1 Faemuro

7 Out Of 12 On Sat Essay Writing

SAT Essay scores for the new SAT are confusing to interpret, in part, because the College Board has intentionally given them little context. By combining College Board and student data, Compass has produced a way for students to judge essay performance, and we answer many of the common questions about the essay.

Why are there no percentiles for the essay on an SAT score report?

No percentiles or norms are provided in student reports. Even colleges do not receive any summary statistics. Given Compass’ concerns about the inaccuracy of essay scoring and the notable failures of the ACT on that front, the de-emphasis of norms would seem to be a good thing. The problem is that 10% of colleges are sticking with the SAT Essay as an admission requirement. While those colleges will not receive score distribution reports from the College Board, it is not difficult for them to construct their own statistics — officially or unofficially — based on thousands of applicants. Colleges can determine a “good score,” but students cannot. This asymmetry of information is harmful to students, as they are left to speculate how well they have performed and how their scores will be interpreted. Through our analysis, Compass hopes to provide students and parents more context for evaluating SAT Essay scores.

How has scoring changed? Is it still part of a student’s Total Score?

On the old SAT, the essay was a required component of the Writing section and made up approximately one-third of a student’s 200-800 score. The essay score itself was simply the sum (2-12) of two readers’ 1-6 scores. Readers were expected to grade holistically and not to focus on individual components of the writing. The SAT essay came under a great deal of criticism for being too loosely structured. Factual accuracy was not required; it was not that difficult to make pre-fabricated material fit the prompt; many colleges found the 2-12 essay scores of little use; and the conflation of the essay and “Writing” was, in some cases, blocking the use of the SAT Writing score — which included grammar and usage — entirely.

With the 2016 overhaul of the SAT came an attempt to make the essay more academically defensible while also making it optional (as the ACT essay had long been). The essay score is not a part of the 400-1600 score. Instead, a student opting to take the SAT Essay receives 2-8 scores in three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. No equating or fancy lookup table is involved. The scores are simply the sum of two readers’ 1-4 ratings in each dimension. There is no official totaling or averaging of scores, although colleges may choose to do so.


Readers avoid extremes

What is almost universally true about grading of standardized test essays is that readers gravitate to the middle of the scale. The default instinct is to nudge a score above or below a perceived cutoff or midpoint rather than to evenly distribute scores. When the only options are 1, 2, 3, or 4, the consequence is predictable — readers give out a lot of 2s and 3s and very few 1s and 4s. In fact, our analysis shows that a80% of all reader scores are 2s or 3s. This, in turn, means that most of the dimension scores (the sum of the two readers) range from 4 to 6. Analysis scores are outliers. A third of readers give essays a 1 in Analysis. Below is the distribution of reader scores across all dimensions.

What is a good SAT Essay score?

By combining multiple data sources — including extensive College Board scoring information — Compass has estimated the mean and mode (most common) essay scores for students at various score levels. We also found that the reading and writing dimensions were similar, while analysis scores lagged by a point across all sub-groups. These figures should not be viewed as cutoffs for “good” scores. The loose correlation of essay score to Total Score and the high standard deviation of essay scores means that students at all levels see wide variation of scores. The average essay-taking student scores a 1,080 on the SAT and receives just under a 5/4/5.


We would advise students to use these results only as broad benchmarks. It would not be at all unusual to score a point below these means. Scores that are consistently 2 or more points below the means may be more of a concern.

College Board recently released essay results for the class of 2017, so score distributions are now available. From these, percentiles can also be calculated. We provide these figures with mixed feelings. On the one hand, percentile scores on such an imperfect measure can be highly misleading. On the other hand, we feel that students should understand the full workings of essay scores.

The role of luck

What is frustrating to many students on the SAT and ACT is that they can score 98th percentile in most areas and then get a “middling” score on the essay. This result is actually quite predictable. Whereas math and verbal scores are the result of dozens of objective questions, the essay is a single question graded subjectively. To replace statistical concepts with a colloquial one — far more “luck” is involved than on the multiple-choice sections. What text is used in the essay stimulus? How well will the student respond to the style and subject matter? Which of the hundreds of readers were assigned to grade the student’s essay? What other essays has the reader recently scored?

