Total Score On Sat Essay

How the SAT Essay Is Scored

Responses to the optional SAT Essay are scored using a carefully designed process.

  • Two different people will read and score your essay.
  • Each scorer awards 1–4 points for each dimension: reading, analysis, and writing.
  • The two scores for each dimension are added.
  • You’ll receive three scores for the SAT Essay—one for each dimension—ranging from 2–8 points.
  • There is no composite SAT Essay score (the three scores are not added together) and there are no percentiles.

We train every scorer to hold every student to the same standards, the ones shown on this page.

Quick Links

Reading Scoring Guide

Analysis Scoring Guide

Writing Scoring Guide

Score of 4

  • Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text.
  • Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and of most important details and how they interrelate, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the text.
  • Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text.
  • Makes skillful use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating a complete understanding of the source text.

Score of 3

  • 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 (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating an understanding of the source text.

Score of 2

  • 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 (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating some understanding of the source text.

Score of 1

  • 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 (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating little or no understanding of the source text.

Score of 4

  • 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 feature(s) 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.

Score of 3

  • 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 feature(s) 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.

Score of 2

  • 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, or one or more aspects of the response’s 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.

Score of 1

  • Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little or no understanding of the analytic 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 choosing.
  • Or numerous aspects of the response’s 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.
  • Or the response offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary).

Score of 4

  • Is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language.
  • Includes a precise central claim.
  • Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion. The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.
  • Has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.
  • Shows a strong command of the conventions of standard written English and is free or virtually free of errors.

Score of 3

  • 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. The response demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.
  • Has variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates some precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.
  • Shows a good control of the conventions of standard written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing.

Score of 2

  • 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 over the course of the response.
  • May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion. The response may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout the response.
  • Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive.
  • Demonstrates general or vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive. The response 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.

Score of 1

  • 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. The response does not have a discernible progression of ideas.
  • Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive. The response demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate. The response 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.

Understanding how the SAT scoring system works is an important part of preparing for the test - how else are you supposed to measure progress and set goals?  The SAT has undergone some recent changes, which means that the scoring system that most people were familiar with has seen a radical overhaul. Here, I’ll cover how the scoring system has changed and what that means for you.

 

What’s Changed?

Prior to 2005, the SAT had just two sections (Math and Reading), each scored from 200-800 points for a maximum total of 1600. In 2005, the College Board instituted a new test with three sections - this changed the maximum possible score to 2400. The new version of the SAT also came with updates to test content and question types.

At the beginning of 2016, the College Board once again updated the SAT both in terms of the scoring system and test content. We’re now back to two mandatory SAT sections (Math and Writing & Language), each scored from 200-800 points, but there’s also an optional essay section. You might notice that the structure is fairly similar to that of the ACT.  

Another important change is the switch to rights-only scoring, which means that points are no longer deducted for wrong answers. Put simply, there’s no more guessing penalty on the SAT.

For more detailed information on these changes, check out our complete guide to the SAT.



The Highest Possible SAT Score

Like I mentioned, there are now only two mandatory SAT sections, each scored out of a maximum of 800 points. This means that the new highest possible SAT score is 1600.

Read more about what counts as a good, bad, or average SAT score.

 

The Essay

The essay used to be a mandatory part of the SAT Writing section - it’s now an optional, separate section with an independent scoring system. Your essay score is not included in the total maximum score of 1600.

Two graders will read your essay and score your work on three different dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. Each grader will give you between 1-4 points on each dimension. In sum, then, each dimension is being scored out of a total of 8 points. Three separate scores (out of 8 points each) means that the highest possible essay score is 24 total points.

Read more about the SAT essay and how it’s scored.


Because the essay is now scored on three separate dimensions, it may make it easier for you to hone in on (and improve) your writing weaknesses.



What These Scoring Changes Mean for You

These changes may not seem like a huge deal, but these structure and scoring updates may change the way you approach the test. Here are the major things to keep in mind as prepare for this new SAT:

 

There’s a Greater Emphasis on Math

On the old SAT, the reading & writing sections accounted for ⅔ of your total score whereas math accounted for only ⅓. Now, the math section accounts for ½ of 1600 total points for mandatory SAT sections. If math isn’t your strong subject, you may want to dedicate more time preparing for that section than if you were prepping for the old test - math now counts for a bigger fraction of your score.

To get started, check out our ultimate guide to SAT math prep.

 

A New Essay Rubric Means New Expectations

The new essay means three separate scores on three different dimensions. Check out the rubric to see exactly what graders are looking for from essay-writers. For expert tips and strategies, read our guide to getting a perfect 8 on each of the three essay dimensions.

 

You Shouldn’t Be Scared to Guess on Questions

With the switch to rights-only scoring (no point deductions for wrong answers), there’s no more guessing penalty. This means there’s no reason to leave any questions blank - you have nothing to lose if you guess on a question that you’re otherwise unable to answer.

Read more about how and when to guess on SAT questions.



Guessing obviously isn’t ideal, but these changes mean you don’t have to stress about whether to guess if you’re super stuck on a question.



What’s Next?

Knowing how the SAT is scored is great, but it’s even more helpful if you have a context for understanding these scores. Start off by checking out SAT scoring charts. Then, read up on what counts as good, bad, or excellent SAT score.

Intrigued by the idea of a perfect SAT score? Check out our famous guide on how to get a perfect 1600.

 

Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

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