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6 Scored Sat Essay

We made it to the last Tests Uncovered post! It’s hard to believe our first post of the series was published back in May of 2015. In the months since then, we have covered just about everything students can expect to see on the redesigned SAT exam (making its debut in just over one week!) and the small changes made to the ACT back in the fall.

For a handy reference to every post whenever and wherever, make sure to download parts one and two of our free Tests Uncovered eBook. Click here to download. Keep an eye out for the next installment, which will be released soon!

This week we are taking a look at scoring on the Redesigned SAT Essay Section.

How is the new essay scored?

Students receive three separate essay scores: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Each score gauges a distinct attribute of the essay. Two graders score a student’s essay, and each grader assigns a score from 1–4 point for each of these attributes. The scores are then combined to form three separate scores from 2–8. For example, a students might receive a score of 5, 7, 6, meaning a 5 out of 8 for Reading, a 7 out of 8 for Analysis, and a 6 out of 8 for Writing.

What does the rubric look like?

The complete new SAT essay rubric looks a little intimidating at first glance. However, it repeats the same themes again and again. We’ve included a few key elements here, but you can reference an abridged version of the College Board’s rubric at the end of this blog.

Reading: This score measures how well a student comprehends the passage.

  • Does he or she correctly identify the passage’s main idea?
  • Does he or she show how passage details reinforce that main idea?
  • Does he or she make any factual errors?
  • Does he or she reference the right parts of the passage?

Analysis: This score measures how well a student analyzes a passage.

  • Does he or she relate each of his arguments back to a central claim?
  • Does he or she explain how the author develops his argument?
  • Does he or she give examples of the author’s argumentative techniques?
  • Does he or she stay focused on the most important parts of the passage?

Writing: This score measures how well a student writes an analytical essay.

  • Does it have a thesis?
  • Does it have an introduction, body, and conclusion?
  • Is there enough sentence variety to keep the reader engaged?
  • Did he or she choose the right words to express him or herself?
  • Are there any spelling or grammar errors that make it difficult to understand his or her message?

How does this compare to the old SAT?

Three Scores

The old SAT rubric assigned just one grade based on an overall impression how well written an essay was. Now, students receive three equally important scores. These scores measure how well a student reads, interprets, and analyzes a passage as well as how effectively he crafts his own essay. So, a student who analyzes passages well but struggles with spelling and grammar will still have an opportunity to showcase his strengths on test day.

Smaller Scale

We should also note that the new SAT essay is graded on a smaller scale. Whereas the old SAT essay graders evaluated the essay on a scale of 1–6, new graders must select scores from 1–4. Old graders were expected to assign scores within one point of one another, so they were very reluctant to assign extremely high or low scores. With the change in scale, however, graders will likely be more willing to assign “very high” scores (i.e. 4) or “very low” scores (i.e. 1) because these scores are not as far from the middle as they used to be.


The biggest scoring difference between the old and new SAT essay is that the new SAT essay is no longer required. Whereas the old SAT essay determined one-third of a student’s writing score, the new SAT essay is an optional section scored on its own.

What does this mean for students?

If you prepped for the old SAT essay, do not despair. A lot of what you learned still applies. For example, high-scoring essays must be as long as possible, organized by paragraph, and primarily made up of evidence and analysis. However, the new essay has added several elements you’ll want to be familiar with before test day. Take some time to review the rubric and then consider sitting for a practice exam. If possible, try to take your practice exam with a tutor or company that offers complimentary SAT scoring.

Will the essay be on the PSAT?

No. The PSAT does not include the essay.

The following rubric has been adapted from the College Board’s Official Guide to the SAT.

SAT® Essay Writing Scoring for the Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy Now Powered by Turnitin

Nearly seven million students took either the SAT® or PSAT/NMSQT in the 2015-2016 school year.1 Of those test takers, 2.5 million prepared for the SAT exam using an innovative program that was launched by the College Board and Khan Academy in June of 2015.

Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy – developed through a partnership with the College Board and Khan Academy – supports and reinforces what students are learning in the classroom by helping them focus on the knowledge and skills essential for college readiness. All students can access, at anytime and anywhere, free, personalized practice for the SAT based on their performance on the PSAT/NMSQT or previous SAT results.

As part of the practice program, students also have the chance to take six full-length practice exams that include the optional essay–two of which are automatically scored using Turnitin Scoring Engine, right now. Never before have students been able to practice and prepare for the essay portion of the exam and get both immediate as well as consistent scores back.

Score consistency is important, because the accuracy of the score speaks to its relevance for helping students improve. Incorrect scoring can lead to improper preparation. Likewise, accurate scores can help guide students to better writing.

Turnitin Scoring Engine® is more than just a scoring program. Most essay scoring systems consider only text complexity (length of sentences and words) to assess student writing. Scoring Engine looks not just at complexity, but also at the substance of the writing, assessing students ability to read, analyze, and write. This is what the SAT essay portion is really intended to assess.

Looking ahead, students will be able to not only receive scores for their essays, they will also be able to engage in targeted practice with specific and actionable feedback. This formative feedback will be provided through Turnitin Revision Assistant®, another Turnitin program that leverages the same technology that powers the essay scoring, but towards the goal of providing feedback and not just a score.

The key to writing success is practice and timely, actionable feedback. Revision Assistant was designed to specifically address this need. Evlyn, a student in New York, said: “It bettered my writing. When I see feedback, it helps me.” 

Revision Assistant will also be integrated into the Official SAT Practice and give students a chance to get feedback that will support their essay writing preparation.
Providing both Turnitin Scoring Engine and Turnitin Revision Assistant within the Official SAT Practice program gives students the chance to improve their writing–the one factor on the SAT that has been highlighted as the “best indicator of academic success.”2

With the College Board and Khan Academy, Turnitin recognizes and supports writing success, whether to prepare students for a test, for the classroom, or for their futures overall.

More information:
Turnitin Integrates Formative Writing Tools into College Board Programs to Support Student Practice (Press Release) 
Turnitin Scoring Engine is available on a customized basis for writing assessment needs.
Turnitin Revision Assistant is available as a standalone program and also available as part of the College Board’s SpringBoard®, a comprehensive 6-12 math and English instructional program.