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The SAT Essay: Overview

An overview of the SAT Essay scoring and content

The SAT Essay

Hold on - it's optional?
Yes, the SAT Essay is optional. To determine if you should take the test, first find out if any of the colleges or postsecondary institutions to which you’re planning to apply require the SAT Essay. If they don’t, you may still want to consider completing this section as it will showcase your analytical and writing skills.
Should I do it?
We recommend that you seriously consider taking the Essay. The task the Essay asks you to complete — analyzing how an argument works — is an interesting and engaging one, and will give you an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your reading, analysis, and writing skills. These skills are critical to success in college and your career — and the scores you’ll get back will give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses in these areas.
Basically, prepping for the SAT Essay will help you prepare for college!
What's the assignment?
Each SAT Essay consists of one passage between 650 and 750 words that you will read and then respond to. You will have 50 minutes to complete the SAT Essay.
The purpose of the new SAT Essay is to assess your ability to analyze an author’s argument. To write a strong essay, you will need to focus on how the author uses evidence, reasoning, and other rhetorical techniques to build an argument and make it convincing.
The Essay task will be the same in every test. What will change is the reading selection you’ll be asked to analyze. If you are familiar with the Essay prompt ahead of time – and understand exactly what your task is – you will save time on Test Day and write a stronger essay.
Here's a generic version of the prompt:
"As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses
  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed."
After the passage appears, this secondary part of the prompt appears:
Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade their audience that [claim]. In your essay, analyze how the author uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of their argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.
Your essay should not explain whether you agree with the author's claims, but rather explain how the builds an argument to persuade their audience.

