SAT With Essay: Take the Option and Write It!

Though the Essay portion of the SAT is optional, it's a great way to practice your writing skills and show off these core skills to colleges. Here's what you should know about the SAT Essay, plus tips on how to get a high score.

My students have often verbally opted out of doing the SAT with Essay because it is “optional.” However, I always express that showing impeccable writing skills can help in the college selection process. In fact, most schools ask for an admission essay, so what better way to practice your skills than by completing the essay prompt for the SAT? By using the tools you’ve accumulated throughout your English classes, you should be able to score well.

The SAT Essay prompt is an analytical portion of the test and is 50 minutes long. Though it is optional, it is still a vital way to show colleges you have core skills that’ll transcend into a higher learning setting. Some schools actually require doing the written prompt, so if you aren’t sure which colleges you’re going to apply to, you may want to complete this section just in case. 

What to do during the test

  • Read the passage carefully.
  • Come up with a strong thesis.
  • Explain how the author uses their argument to persuade an audience.
  • Use supported evidence from within the passage.

A strong thesis contains two components: an argument and a "so what." The argument makes a specific claim about an element of the text, while the "so what" tells your reader why this topic/ argument is important and why it merits further exploration.

Simple, right? Yes, it is just that simple! Take all that you have learned, in writing, and apply it to the writing prompt.

What will the passage include?

All passages will include:

  • An argument of a point
  • Use of logic and evidence to support claims
  • Excerpts from already published works
  • A variety of themes (politics, art, ideas, science, etc.)

What should your essay show?

  • Evidence from the text that supports you claim
  • Persuasive components that appeal to the audience’s emotions
  • Reasoning
  • Understanding of the passage

How is your essay measured?

Your essay is scored based on three categories:

  • Reading: Based on the context of your essay, you are scored 1–4 points. This part examines if you have proven comprehension of the passage by use of textual evidence.
  • Analysis: This is the meat and potatoes of the essay. You will score 1–4 points based on how you show the author’s use of reasoning, evidence, and persuasive techniques. Remember that you must support your claim based on evidence that comes directly from the text. This essay is not about your opinion or what you think, but what is already written.
  • Writing: Your essay will need to show that you understand structure and style in writing. A great essay will be organized and structured and stick to the conventions of standard written English.

SAT Essay scoring is done by two people and follows a rubric based on the aforementioned. What is interesting about the SAT Essay score is that you will receive three scores—one for each dimension mentioned above—but there is no composite SAT Essay score, as the three scores are not added together and there are no percentiles.

Take your time, read thoroughly, and only write what’s in front of you. Good luck!

Find more SAT Essay tips in our Test Prep section.

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About Imani Bashir

Imani Bashir is a writer, wife, and mother who spent five years as a professional broadcaster before a sporadic move to Egypt, where she has taught English Literature and became a Supplemental Instruction Specialist & Consultant for ESL learners worldwide. Imani travels for a living and wants to cultivate a narrative that says "women everywhere can be anything they choose!"


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