Help On Sat Essay Rubric

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.

In March of 2016, the College Board rolled out the new SAT. At the time, these changes to the SAT were the most significant since 2005, when the College Board introduced a writing section and increased the scoring range from 1600 points to 2400 points.


Initially, many students, teachers, tutors, and guidance counselors were anxious to see what the changes would mean. In fact, changes to the scoring structure and format of the new test were of particular concern, as many students did not know exactly how their performance would be assessed.


Now, almost a whole year later, we have a much better understanding of the new SAT and how it is scored. Specifically, we now know the new scoring scale and we know that the actual scoring process is not much different than it was for the older version of the SAT.


To learn more about the format, scoring scale, and scoring process for the new SAT, read on.


What is the format of the New SAT?

At first glance, the new SAT appears significantly different from the SAT administered prior to March 2016. It contains two primary test sections, and one additional optional test section, as opposed to the three required sections on the previous version of the test.


One of the primary tests is the Math Test. This is actually comprised of two smaller test sections: the Math Test With Calculator and the Math Test – No Calculator. 


The other primary test is the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test. This is also comprised of two smaller test sections: the Critical Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test.


The final component of the new exam, the SAT Essay, is now optional.


How are tests scored?

When you are finished taking the SAT, the test supervisor will collect and count the test books to make sure all materials have been turned in before dismissing you from the testing room. This is to help ensure the security of testing materials.


All test materials are then put into a sealed envelope and sent to a scoring center. At the scoring center, SAT Essays are removed for separate scoring, while the remaining answer sheets are scanned by a machine that counts the number of correct answers bubbled in on each answer sheet.


Tests are scored based on the number of answers that you got correct. With the exception of the SAT Essay, all tests have multiple-choice or grid-in answers. This means that answer sheets can be quickly scanned to tally raw scores. Because there is no scoring penalty for wrong answers, your raw score is simply the number of correct answers that you achieved on each section.


Once your raw scores have been tallied, they are converted to scaled scores through a process called equating. Equating accounts for very slight differences in test difficulty and ensures that scores are consistent across different forms of the SAT.


The exact equation used to equate your raw SAT score to a scaled score varies slightly from one test to another, and is adjusted in small increments to reflect the difficulty of the test.


You can get a better idea of the exact process by reviewing the scoring procedure for official SAT practice tests prepared by the College Board. Check out the Raw Score Conversion Tables beginning on page seven of the packet Scoring Your SAT Practice Test #1. 


What is the score range for the new SAT?

Scaled scores for each required SAT test range from 200-800. You receive one score from 200-800 for the Math test, which takes into account your performance on both the Math Test With Calculator and Math Test – No Calculator sections. You receive another score from 200-800 for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing test, which takes into account your performance on both the Writing and Language Test and the Critical Reading Test.


Your total SAT score will always range from 400-1600 and is calculated simply by adding together the scores from your Math test and your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test.


The new, optional SAT Essay is scored differently, using a different scale, and it bears no weight on your total SAT score.


To learn more about SAT scores, read CollegeVine’s What Is a Good SAT Score?


How is the new SAT essay scored?

The optional essay cannot be scored by computer since its answers are not multiple-choice or grid-in. Instead, each SAT essay is read by two qualified readers. The readers each assign a score from one to four in three different dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.


If the scores assigned by the readers to any single dimension vary by more than one point, a scoring director will read the essay to resolve the discrepancy.


The points assigned in each dimension are then totaled, resulting in a score range for each dimension between two and eight. The dimension scores are added together to result in a total score ranging from 6-24.


You can read more about the SAT Essay scoring process and preview the scoring rubric on CollegeBoard’s SAT Essay Scoring site.

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