently a doctoral candidate at University College London. She has taught the TOEFL for six years, and worked with nearly 1,000 students in that time. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. When she’s not teaching or studying, she’s either riding (horses), or writing (fiction), a pair of activities that sound so similar that it confuses even native English speakers. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!