Demystifying the New SAT Essay

The SAT Essay is an optional 50-minute section that comes at the end of the test. During this time, you will read a passage (sometimes referred to as the source text) and write an essay in which you evaluate how (and how well) the author formulates an argument to influence an audience to accept a particular point of view. Specifically, your tasks will be to discuss the logical validity and strength of the author’s case and provide analysis of the author’s line of reasoning and use of evidence.

In doing so, you must prove your deep understanding of the source text by evaluating the author’s:

  • use of evidence
  • use of reasoning
  • use of stylistic elements
  • use of persuasive elements


The SAT Essay is quite different from most of the writing assignments you get in school. In fact, it is much more reflective of the kinds of writing assignments you are likely to be assigned in a focused field of study, such as those found in graduate schools and in some careers. So, let’s begin by dispelling some misconceptions.

The SAT Essay is not:

  • a writing sample in which you describe a situation or an experience.
  • an argumentative essay in which you champion a cause or support a particular point of view.
  • an essay in which you agree or disagree with an author’s perspective.

The SAT Essay is:

  • an exercise in which you summarize, analyze, and evaluate an author’s argument.
  • a critique on an author’s technique and effectiveness in supporting his position.
  • a test of how well you can follow instructions, since your natural tendency will be to write in a style that may be more familiar or comfortable to you.
  • One thing that makes this assignment particularly interesting and unique is that your essay is graded on roughly the same attributes that you are asked to consider in evaluating the source text. In other words you must cite evidence of the author’s use of evidence, you must use reasoning to describe how the author uses reasoning, and so on.

To earn a high score, your essay must be:

  • correct in assessing the perspective, rationale and strategy of the author.
  • logical and consistent in presenting its case.
  • well organized with respect to paragraph structure and overall structure.
  • well written with respect to standard English conventions.
  • well written, using a variety of sentence types, vocabulary and rhetorical devices.

Low scores result when an essay does not meet these high standards. Within the larger rubric that contains language for all criteria across the entire 1-4 score range, the specific grading characteristics do not change; instead,the wording used to describe success in each task does. Example (use of textual evidence):

Score of 4: skillful use of textual evidence

Score of 3: appropriate use of textual evidence

Score of 2: limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence

Score of 1: little or no use of textual evidence

Similar language transformations accompany all criteria across all scoring levels. So, to earn a high score your essay must meet high standards of excellent writing. As you write, think about how you could make your essay not just fulfill the assignment but also reach the high standards of excellence.

To learn more, contact Chyten at 800-428-TEST (8378)