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SAT Essay Scores Explained

Oct 17, 2022

First, a short refresher on how SAT essays are graded: Each SAT essay is scored by two examiners on a scale of 1to 4 across three different dimensions:
● Reading
● Analysis
● Writing

This means that your total score for each area can range between 2 and 8. As a result, there is no longer a single “total” SAT essay score. Instead, there are scores for Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Logically, the good SAT essay score in each category should be a 5 (since it is midway between 2 and 8). Except for the Analysis dimension, the most current SAT essay score data supports this.
For students graduating from high school in 2020, the average SAT score for essays was 5/8 for Reading, 3/8 for Analysis, and 5/8 for writing.


How Important Is My Essay Score?

Because your essay score no longer influences your SAT Writing section score, the relevance of the good SAT Essay scores has dramatically lessened. More and more colleges are eliminating the necessity for students to submit SAT with Essay scores completely. Institutions that still require the SAT Essay frequently place far less attention on your essay score than your other SAT scores.

There are, however, extremely competitive programs and schools that use SAT results to place students in appropriate level classes. They require them to submit SAT Essay scores. While your good SAT essay score won’t matter as much as virtually any other aspect of your application for these institutions, you’ll still want to attempt for a high enough score that you’re not instantly rejected (or that you don’t get knocked down into remedial writing).


What if my SAT Essay scores are below the national average?

If you’re having trouble getting a 4 or above on each SAT essay part, don’t give up. You’re not alone, and there is still hope. Begin by reading our collection of SAT essay blog posts. I recommend introducing the new SAT essay topics, SAT writing score advice, and essay title explanation.

Then, step by step, follow along while preparing an essay. These four articles will teach you exactly what it takes to thrive in each essay area and how to approach reading the question, understanding the material, and writing the essay. For more information, see how to make your essay templates and obtain a perfect 8/8/8 on the essay.


What Is a Good Overall SAT Score?

In general, any SAT score above the 50th percentile, or median, is considered a good result since it indicates that you outperformed the majority of test-takers.

A 50th percentile score, on the other hand, will not be enough at most prestigious universities. Depending on how competitive the candidate pool is, the criterion for a high SAT score rises significantly. This is why it’s usually a good idea to aim for the 75th percentile, or 1200 or above.


Combining your two section scores, Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing determines your SAT score, ranging from 400-to 1600. Each component uses a 10-point scale ranging from 200-to 800. Therefore, a decent Math or EBRW score would be about 600. Percentiles can be used to compare your performance to that of other test-takers. Refer to the percentile percentages below to determine what defines a good SAT score. It is important to note that the percentile rankings for scores may vary somewhat from year to year.

Previously, the SAT included an optional essay. However, the College Board announced in 2021 that the SAT essay would no longer be available. If your state requires the SAT, you may need to take the essay on an SAT school day. 


What Exactly Is the SAT Essay?

Students who want to take the optional Essay portion are given a written argument to assess. To get an idea of what the test will be like, check the College Board’s example prompt with sample-scored replies.

Is the SAT Essay mandatory?

This is the only portion of the SAT that is optional. Therefore, it has no significance on your overall score of 1600. Instead, your Essay grade is displayed separately on your score report. While the SAT Essay is not required by the College Board, it is required by some schools.


Schools that Require the SAT Essay

● All of the University of California schools
● John Wesley University
● Kentucky State University
● City University London
● John Wesley University
● Kentucky State University
● Delaware State University
● DeSales University
● Dominican University of California
● Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University
● Southern California Institute of Architecture
● Texas A&M University—Galveston
Howard University
● University of North Texas
● Benedictine University
● West Virginia University Institute of Technology
● Schreiner University
● Soka University of America
● United States Military Academy (West Point)
● Western Carolina University

