SAT: Analyzing the Essay Section

The writing section of the SAT requires every student to compose an essay on an assigned topic. This essay assignment will be the first section of the test. The prompt will contain a short paragraph featuring either a single quote or a pair of quotes about an issue that you are asked to discuss, supporting your ideas with an example or examples from your reading, personal experiences, or observations. The essay section of the exam tests your ability to read a topic carefully, to organize your ideas before you write, and to write a clear, well-written essay. This section requires good high school level writing, reading, and reasoning skills.

Sample Directions

You have 25 minutes to plan and write an essay on the topic below. DO NOT WRITE ON ANOTHER TOPIC. AN ESSAY ON ANOTHER TOPIC WILL NOT BE SCORED.

The essay is intended to give you the chance to show your writing skills. Be sure to express your ideas on the topic clearly and effectively. The quality of your writing is much more important than the quantity, but to cover the topic adequately, you may want to write more than one paragraph. Be specific.

Your essay must be written on the two lined pages provided. You will not be given any additional paper. If you keep your handwriting to a reasonable size, write on every line, and avoid wide margins, you should have enough space to complete your essay.

Directions: Read the following paragraph and assignment carefully. Then prepare and write a persuasive essay. Be sure to support your reasons with specific examples that will make your essay more effective.

"Work experience is the best teacher," say many sociologists. With this in mind, some parents encourage their high school students to get an after-school or weekend job. Other parents cite the importance of getting good grades to discourage their high school students from getting an after-school or weekend job.

Assignment: Which parents do you agree with? Using an example or examples from your reading, personal experiences, or observations, write an essay to support your position.

Analysis of Directions

  1. You have 25 minutes to plan and write an essay on one assigned topic. You will have space for writing notes to help you organize your thoughts. (These notes will not be read by the persons grading your exam.)

  2. Notice that this topic, or prompt, features a quote about an issue to which you are asked to respond. It is written with the intent that you will be able to respond quickly regardless of your background or interests.

  3. A topic, or prompt, could feature a pair of quotes (two quotes) about an issue.

  4. The assignment will ask you to give your view on a topic. Support your point of view with reasoning and specific details or examples.

  5. Some assignments will include a "gloss" or quick paraphrase of the topic's main idea. This "gloss" is meant to assist you if you are not familiar with the quote or topic.

  6. Spend 3 or 4 minutes making your notes and organizing your thoughts. Spend about 20 minutes writing your essay. Spend 1 or 2 minutes proofreading your essay.

  7. Make sure that the essay you write is on the topic given.

  8. The general instructions include the sentence suggesting that "you may want to write more than one paragraph." This remark is a polite way of saying that if you expect to score well, you had better write more than one paragraph. Very short essays usually receive very low scores. Aim for at least three paragraphs.

  9. Be specific. Your readers are not, as you may suppose, combing your essay for split infinitives. They are looking for specific details, for concrete evidence of some kind used to support your points.

  10. Don't use excessively large writing, don't leave wide margins, and don't skip any lines.

  11. Remember: Your essay should be clear and effective.

Scoring the Essay

Your essay will be scored by experienced and trained high school and college teachers who teach English, writing, or language arts courses. Two teachers will score your essay on a 1–6 scale (6 is the highest score). The two readers will not know each other's scores. If their scores are more than two points apart, your essay will go to a third reader. The essay score of 2–12 will be scaled and factored in with the writing multiple-choice sections to give an overall writing skills score ranging from 200 to 800.

Analyzing the Scores

Since you have only 25 minutes to plan and write the essay, graders do not allow minor errors of grammar or mechanics to affect the score. The essays scored at 6 will not be errorless — they are, after all, first drafts — but they will be superior in content, organization, and development.

Score of 6

These clear and consistently competent essays have only minor errors and are characterized by the following:

  • Effective and insightful coverage of the tasks required by the exam question

  • Good organization and development, with relevant supporting details

  • Command of standard written English with a range of vocabulary and sentence variety

Score of 5

These competent essays have occasional errors or lapses in quality and are characterized by the following:

  • Effective coverage of the tasks required by the exam question

  • Generally good organization and development, with some supporting details

  • Good handling of standard written English with some range of vocabulary and sentence variety

Score of 4

These adequately competent essays have occasional errors or lapses in quality and are characterized by the following:

  • Coverage of the tasks required by the exam question

  • Adequate organization and development with some supporting details

  • Adequate handling of standard written English, but with minimal sentence variety and some grammar or diction errors

Score of 3

These marginal papers are characterized by the following:

  • Failure to fully cover the required tasks

  • Weak organization and/or development

  • Failure to use relevant supporting detail

  • Several errors of grammar, diction, and sentence structure

Score of 2

These inadequate papers are characterized by the following:

  • Failure to cover the assignment

  • Poor organization and development

  • Lack of supporting detail

  • Frequent errors of grammar, diction, and sentence structure

Score of 1

These incompetent papers are characterized by the following:

  • Failure to cover the assignment

  • Very poor organization and development

  • Errors of grammar, diction, and sentence structure so frequent as to interfere with meaning

  • Extreme brevity or shortness