The Passage: What to expect

Topics. The passages you will be writing about will be “arguments written for a broad audience.” In each passage, an author will present a claim and attempt to persuade the reader of its validity. For example, "Robots are transforming many industries and should run the world" or "Climate change isn't as bad as environmentalists say it is" or "Invasive species of plants and animals should be vigorously controlled."
Note: You will not need prior knowledge about the topic in order to write the essay. If you find you have knowledge about the topic, be careful – the assignment does not ask you to share it!
Your Essay. Your response to the passage should examine the author’s choices in presenting the argument rather than the informational content of the passage. You will want to discuss how the author assembles the argument rather than restate what the argument is.
Let us say that again:
What the assignment is NOT: The assignment is not to simply state what the passage is about (e.g.: kittens), and it is not to share your personal opinion about the argument (e.g.: "I agree that kittens are super cute").
Your job: Explain how the author builds the argument to persuade the reader. You need to identify the point that the author is making (e.g.: "Kittens are cuter than puppies and for that and other reasons people should adopt more of them") and then analyze how the author makes the point, using examples drawn from nowhere but the passage itself.
Here's a sample passage and prompt:
As you read the passage below, consider how Peter S. Goodman uses
  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.
Adapted from Peter S. Goodman, "Foreign News at a Crisis Point." (c)2013 by TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc. Originally published September 25, 2013. Peter Goodman is the executive business and global news editor at TheHuffingtonPost.com.
1 Back in 2003, American Journalism Review produced a census of foreign correspondents then employed by newspapers based in the United States, and found 307 full-time people. When AJR repeated the exercise in the summer of 2011, the count had dropped to 234. And even that number was significantly inflated by the inclusion of contract writers who had replaced full-time staffers.
2 In the intervening eight years, 20 American news organizations had entirely eliminated their foreign bureaus.
3 The same AJR survey zeroed in on a representative sampling of American papers from across the country and found that the space devoted to foreign news had shrunk by 53 percent over the previous quarter-century.
4 All of this decline was playing out at a time when the U.S. was embroiled in two overseas wars, with hundreds of thousands of Americans deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was happening as domestic politics grappled with the merits and consequences of a global war on terror, as a Great Recession was blamed in part on global imbalances in savings, and as world leaders debated a global trade treaty and pacts aimed at addressing climate change. It unfolded as American workers heard increasingly that their wages and job security were under assault by competition from counterparts on the other side of the oceans.
5 In short, news of the world is becoming palpably more relevant to the day-to-day experiences of American readers, and it is rapidly disappearing.
6 Yet the same forces that have assailed print media, eroding foreign news along the way, may be fashioning a useful response. Several nonprofit outlets have popped up to finance foreign reporting, and a for-profit outfit, GlobalPost, has dispatched a team of 18 senior correspondents into the field, supplemented by dozens of stringers and freelancers. . . .
7 We are intent on forging fresh platforms for user-generated content: testimonials, snapshots and video clips from readers documenting issues in need of attention. Too often these sorts of efforts wind up feeling marginal or even patronizing: "Dear peasant, here's your chance to speak to the pros about what's happening in your tiny little corner of the world." We see user-generated content as a genuine reporting tool, one that operates on the premise that we can only be in so many places at once. Crowd-sourcing is a fundamental advantage of the web, so why not embrace it as a means of piecing together a broader and more textured understanding of events?
8 We all know the power of Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media to connect readers in one place with images and impressions from situations unfolding far away. We know the force of social media during the Arab Spring, as activists convened and reacted to changing circumstances. . . . Facts and insights reside on social media, waiting to be harvested by the digitally literate contemporary correspondent.
9 And yet those of us who have been engaged in foreign reporting for many years will confess to unease over many of the developments unfolding online, even as we recognize the trends are as unstoppable as globalization or the weather. Too often it seems as if professional foreign correspondents, the people paid to use their expertise while serving as informational filters, are being replaced by citizen journalists who function largely as funnels, pouring insight along with speculation, propaganda and other white noise into the mix.
10 We can celebrate the democratization of media, the breakdown of monopolies, the rise of innovative means of telling stories, and the inclusion of a diversity of voices, and still ask whether the results are making us better informed. Indeed, we have a professional responsibility to continually ask that question while seeking to engineer new models that can channel the web in the interest of better informing readers. . . .
11 We need to embrace the present and gear for the future. These are days in which newsrooms simply must be entrepreneurial and creative in pursuit of new means of reporting and paying for it. That makes this a particularly interesting time to be doing the work, but it also requires forthright attention to a central demand: We need to put back what the Internet has taken away. We need to turn the void into something fresh and compelling. We need to re-examine and update how we gather information and how we engage readers, while retaining the core values of serious-minded journalism.
12 This will not be easy. . . . But the alternative—accepting ignorance and parochialism—is simply not an option.
Write an essay in which you explain how Peter S. Goodman builds an argument to persuade his audience that news organizations should increase the amount of professional foreign news coverage provided to people in the United States. In your essay, analyze how Goodman uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of his argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.

Essay Scoring

Your essay response will be evaluated by two scorers. Each grader will assign a score of 1-4 in each of three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing (RAW). These scores will be added together to give you a 2–8 score on each of the three dimensions.
Remember: these scores aren’t combined with each other or with other scores on the SAT.

Your Reading Score

This score is about how well your essay shows that you have understood the source text. Do you use textual evidence (paraphrasing, direct quotation or both) effectively to demonstrate your understanding?

Your Analysis Score

This score is about how well you analyzed the passage and carried out the task of explaining how the author builds the argument to persuade the reader using evidence, reasoning and other persuasive elements. Does your essay employ relevant and well-chosen details and features from the passage to support your own claims?

Your Writing Score

This score is about how effectively you use language. How skillfully did you craft your response? Is your essay's structure clear? Does your essay have a clear thesis or claim? Are the sentences varied? Is your choice of words precise? Does the essay follow a logical progression of ideas? Are the paragraphs (introduction, body, conclusion) well crafted? Do they "flow?" This score is meant to focus on your writing skill, and not on your ideas themselves.


This article was adapted from the following sources:
“SAT Practice Tests” from The College Board.

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