The New SAT Essay Pt. 3 : Caveats & Provisos

As of now we’ve got you apprised of all the changes the SAT’s essay portion has undergone and we’ve explained how to turn those changes to your advantage and write a really killer essay, so we’ve just about covered all the big stuff. However, there are still a few stray details left here and there that it would do you good to get in on.

Without further ado, let us begin:

The Essay Portion is Optional (Except Sorry, Not Really)

Remember when we said that the new SAT’s essay is now optional? But don’t get too excited because it’s not as simple as it sounds? The thing is, when the SAT tells you here’s an essay question, do it or not, whatevs—this is definitely something to be taken with a fistful of salt.

First, whether or not the SAT requires you to complete the essay section, many if not most of the colleges and universities you apply to will absolutely require it.

Second, even if the colleges you apply to don’t require the essay but do require the SAT, you can be sure that tons and tons of applicants will have written the essay and you don’t want to be among the ones that didn’t.

We’re saying that writing the essay, even though you’re not strictly required to, shows initiative, and by not writing it you run the risk of appearing maybe unenthusiastic, maybe lazy, and that’s not good.

The Upside(s) to Writing the Essay

We know that writing the essay will show willing and aptitude, but the essay portion of the SAT is also a way to score cheap points: no one expects this essay to be your masterpiece. You have a very limited amount of time and you have no way of anticipating the specifics of the prompt. So admissions officers will treat this as, broadly, a litmus test of whether you can string a sentence together. This means you don’t have to kill yourself trying to get a 12 on this essay–all you need is a decent score, like, 8-10. You can’t get a 2 or a 4 either, of course, because you need to show you have basic writing skills.

Equally important: colleges will use your SAT essay as a control to compare your application essays to. This is not only because they want to make sure that you wrote your own application (which is part of it) but also because your application essays will reflect a lot more time and effort, maybe you get feedback from other people, there’s a ton of editing, you know how it is. The SAT essay will show whether or not you can make a coherent statement under pressure.

For all these reasons, please do not skip the SAT’s essay portion.

One last thing: penmanship—for this essay, be mindful of legibility. Examiners will be trying to devote no more than 5 minutes to each essay and rest assured they will penalize you if they have to spend an extra 3 minutes deciphering your mad scrawl.

Okay, two last things: you’ve been given 4 pages because you are expected to use them. 9 times out of 10, you’ll be able to turn in a better essay if you write longer. But, as we’ve warned before, you won’t fool the very seasoned examiner by WRITING IN LARGE LETTERS or throwing in a lot of meaningless flapdoodle to lengthen the essay, so just do what we said last time and you’ll do great.

That’s all we have—we’d wish you luck, but if you’ve paid attention, you’re not going to need it.