SAT Essay Study Guide

Facts, Considerations, and Tips

by Sarah Cage

Do you need to take the SAT Essay? It depends on the college that you are applying for. You have to remember that dealing with the SAT can be a bit tricky and complicated. If you aren't used to it, you need to familiarize yourself with it. There are wide arrays of subjects and coverage about this test, and the arrangement can be quite confusing too. However, it shouldn’t discourage you. Once you understand the concept, everything should be easier - with simpler flowing and understanding.

SAT Essay Concept

SAT Essay Study Guide: SAT Essay Concept
SAT Essay Study Guide: SAT Essay Concept

If you are already familiar with the SAT concept, you'd know that there are 2 main subjects for it - math along with reading and writing. However, you can also take the additional optional test of SAT Essay with its own calculation and score. This is the redesigned essay that started in 2016, in March. Before, students weren't given the optional pick or whatsoever. But now, they do.

For this SAT Essay section, the implementation is almost the same as the Reading Section. You are given 50 minutes to read the passage and then write an essay (with your own words and opinions, of course) analyzing the content of the passage. The passage is mostly presenting an argument - your job is to analyze whether the author makes a logical and good argument. You need to show the evidence (found in the passage) to support your own claims and arguments. Generally, the analysis would include facts and evidence of the claim, such as specific word options. What about the evidence that is used by the writer to support his or her claim? What about the options of words and phrases - are they able to appeal or invoke a certain emotion on the readers' part? These are the kinds of things that you can analyze and dissect.

The time allocation for the test will be different too. If you take the test without the Essay, you have 3 hours to complete the whole test. However, the additional test requires an extra 50 minutes. So, if you do take the additional Essay test, you have a total of 3 hours and 50 minutes to complete everything. Don't forget about the extra cost either. The one without the Essay costs $46 while the one with the Essay costs $60.

The Objectives of the Extra Essay

SAT Essay Study Guide: The Objectives of the Extra Essay
SAT Essay Study Guide: The Objectives of the Extra Essay

Why would they have a redesigned SAT Essay test, anyway? And what is the purpose? Basically, the test will reveal your true skill and ability in reading, making analysis, and also writing your arguments. Moreover, the concept of the test is to make it as real as possible with the real world. In this way, they know how you can actually use your logic and wit when facing a challenge - and how you come up with the real solution.

If you are still confused with the real implementation of the test, don't be. The section is truly similar to the typical and regular colleges writing assignment where you are generally asked to analyze a test. In some cases, it is important to take the test so you can show your skills to the colleges - showing your readiness to tackle the subjects and challenges.

What will you do when you take the test?

• Read the text or passage

• Explain your arguments and opinions about the author's efforts in building an argument to convince and persuade the audience

• Support your claims or arguments with the evidence you have found from the text

The current test is still considered confusing because of several changes made to it. There are some make-over elements, such as:

• You won't be asked to write a personal experience of your

• You won't be required to take a stand - whether to agree or disagree with a certain topic

• You have 50 minutes to do the essay. The old one only provided 25 minutes for the test, so you have the extra 25 minutes for the new one.

• The test is basically optional. However, some schools have required you to have it. You need to get the policies for the SAT Essay. It would be a good idea if you have the lists of the colleges around the country that require the test or not.

How to Approach the Test

SAT Essay Study Guide: How to Approach the Test
SAT Essay Study Guide: How to Approach the Test

When you are doing the test, there are some handy tips about how you should approach the test. First, you need to read the text carefully and try to analyze it as you get going. See how the author uses evidence to support his or her claims. You should be able to see examples or facts to support the claims. Here are some things that you should find when you read the text:

• Evidence to back up the facts or claims

• Reasoning that can be useful for ideas development as well as evidence and claims connection

• Persuasive or stylistic elements to add power to the expressed ideas. The elements can come in the form of emotional appeal or word choice

As it was mentioned before, you won't be asked to take a stand - agree or disagree on a claim. You will be asked to explain or describe so you can make a logical point that makes your readers understand. In most cases, you will be asked to write an essay where you need to explain how the author presents the argument to convince the audience. You should write an analytical essay of how the author uses the above features (or your own, it's up to you) to support and strengthen the argument and logic. Be focus on your analysis because it should focus on the facts and features within the text. Instead of stating whether you agree or not with the author's claim, you should explain how the author comes up and presents the argument to persuade the audience.

