The New SAT’s Essay Pt. 1 : What’s Different?



As of March of this year, the new SAT’s essay portion has undergone a pretty thorough overhaul, but fear not, college-bound scholars! There’s lots of new stuff to learn and keep track of but, as always, we’ve got you covered.

We’ll start with a quick rundown of all the main things that will be different come test time, but rest assured we’ll be getting into the depths of the changes’ implications very shortly.

First things first: the essay portion of the new SAT will now ask you to fill four pages as opposed to the erstwhile two, and your allotted time has been doubled from 25 minutes to 50. More time will give you greater opportunity to write a better essay but remember that you’ll be expected to do more with the duration!

Now what will you be doing with these 50 minutes? Some of you may remember essay prompts from earlier tests: they were by and large persuasive and argumentative essays wherein you were asked to defend or oppose a proposition. Well, there’ll be no more of that. The new essay prompt will have you analyze a piece of text, usually a speech or an editorial, and pick out and discuss the author’s rhetoric and methods of persuasion.

Here’s what the prompt will look like:

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This example prompt has been taken from the Ivy Global website: the article is adapted from Former President Jimmy Carter’s appeal to conserve the Arctic Wildlife Refuge instead of drilling the land for oil. Take a minute to click the link and have a look at the article and see whether you can pinpoint what makes it an effective argument.

Then the instructions:

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You can tell that Collegeboard anticipates some confusion on the part of test takers because they very clearly state that “Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Carter’s claims…”—as changes go, that’s a big one so don’t make that mistake. None of the prompts will ever ask you to give your opinion or to take a position on the issue being discussed. Only “explain how Carter builds an argument to persuade his audience.” If you’re used to the old SAT, it’s easy enough to get into the habit of writing the essay a certain way, but the good news is that the new structure is significantly more refined and with the right prep you can write a really stellar essay while avoiding the use of any extraneous material or personal opinions and examples. Focus instead on the article in front of you—it’s all right there, so you won’t have to worry about memorizing all the random statistics and factoids that used to be so important in the old essay.

The last thing (for the moment) is the new scoring rubric. The essay used to be given a holistic score out of 6—the examiner would judge you on the overall effect of your essay; now you’ll be given points out of 12 on three aspects of your essay: reading, writing, and analysis. Two examiners will grade your essay independently of each other, and your final score will be a combination of the two.

Okay, I lied, there’s one more thing: the SAT’s essay portion is now optional! (QUE??) But this is actually more complicated than it sounds, and we’ll be sure to give you the scoop on that in an upcoming post. In any case, your essay score will be reported separately from your combined math & verbal score (which, by the way, is back to 1600—remember when it used to be 1600?? Probably not).

Stay tuned for the next post! We’ll be diving deep into how best to use your 50 minutes and what it takes to write an essay that’ll knock all of the socks off.

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