Even good writers run into the unpredictability involved and the fact that essay readers give so few high scores. A 5 means that the Readers A and B gave the essay a 2 and a 3, respectively. Which reader was “right?” If the essay had encountered two readers like Reader A, it would have received a 4. If the essay had been given two readers like Reader B, it would have received a 6. That swing makes a large difference if we judge scores exclusively by percentiles, but essay scores are simply too blurry to make such cut-and-dry distinctions. More than 80% of students receive one of three scores — 4, 5, or 6 on the reading and writing dimensions and 3, 4, or 5 on analysis.

What do colleges expect?

It’s unlikely that many colleges will release a breakdown of essay scores for admitted students — especially since so few are requiring it. What we know from experience with the ACT, though, is that even at the most competitive schools in the country, the 25th-75th percentile scores of admitted students were 8-10 on the ACT’s old 2-12 score range. We expect that things will play out similarly for the SAT and that most students admitted to highly selective colleges will have domain scores in the 5-7 range (possibly closer to 4-6 for analysis). It’s even less likely for students to average a high score across all three areas than it is to obtain single high mark. We estimate that only a fraction of a percent of students will average an 8 — for example [8/8/8, 7/8/8, 8/7/8, or 8,8,7].

Update as of October 2017. The University of California system has published the 25th-75th percentile ranges for enrolled students. It has chosen to work with total scores. The highest ranges — including those at UCLA and Berkeley — are 17-20. Those scores are inline with our estimates above.

How will colleges use the domain scores?

Colleges have been given no guidance by College Board on how to use essay scores for admission. Will they sum the scores? Will they average them? Will they value certain areas over others? Chances are that if you are worrying too much about those questions, then you are likely losing sight of the bigger picture. We know of no cases where admission committees will make formulaic use of essay scores. The scores are a very small, very error-prone part of a student’s testing portfolio.

How low is too low?

Are 3s and 4s, then, low enough that an otherwise high-scoring student should retest? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. In general, it is a mistake to retest solely to improve an essay score unless a student is confident that the SAT Total Score can be maintained or improved. A student with a 1340 PSAT and 1280 SAT may feel that it is worthwhile to bring up low essay scores because she has previously shown that she can do better on the Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math, as well. A student with a 1400 PSAT and 1540 SAT should think long and hard before committing to a retest. Admission results from the class of 2017 may give us some added insight into the use of SAT Essay scores.

Will colleges continue to require the SAT Essay?

For the class of 2017, Compass has prepared a list of the SAT Essay and ACT Writing policies for 360 of the top colleges. Several of the largest and most prestigious public university systems — California, Michigan, and Texas, for example, still require the essay, and a number of highly competitive private colleges do the same — for example, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

The number of excellent colleges not requiring the SAT Essay, though, is long and getting longer. Compass expects even more colleges to drop the essay requirement for the classes of 2018 and 2019. Policies are typically finalized in late spring or during the summer.

Should I skip the essay entirely?

A common question regarding SAT scores is whether the whole mess can be avoided by skipping the essay. After all, if only about 10% of colleges are requiring the section, is it really that important? Despite serious misgivings about the test and the ways scores are interpreted, Compass still recommends that most students take the essay unless they are certain that they will not be applying to any of the colleges requiring or recommending it. Nationally, about 70% of students choose to take the essay on at least one SAT administration. When looking at higher scoring segments, that quickly rises to 85-90%. Almost all Compass students take the SAT Essay at least once to insure that they do not miss out on educational opportunities.

Should I prepare for the SAT Essay?

Most Compass students decide to do some preparation for the essay, because taking any part of a test “cold” can be an unpleasant experience, and students want to avoid feeling like a retake is necessary. In addition to practicing exercises and tests, most students can perform well enough on the SAT Essay after 1-2 hours of tutoring. Students taking a Compass practice SAT will also receive a scored essay. Students interested in essay writing tips for the SAT can refer to Compass blog posts on the difference between the ACT and SAT tasks and the use of first person on the essays.

Will I be able to see my essay?

Yes. ACT makes it difficult to obtain a copy of your Writing essay, but College Board includes it as part of your online report.

