What Makes the New SAT Essay Section Different from the Old One?
The New SAT
The College Board’s latest iteration of the SAT came out in March 2016. Numerous changes have been made to the test’s format and content, both across the exam as whole and within individual sections. If you took the test before March 2016 and are planning on a retake, there are some changes you should be sure to prepare for. For an overview of the new SAT, read CollegeVine’s Guide to the New SAT.
One of the most significantly altered sections of the new exam is the Essay section, which was previously required as part of the Writing section but is now optional. Read on to learn about how the Essay section has changed and what you need to know to master it.
For an overview and more information on the new SAT Essay section, check out our Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Essay.
Previously, the SAT included four sections: Critical Reading, Writing, Math, and Essay. However, while the Essay section was scored independently from the rest of the Writing section, its score was still factored alongside one’s performance on the Writing multiple-choice section to form one overall Writing score.
The new SAT combines the former Critical Reading and Writing sections into a single section called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. This section is composed of a Reading test and a Writing and Language test.
The Essay section is separate, and unlike in the previous version of the SAT, it is now optional. That means that if you decide not to take the SAT with the Essay, you can leave once you are finished with the other sections. However, many colleges require that you complete the Essay as part of your application, so be sure to find out if this is the case for any college to which you’re planning on applying. You can find out if individual colleges require the redesigned Essay section through a search feature on the College Board website. Note that if you don’t opt to take the essay when you first register for the SAT you can always add it on later.
When the Essay Is Administered
Previously, the Essay section took place at the beginning of the SAT, and students were given 25 minutes to plan and execute their essays. Now, it’s administered at the end of the test, and students are given 50 minutes.
The New SAT Essay Evaluates Different Skills
The previous Essay section was primarily meant to assess students’ writing skills. Students were given a question that presented a debate, and test-takers were instructed to choose a position and present an argument for it.
The new SAT assesses reading and analytical skills in addition to writing competencies. Students receive a source text and must produce a written analysis based on information in the text. They are no longer asked to agree or disagree with a position, nor do they need to draw on their personal experiences.
One tip for the new Essay section: remember to ask yourself, “how is the author building an argument to persuade the audience?” Also, be sure to use plenty of evidence from the text—it is provided for you so that you can support your answers!
How the New Essay Is Scored
For the previous version of the SAT, two graders scored essays on a scale of 1-6. The two scores were then added together for a score of 2-12. Then, this score was factored into the Writing section along with the multiple-choice questions for a score on the traditional 200-800 scale.
The new Essay section is scored on a scale from 2 to 8 on each of the three areas it tests (reading, analysis, and writing skills). This score is not included in any of the major sections or factored into your full SAT score, but the results are will appear on your score report, and you must include them along with the other components of your SAT score if you decide to send your scores from that day. Note that some schools will allow you to elect to only send scores from a certain day you took the test through Score Choice, but you must send all the components of your score from that particular day.
The Essay section has undergone some substantial changes since the last version of the SAT, so it’s important to be ready. Check out some of the posts below to learn more about the new SAT and how to prepare for it:
For advice on specific sections of the SAT, check out these guides:
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