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?
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.
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.
Wondering about the new SAT essay scoring rubric? We’ve got that, and more!
It’s a fact of academic life that you need to write essays. You’ve done it in high school and you’ll write even more in college. Unless you’re in a creative writing class – and sometimes even then – you’ll be given directions about the format and general topic of the essay, and how well you follow those directions counts in your grade. The same thing applies to the SAT essay. It’s optional, as you know, but we encourage you to write it for some really good reasons; see Should I take the New SAT Essay for more about those reasons.
While your high school and college essays are probably read and graded by the teacher or teaching assistant, your SAT essays are read and scored by professionals who are trained to assess the essay in terms of exactly what the SAT is looking for in a good essay. There’s nothing ambiguous about the scoring criteria; the SAT has it down to a science.
SAT readers/scorers are generally high school or college teachers with experience in reading and grading essays. They’re thoroughly trained, have to pass tests to qualify as SAT readers, and once certified, are expected to absolutely conform to the scoring rubric—no personal opinions, no comments—just a number score from the rubric. Two scorers read each essay and if their scores diverge too much, a third reader scores it as well. Each reader gives a score of 1-4 for each of three criteria, the two scores are added, and the student gets three essay scores ranging from 2-8, one for each criterion.
So what are the criteria that readers so rigidly follow?
New SAT Essay Scoring Criteria
- Demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text
- Fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s)
- May contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes little or no use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates some comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details
- May contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details
- Is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes appropriate use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text
- Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and most important details and how they interrelate
- Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text
- Makes skillful use of textual evidence
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea
- Lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion; does not have a discernible progression of ideas
- Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate; may lack a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing
- Demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language
- May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea
- May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion; may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout
- Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive; demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive; may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding
- Is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language
- Includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea
- Includes an effective introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has variety in sentence structures; demonstrates some precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a good control of the conventions of standards written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing
- Is cohesive and demonstrates highly effective use and command of language
- Includes a precise central claim
- Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion; demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay
- Has a wide variety in sentence structures; demonstrates consistent use of precise word choice; maintains a formal style and objective tone
- Shows a strong command of the conventions of standards written English and is free or virtually free of errors
- Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little to no understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing
- Numerous aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant
- May not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task
- Offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary)
- Offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task
- Identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance
- One or more aspects of analysis are unwarranted based on the text
- Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- May lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task
- Competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
- Offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task
- Offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features of the student’s own choosing
- Contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made
- Focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task
The essay components are Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Reading refers to how well you demonstrate understanding of the text; analysis covers how well you examine the structure and components of it, and writing, as you might expect, assesses your ability to write clear, correct, and cohesive prose.
There’s a lot of detail under each score, but note that for reading, the scores go from the highest, “thorough,” (4) to the lowest, “little or no comprehension” (1). In the middle are “some” and “effective,” scores of 3 and 4 respectively, and probably where most students score. More or less the same scale, with different words, also applies to analysis and writing. It’s worth reiterating that SAT readers are held exactly to this scale and the specific breakdown under each score.
Now here’s a question for you. How long do you think each reader is expected to spend on reading, assessing, and scoring the essay? The answer is a minute or two. What does that mean for you? You’ll have to know and follow directions, read the text with structure and the writer’s elements in mind, think clearly, and write strongly from the very beginning. That’s quite a challenge, but keep checking in this blog site and we’ll give you some really good tips about meeting the challenge and writing a essay with the winning score of 8-8-8.
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