Will colleges have access to my essay? Even if they don’t require it?

Yes, colleges are provided with student essays. We know of very few circumstances where SAT Essay reading is regularly conducted. Colleges that do not require the SAT Essay fall into the “consider” and “do not consider” camps. Schools do not always list this policy on their website or in their application materials, so it is hard to have a comprehensive list. We recommend contacting colleges for more information. In general, the essay will have little to no impact at colleges that do not require or recommend it.

Is the SAT Essay a reason to take the ACT instead?

Almost all colleges that require the SAT Essay require Writing for ACT-takers. The essays are very different on the two tests, but neither can be said to be universally “easier” or “harder.” Compass recommends that the primary sections of the tests determine your planning. Compass’ content experts have also written a piece on how to attack the ACT essay.

Key links in this post:

ACT and SAT essay requirements
ACT Writing scores explained
Comparing ACT and SAT essay tasks
The use of first person in ACT and SAT essays
Understanding the “audience and purpose” of the ACT essay
Compass proctored practice testing for the ACT, SAT, and Subject Tests

 

SAT Essay scoring can be tricky to figure out. Maybe you've already created target goals for your SAT score, following our guide, so you at least have that score goal set.

But where does your essay score fit into all this? What is a good SAT essay score? This article will answer those questions.

Note: The information in this article is for the old (pre-March-2016) SAT essay, which was scored out of 12 and part of the Writing section. Scores for the March 2016 SAT were only released May 10th, 2016, which means that data on percentiles and averages aren't going to be available for a while yet. We'll update this article as soon as the information comes out.

feature image credit: Doing Great by Eli Christman, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What Is the SAT Essay Out Of?

Before you can know what a good SAT essay score is, you need to know how many points you can get total on the essay. So what's the SAT essay out of?

Currently, the SAT essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 6 by two graders, for a total essay score out of 12. Your essay is scored holistically, which means you don’t get bumped down to a certain essay grade if you make, for instance, a certain number of comma errors. Instead, SAT essay scorers use the SAT essay rubric to grade your essay as a whole.

Note: SAT essay scoring will change beginning with the March 2016 SAT. For more information on that change, read our other articles on the new SAT essay prompts and the new SAT essay.

 

What Is a Good SAT Essay Score?

As with most things on the SAT, a good essay score depends on what your goals are. These goals should be concrete and determined by the colleges you’re applying to - after all, if your reach schools have an average essay score of 9, then there's no need to burn yourself out trying to get that elusive 12.

To some extent, your essay score goal will also be influenced by your performance on the multiple choice section of SAT Writing. If you do better on multiple-choice questions, you may be able to cut yourself some slack in the essay department.

But how do figure out what your SAT Writing (and SAT essay) goals should be? Use our three-step process, explained below.

 

Step 1: Know Your Target SAT Writing Score

If you’ve read our free ebook on calculating your target SAT score, you may already have figured out your target SAT Writing score. If not, it's time to calculate it! I'll walk through the process using the example of Virginia Commonwealth Unversity.

First, download this worksheet. It's designed for calculating your target SAT score out of 2400, so you'll have to modify it a little bit. Fill in the schools you want to apply to in the leftmost column. Here's what the worksheet will look like for Virginia Commonwealth University:

 

 

Next, google "[name of school] average SAT writing" to get the middle 50% of all SAT Writing scores. For instance, if you're interested in Virginia Commonwealth University, you'd do the following search:

 

 

There'll usually be a collegeapps.about.com link that has this information. Sometimes (as you can see above) the college website will also pop up, so you can use that to double-check your numbers. You're looking for the 25th and 75th percentile scores on the SAT Writing section.

A quick refresher on what "percentile scores" mean: 25th percentile means that 25% of the students attending have a score at or below that number (below average). The 75th percentile means that 75% of students have a score at or below that number (above average). In essence, the 25th/75th percentile score range covers the middle 50% of all students admitted to Virginia Commonwealth University.

If the sites don’t list a specific SAT Writing score range, you can divide the top and bottom of the overall SAT score range by 3 to get a general idea of what your Writing score needs to be. In this case, there is information about the SAT Writing score range, so we can fill that in on the worksheet:

 

 

Do the same for all of the schools you want to apply to. Include dream or “reach” schools, but don’t include “safety schools” (schools you think you have at least a 90% chance of getting into).

