Panel of Experts

Karl Schellscheidt

SAT Prep Expert

  • BSE, Princeton University '90
  • M.A., Secondary Education Seton Hall University '93
  • J.D., University of Pennsylvania Law School '00

Fred Hargadon

Dean of Admission

  • Swarthmore College
    (1964-1969)
  • Stanford University
    (1969-1984)
  • Princeton University
    (1988-2003)

Don Betterton

Financial Aid Expert

  • Director of Financial Aid, Princeton University (1973-2006)
  • Certified College Planner
  • Principal, Betterton College Planning

Seamus Malin

Admission Expert

  • Harvard University
    Dir. of Financial Aid
    (1966-1977)
    Asst. Dean of Admission
    (1977-1987)
    International Office Director
    (1987-2002)

How the SAT Essay is Scored

Essay  SAT
Karl Schellscheidt

eprep test prep videoMany students wonder how the SAT essay can be graded consistently across tests. Certainly, they understand how a machine can read the bubbled in answers on a data sheet, but what about a hand written essay? Rest assured there is a method to the SAT’s essay madness.

Your SAT essay will be reviewed and graded by two readers. All readers are thoroughly trained before they are actually permitted to review and grade real SAT essays. Most readers are professionals with backgrounds in English, writing, composition and/or the language arts in general.

The readers use a grading rubric and sample essays to guide them in their work. As mentioned above, your essay will be reviewed by two readers. Each will grade your essay using a 1 to 6 scoring scale, 1 being the lowest grade and 6 being the highest. If the two scores assigned to your essay differ by 2 or more points, a third reader is brought in to review and grade the essay. (Scoring a 4, 5 or 6 is generally considered good or acceptable.) You should know that, while 6 is considered a perfect score, an essay earning a 6 need not be perfect — just a perfect first draft. All essays are considered first drafts.

Your reported score will be between 2 and 12, inclusive. The reported score is simply the sum of the scores assigned by the two readers. Thus, a reported score of 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12 is considered good.

By the way, there are three different ways to score a zero:

1. Do not write an essay at all.

2. Write an essay on a topic other than the one assigned.

3. Write an essay that is illegible.

I hope you now have a better understanding of the process used to grade your essay. In my next post, I will discuss the actual SAT essay scoring rubric. I am hopeful that a thorough review of the rubric will help you learn to write a high-scoring essay.

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