Schools that Recommend the SAT Essay

  • Abilene Christian University
  • Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences
  •  Allegheny College
  •  Amherst College
  •  Art Institute of Houston
  • Augsburg University
  • Austin College
  • Caldwell University
  • California State University, Northridge
  •  Central Connecticut State University
  •  Central Michigan University
  •  Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
  •  Coastal Carolina University
  •  Colby College
  •  College of Wooster
  •  Colorado School of Mines
  •  Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
  •  Corban University
  •  Cornerstone University
  •  Dallas Christian College
  •  Duke University
  •  Eastern Illinois University
  •  Eastern Nazarene College
  •  Eastern University
  •  Endicott College
  •  Five Towns College
  •  Gallaudet University
  •  George Washington University
  •  Georgia Highlands College
  •  Greenville University
  •  Gwynedd Mercy University
  •  High Point University
  •  Hofstra University
  •  Holy Family University
  •  Husson University
  •  Indiana University South Bend
  •  Indiana University Southeast
  •  Indiana Wesleyan University
  •  Inter American University of Puerto Rico: Barranquitas Campus
  •  Juilliard School
  •  Keiser University (West Palm Beach)
  •  Lehigh University
  •  Madonna University
  •  Manhattan College
  •  Marymount California University
  •  Massachusetts Maritime Academy
  •  McMurry University
  •  Mercy College
  •  Modern College of Design
  •  Montana Tech of the University of Montana
  •  Morehouse College
  •  Mount Saint Mary College
  •  Mount St. Joseph University
  •  National-Louis University
  •  New Jersey City University
  •  Nichols College
  •  North Park University
  •  Occidental College
  •  Ohio University
  •  Oregon State University
  •  Purdue University Northwest
  •  Randall University
  • Randolph-Macon College
  •  Reading Area Community College
  •  Rowan University
  •  Rutgers University—Camden Campus
  •  Rutgers University—Newark Campus
  •  Saint Michael’s College
  •  Seton Hill University
  •  Shiloh University
  •  Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
  •  Silver Lake College of the Holy Family
  •  Southern Illinois University of Carbondale
  •  Southern Oregon University
  •  Spring Hill College
  •  Sul Ross State University
  •  SUNY Farmingdale State College
  •  SUNY University at Stony Brook
  •  Tarleton State University
  •  Texas A&M International University
  •  Texas A&M University
  •  Texas State University
  •  The King’s College
  •  The United States Air Force Academy
  •  University of Evansville
  •  University of La Verne
  •  University of Mary Hardin—Baylor
  •  University of Massachusetts Amherst
  •  University of Minnesota: Twin Cities
  •  University of New England
  •  The University of Northwestern-St. Paul
  •  University of the Virgin Islands
  •  University of Toledo
  •  University of Washington Bothell
  •  VanderCook College of Music
  •  Virginia Union University
  •  Wabash College
  •  Webb Institute
  •  Webber International University
  •  Wesleyan College
  •  William Jewell College

Why are there no Essay Percentiles on an SAT score report?

In student reports, no percentiles or norms are supplied. Even colleges are not provided with summary figures. Given Compass’ worries about essay scoring inaccuracy and the ACT’s major failings on that front, a de-emphasis on standards would appear to be a positive thing. The issue is that 10% of universities still need the SAT Essay as an entrance basis.


While such institutions will not receive score distribution data from the College Board, it is difficult to create their statistics based on thousands of applications, either officially or privately. Colleges can choose what constitutes a “good score,” but students cannot. This information imbalance is damaging to students. They can guess how well they performed and how their scores would be interpreted.

How has the scoring evolved? Is it still included in a student’s total score?

The essay was a mandatory component of the Writing section on the original SAT. It accounted for around one-third of a student’s 200–800 score. The essay score was just the total of two readers’ 1–6 points (2–12). Readers were supposed to judge the text entirely rather than focusing on individual components.

The essay received a lot of criticism for being too loosely organized. Factual accuracy was not required. It was not difficult to adapt pre-fabricated material to fit the prompt. Many colleges found the 2–12 essay scores of little use and the blend of the essay and “Writing” was, in some cases, completely prohibiting the use of the SAT Writing score.

What constitutes a good SAT Essay score?

Compass computed the mean and median (most frequent) essay scores for students at various score levels by merging many data sources, including detailed College Board scoring statistics. It was also discovered that the reading and writing dimensions were comparable.

In contrast, the analysis scores trailed by one point across all sub-groups. These statistics should not be interpreted as “good” cutoffs. Because of the weak link between essay scores and total scores and the significant standard deviation of essay scores, students at all levels experience a broad range of results. The typical essay-writing student earns an SAT score of 1,080 and a grade of little about a 5/4/5.

What do colleges anticipate?

Many institutions are reluctant to offer a breakdown of essay scores for accepted students. However, even at the most difficult institutions in the country, the 25th to 75th percentile scores of accepted kids were 8 to 10 on the ACT’s former 2 to 12 score range.



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