Once you've filled in the information for all of the schools you want to apply to, average the 25th percentile and 75th percentile columns, then choose a target SAT Writing score with that information.

 

 

As it says on the worksheet, we recommend that you take the 75th percentile score as your target SAT Writing score. It'll give you a very strong chance of getting into the schools you’ve listed. If you’re applying to humanities programs, you may even want to consider a higher score target for SAT Writing.

 

Step 2: Find an Official SAT Writing Score Chart

The next step is to take a look at an SAT Writing score chart to find out the range of essay scores that will get you your target SAT Writing score. The chart will differ in precise score differences from test to test, but it can at least give you a broad idea of the range.

Let's say that your target SAT Writing score is 576 (rounded up to 580). I've highlighted this in green in the following SAT Writing score chart (from an official SAT practice test):

 

Writing MC

Raw Score

Essay Raw Score

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

0

49

800

800

800

800

790

760

750

730

720

710

690

680

48

800

800

780

770

750

720

710

690

680

670

650

640

47

790

770

760

740

720

700

680

660

650

640

630

620

46

770

750

740

720

700

680

660

650

630

620

610

600

45

750

740

720

710

690

660

650

630

620

610

590

580

44

740

730

710

690

670

650

630

620

600

590

580

570

43

730

710

700

680

660

640

620

600

590

580

560

550

42

720

700

680

670

650

630

610

590

580

570

550

540

41

700

690

670

660

640

610

600

580

570

560

540

530

40

690

680

660

650

630

600

590

570

560

550

530

520

39

690

670

650

640

620

590

580

560

550

540

520

510

38

680

660

640

630

610

590

570

550

540

530

510

500

37

670

650

640

620

600

580

560

540

530

520

500

490

36

660

640

630

610

590

570

550

530

520

510

490

490

35

650

640

620

600

580

560

540

530

510

500

490

480

34

640

630

610

590

570

550

530

520

510

490

480

470

33

630

620

600

590

570

540

530

510

500

490

470

460

32

630

610

600

580

560

540

520

500

490

480

460

450

31

620

600

590

570

550

530

510

500

480

470

460

450

30

610

600

580

560

540

520

500

490

480

460

450

440

29

610

590

570

560

540

520

500

480

470

460

440

430

28

600

580

570

550

530

510

490

470

460

450

430

420

27

590

580

560

540

520

500

480

470

450

440

430

420

26

580

570

550

540

510

490

480

460

450

440

420

410

25

580

560

550

530

510

490

470

450

440

430

410

400

24

570

550

540

520

500

480

460

450

430

420

410

400

23

560

550

530

510

490

470

450

440

430

410

400

390

22

560

540

520

510

490

470

450

430

420

410

390

380

21

550

530

520

500

480

460

440

420

410

400

380

380

20

540

530

510

490

470

450

430

420

400

390

380

370

19

530

520

500

490

470

440

430

410

400

390

370

360

18

530

510

500

480

460

440

420

400

390

380

360

350

17

520

500

490

470

450

430

410

400

380

370

360

350

16

510

500

480

470

440

420

400

390

380

360

350

340

15

510

490

470

460

440

420

400

380

370

360

340

330

14

500

480

470

450

430

410

390

370

360

350

330

330

13

490

480

460

440

420

400

380

370

350

340

330

320

12

480

470

450

440

410

390

380

360

350

340

320

310

11

480

460

440

430

410

390

370

350

340

330

310

300

10

470

450

440

420

400

380

360

340

330

320

300

300

9

460

450

430

410

390

370

350

340

320

310

300

290

8

450

440

420

400

380

360

340

330

320

300

290

280

7

440

430

410

400

380

350

340

320

310

300

280

270

6

440

420

400

390

370

350

330

310

300

290

270

260

5

430

410

390

380

360

340

320

300

290

280

260

250

4

420

400

380

370

350

330

310

290

280

270

250

240

3

410

390

370

360

340

320

300

280

270

260

240

230

2

390

380

360

350

320

300

290

270

260

250

230

220

1

380

370

350

330

310

290

270

260

240

230

220

210

0

370

350

340

320

300

280

260

240

230

220

200

200

-1

350

340

320

300

280

260

240

230

210

200

200

200

-2

340

320

300

290

270

250

230

210

200

200

200

200

-3

320

300

290

270

250

230

210

200

200

200

200

200

-4 and below

310

300

280

260

240

220

200

200

200

200

200

200

 

