The New SAT Essay Section

Instructor: Nicky Davis
The New SAT was unveiled in March of 2016 and includes an optional essay section. Keep reading to learn how this portion of the test has been updated, whether or not you should opt in, and how best to prepare.

An Overview of the New SAT Essay

What's the biggest change to the new essay section? The structure. The new essay is designed to measure a student's ability to critically analyze and interpret a text, rather than his or her general persuasive writing skills. Here are some essential things to keep in mind:

  • Test-takers will be given a reading passage and be asked to analyze and explain how the author makes their argument.
  • Students must use specific examples drawn from the text in their response.
  • Passages are selected from published texts in a variety of fields, including arts, sciences, history, and politics.
  • The goal is to write a thorough, multi-paragraph essay that clearly evaluates the author's argument and tactics.
  • The new essay section assesses college readiness in both reading comprehension and critical analysis, in addition to basic writing and organizational skills.
  • Test-takers are given 50 minutes to complete the essay, which is double the previously allotted time.
  • The essay section is now optional.

For a refresher on structuring and writing essays, check out our Essay Writing: Help and Tutorial course.

Scoring Changes

While the essay section is still scored by two independent readers, the scoring rubric has changed. Essays will now be scored on a scale of 1-4, with a total possible score of 8 (a 4 from both readers). Essays will be evaluated for three content elements: reading, analysis and writing.

Opting In or Out

Although the essay section is technically optional, many universities still recommend or require it. Students are encouraged to find out the application requirements of all schools they are considering before deciding whether or not to take the SAT with the essay.

Preparing for the New SAT Essay

Now that you've familiarized yourself with the fundamentals of the new essay section, make sure you're prepared when test day comes. Check out the following chapters and courses to help you review, refine and practice your writing skills.

  • The prep course for the SAT writing section offers great practice and review on foundational writing skills. However, it's important to note that this course is designed for the current SAT, so some of the testing information won't apply to the new exam.
  • These chapters on reading basics and analyzing non-fiction and informational texts can help you hone your reading comprehension and analysis skills.

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