What about the type of text? The text will be various in forms and topics, but they should have similar elements. You should expect to see these elements:

• There will be an argumentative topic or point

• The text is written for the general and broad audience

• The text will be taken from a published work or form

• There is a subtle expression of views concerning complex subjects or topics

• The text is used to examine debates, trends, or ideas in the field of sciences, civics, arts, political, or cultural life

• You should be able to find the information (which you will need to write the essay) within the notes or the text.

SAT Essay Score and Measurement

SAT Essay Study Guide: SAT Essay Score and Measurement
SAT Essay Study Guide: SAT Essay Score and Measurement

So, what’s the point of taking the SAT Essay, anyway? Basically, the test is executed to see how well you get (and understand) the ideas within the written text. From that point, you are expected to create a thought-out and also well-written discussion in the written form. You should be able to describe things in the written form – which isn’t exactly easy.

And how is the scoring measurement is given? You see, there will be 3 categories that are used for the scoring. There are 2 people who will provide the score. Each of them has to give scores (generally from 1 to 4) for each of the categories. What are the 3 categories in the SAT Essay?

• Reading. You are said to write a good and successful essay when you are able to describe the ideas as well as the support evidence. Not only the essay should be easily understood, but the text should have an evident proof that you understand the text, covering the base of central ideas and also important details. The essay should also show the effective usage of contextual and also textual evidence.

• Analysis. A good essay should show your logical flow of thinking. It should also include the elements of how you understand the author’s point and his/her way in building the arguments and claims. You can do this by examining and learning the use of evidence (by the author) and other persuasive as well as stylistic techniques. You can also do this by supporting, examining, and developing the claims with carefully-chosen evidence from the text.

• Writing. Good writing should be organized, precise, and focused. There should be an appropriate and proper tone and style that makes the sentence structure different and various. Don’t forget that the writing should follow the standard conventions of written English.

The Score Sending Process

When you take this test, the score will be reported with the other scores (which are taken on the test day). You have the option to choose the score within a planned or scheduled day to the colleges. However, you can’t send only one score to the college’s admission board. For example, you are planning to send only the math score but not the essay score. This isn’t acceptable. Your application won’t be considered qualified. And don’t forget to check each college’s score choice policy. Each college has its own regulations and policies. Some of them require you to send the SAT score every time you take it.

Which College Requires the SAT Essay?

SAT Essay Study Guide: Which College Requires the SAT Essay?
SAT Essay Study Guide: Which College Requires the SAT Essay?

AS it was mentioned before, not every college will require you to take the SAT Essay. That’s why it would be better if you can check the lists of colleges all over the country to see whether they require it or not.


State or Country

Require or Recommend

Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences



Abilene Christian University



Allegheny College



Caldwell University



Benedictine University



Caltech (California Institute of Technology)



Brown University



Darmouth College



The table above only shows several examples of how the college works when it comes to the SAT Essay requirements. There is a complete list of colleges that you should be able to find and check on the internet. Never assume that you always have to take the test. It depends on the scholarships as well as the schools that you are applying to.

Top schools generally require the SAT Essay, such as Darmouth, Brown, Princeton, Yale, Harvard, or Duke. However, Cornell, MIT, Upenn, NYU, or Georgetown doesn’t require it. The same also applies to liberal art colleges. Most of them don’t require the SAT Essay, such as Pomona College and Amherst College. However, Claremont McKenna College requires one. The same thing also applies to state schools. The University of Michigan doesn’t require one while Michigan State University both require and recommend the test. The variance can be quite weird. That’s why don’t assume or be a know-it-all. Simply check and make sure.

The best way for you to be sure about the colleges and the requirements is to check the list consistently and regularly. Each college has the right to change its policy so it is possible that they have different requirements each year. For instance, Allegheny College might only recommend the test last year, but it is possible that they require one this year. Instead of taking chances, it would be better if you can make sure and check the requirements before sending the application.

Considerations before Taking the Test

SAT Essay Study Guide: Considerations before Taking the Test
SAT Essay Study Guide: Considerations before Taking the Test

Should you be taking the test or not? Should you take the extra preparation way to take the test? How can you be prepared for it, if you are about to take it? There are 4 major questions that you should answer honestly – they will help you determine whether you will need the test or not.

First of all, are you interested in any college that requires the test? If the answer is yes, then yes – taking the test will be a must. If you apply to the schools without the test, then your application will be considered incomplete. It is likely that your application will be rejected. However, if the schools you are applying to don’t require the test, then you are free to still take it or not. If you don’t take it, that’s totally fine. But if you do take it, they will still be accepting the scores. Again, always double check the requirements from year to year because some colleges will change their terms and requirements on a yearly basis. You don’t want to miss the last changes.

Second, do any of the colleges you apply to recommend the test? They may not require it but they recommend it – it would be better if you take the SAT Essay test. It will give the admission board another point of view to evaluate and assess your application. However, there are certain conditions where you shouldn’t take the test at all –if you don’t need it to be. If you aren’t considered qualified for fee SAT waivers (and the fact that paying the extra money to take the test will add a financial burden to your family or yourself), then don’t take the test. In this case, taking the test without the Essay is completely okay. Moreover, if you are suffering from an anxiety issue and writing an essay within a time-limited condition is giving you a stressful outcome, then you don’t have to take the test. Some brilliant people have problems with time constraint pressure and dealing with such a thing isn’t easy.

Third, are you applying for scholarships with SAT Essay requirements? If yes, then you should take the test. Some scholarships may require the essay score for one of their terms. National Merit, for instance, will definitely require you to submit the essay score. Although there are some scholarships that don’t require you to submit the essay score, many of them do. It would be wise if you can check each application’s requirements before applying. Be really careful about it. If you apply for the scholarships that require you to submit the essay score – but you don’t take the test – then they won’t consider your score AT ALL.

Fourth, is the essay score affecting your application in some ways? Basically, if the test isn’t required, then it won’t matter so much to your application. The admission board of the college that doesn’t require the test won’t even bother about checking the score. However, if you are an international student who applies for the colleges, having the essay score may help. The score somewhat proves your strong and solid English skills.

How to Get a Great Score

Not everyone is endowed with the ability to write well. For them, tackling the SAT Essay may seem like a real challenge. No need to worry about it, because there are some simple but effective tips that you can do to get prepared.

First of all, you need to stay objective. Remember, the test doesn’t require your agree or disagree view. It doesn’t want you to include your personal opinion. Since you are asked to remain objective and present evidence, make sure to use a formal writing style. Don’t include ‘you’ or ‘I’ in the writing.

Second, make sure that you produce neat and tidy writing. On the contrary to what people believe, writing is an art. It is harder than everyone thought. Make sure that you can create clean and tidy writing. Don’t write jumbled words, jumping from topic A to topic H and then goes back to topic B. This is one of the reasons why you should learn and practice writing – it will make yourself get familiar with the writing style. You can even find your own writing style.

Third, remember that paragraphs are your friends. Don’t forget the basic writing lesson: you will have to divide the paragraphs in the introductory paragraph, then get into the body of paragraphs, and a conclusion. Then do it! Your introductory paragraph should provide explanations of what the essay is about and introduce the important elements. For the conclusion, you should restate the claims or arguments written in the body of paragraphs.

The next one is to cite examples. This is included in the body of paragraphs – used to support your thesis statements. Use relevant and short quotes from the available text to back up your points.

Fifth, don’t get confused too much on terms. It is better for you to focus on your description and emotional involvement rather than getting confused about terms. If you do know the terms, go ahead. You can use them. But if you don’t, don’t pressure yourself and give yourself a headache.

Final Words

If you are well prepared, dealing with this test won’t have to be scary or confusing. In fact, the essay section can be an alternative relief from the confusing math section. Now that you are familiar with the facts and the things you should prepare, you have the basic foundation to learn more – and to prepare yourself better. Writing may not be your best virtue, but with extra preparation and effort, you should be able to tackle the SAT Essay and pass with flying colors.

About Sarah Cage

Sarah Cage is an accomplished education writer known for her insightful and engaging work in the field. With a passion for empowering students and teachers alike, she has made a significant impact through her thought-provoking articles and research papers.

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