As you can see in the chart above, there are theoretically over ten ways to get a 580 on SAT Writing, with anywhere from a 25-46 multiple-choice raw score and a 0-12 essay score.

But is it really realistic to expect to score a 12 on the SAT essay if your multiple-choice raw score is only a 25? Probably not. In 2015, the average SAT Writing score was a 484, and the average SAT essay score was a 7 (data from the CollegeBoard; for more on this, read our upcoming article on average SAT Writing scores).

Based on this information (and on an official practice SAT Writing score chart), we've created a table of realistic essay scores you can expect to achieve if you're scoring in a certain range:

 

SAT Writing Score Range

Realistic Essay Score

200-340

4 or below

340-440

5

440-540

6

540-640

7

640-740

8

740-800

9 or above

 

So while you can get a 580 on SAT Writing with an essay score from 0-12, you're more likely to do so if you can score a 7 or above on the essay.

 

Step Three: Take a Timed SAT Writing Section and Score It

The final step is to see what your multiple choice score is now so that you know how much prep time you'll have to put in. To do this, you'll need to take a timed SAT Writing section and calculate your multiple-choice raw score. The best way to get a realistic idea of what your raw multiple-choice Writing score is would be to take a full-length practice test (because it’ll give you an idea of how tired you get from the other sections and how you deal with switching back and forth). If you don't have the time to do this, just take the Writing sections from an official SAT practice test, adhering to the time limits.

How do you calculate your multiple-choice raw Writing score? Use the following equation:

Your raw score = (# of questions you got right - # of questions you got wrong x 0.25)

For example, if you answered 34 (out of49) questions right, skipped 7, and got 8 questions wrong, your raw score would be:

34 – (8 x .25) = 34 – 2 = 32

With a raw score of 32, you can get anything from a 450 to a 630 on SAT Writing, depending on your essay score. If you stay at the same multiple-choice raw score, you'll need an essay score of 9 or above to make your target Writing score of 580. This is a tough essay score to get for anyone, especially considering the average essay score for 2015 was a 7.

As you increase your multiple-choice raw score, the essay score needed to get your target score will drop. To use the example from before, if you're aiming for an SAT Writing score of 580, a realistic essay score would be a 7; according to the SAT Writing score chart above, this means you'll need to increase your raw multiple-choice score to a 37 (a far more manageable goal for most students than raising their essay scores to a 9).

 

Actions To Take

Figure out your target SAT Writing score, using the worksheet above.

Use an SAT Writing scoring scale to figure out the essay grade you’ll need to shoot for to make your target SAT Writing score.

Figure out how you’re doing on the Writing multiple choice questions and how much you need to improve (both on the multiple-choice questions and on the essay) to meet your SAT Writing score goal.

 

What’s Next?

Get the inside scoop on what really goes on behind the scenes with our strategies based on interviews with real essay graders.

Can you write a high-scoring SAT essay in less than a page? Discover how essay length affects your score in this article.

Still confused about how the SAT essay is scored? Try our article that explains the official SAT essay scoring policy and what strategies you should use to take advantage of it.

Curious about how well everyone does on the SAT essay? Read our article to find out what’s an average SAT essay score.

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 240 points? 

Check out our best-in-class online SAT prep program. We guarantee your money back if you don't improve your ACT score by 4 points or more.

Our program is entirely online, and it customizes what you study to your strengths and weaknesses. If you liked this SAT Essay lesson, you'll love our program. Along with more detailed lessons, you'll get your SAT essays hand-graded by a master instructor who will give you customized feedback on how you can improve. We'll also give you a step-by-step program to follow so you'll never be confused about what to study next.

Check out our 5-day free trial:

 

Leave a Comment

(0 Comments)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *