Know Your Customers
Know Your Customers
After you finish taking the SAT, your essay is scanned into a computer, uploaded to a secure website, and graded on computer screens at remote locations by “essay-graders.” These essay-graders are either English teachers or writing teachers who have been hired and trained to grade SAT essays by the company that makes the SAT. Every essay is actually read by two graders. Each grader is instructed to spend no more than three minutes reading an essay before giving it a score on a scale of 1 to 6. The two grades are then added together to make up your entire essay subscore, which ranges from 2–12. (If two graders come to wildly different scores for an essay, like a 2 and a 5, a third grader is brought in.)
So the essay graders are your customers. You want to give them an essay that tastes just like what they’re expecting. How are you supposed to know what they’re expecting? You can learn exactly what SAT essay-graders expect by looking at two very important guidelines: the actual SAT essay directions and the grading criteria that the SAT gives the graders.
The SAT Essay Directions
The first thing you should not do when writing your SAT essay is read the directions. Don’t waste your time on the real test. Instead, read the directions now and make sure you understand them.

The essay gives you an opportunity to show how effectively you can develop and express ideas. You should, therefore, take care to develop your point of view, present your ideas logically and clearly, and use language precisely.

Your essay must be written on the lines provided on your answer sheet—you will receive no other paper on which to write. You will have enough space if you write on every line, avoid wide margins, and keep your handwriting to a reasonable size. Remember that people who are not familiar with your handwriting will read what you write. Try to write or print so that what you are writing is legible to those readers.

You have twenty-five minutes to write an essay on the topic assigned below. DO NOT WRITE ON ANOTHER TOPIC. AN OFF-TOPIC ESSAY WILL RECEIVE A SCORE OF ZERO.

We’ve translated these directions into a list of Dos and Don’ts to make all the rules easier to grasp:
DO DON’T
Write only on the given topic as directed. Write on a topic that relates vaguely to the one given.
Take a clear position on the topic. Take a wishy-washy position or try to argue two sides.
Write persuasively to convince the grader. Write creatively or ornately just to show off.
Include reasons and examples that support your position. Include examples not directly related to your position.
Write with correct grammar and spelling. Forget to proof your work for spelling and grammar mistakes.
Write as clearly as possible. Use too many fancy vocabulary words or overly long sentences.
Write specifically and concretely. Be vague or use generalizations.
Write more than one paragraph. Put more importance on length than on quality.
Write only on the given lined paper. Make your handwriting too large or you’ll sacrifice space.
Write as neatly as possible in print or cursive. Write in cursive if you can print. Print is much easier to read.
The Grader’s Instructions
The graders must refer to a set-in-stone list of criteria when evaluating each essay and deciding what grade (1 through 6) it deserves. The following chart is our explanation of the grading criteria that the SAT gives the graders.
Score Description of Essay
6 A 6 essay is superior and demonstrates a strong and consistent command of the language throughout the entire essay, with at most a few small errors. A 6 essay:
• shows a firm grasp of critical thinking and takes a powerful and interesting position on the topic
• supports and develops its position with appropriate and insightful examples, arguments, and evidence
• is tightly organized and focused, with a smooth and coherent progression of ideas
• demonstrates a facility with language through the use of descriptive and appropriate vocabulary
• uses intelligent variation in sentence structure
• contains, at most, a few errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
5 A 5 essay is strong and demonstrates a generally consistent command of language throughout the entire essay, with no more than a few significant flaws and errors. A 5 essay:
• shows well-developed critical thinking skills by taking a solid position on the topic
• supports and develops its position on the topic with appropriate examples, arguments, and evidence
• is organized and focused and features a coherent progression of ideas
• demonstrates competence with language throughout by using appropriate vocabulary
• uses varied sentence structure
• contains few errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
4 A 4 essay is competent and demonstrates a basic command of the language throughout the entire essay. A 4 essay:
• shows adequate critical thinking skill by taking a position on the topic and supporting that position with generally appropriate examples, arguments, and evidence
• is mostly organized and focused, with a progression of ideas that is mostly coherent
• demonstrates inconsistent facility with language and uses mostly appropriate vocabulary
• uses some variation in sentence structure
• contains some errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
3 A 3 essay shows developing competence and contains one or more of the following:
• some critical thinking skills, as demonstrated by its position on the topic
• inadequate support or development of its position based on deficiencies in examples, arguments, or evidence presented
• lapses in organization and focus, including ideas that are not always coherent
• a capacity for competent use of language, with occasional use of vague or inappropriate vocabulary
• only minor variation in sentence structure
• a variety of errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.
2 A 2 essay is seriously flawed and demonstrates a poor command of the language throughout the entire essay. A 2 essay contains one or more of the following:
• poor critical thinking skills as shown by an inconsistent or unclear position on the topic
• insufficient support for the position on the topic as a result of faulty or nonexistent examples, arguments, and evidence
• weak organization and focus, including ideas that are frequently incoherent
• poor language skills through use of limited or wrong vocabulary
• errors in sentence structure
• errors in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and other rules of writing that make the meaning hard to understand
1 A 1 essay is profoundly flawed and demonstrates a very poor command of the language throughout the entire essay. A 1 essay contains one or more of the following:
• no position on the topic, or almost no support or development of the position
• poor organization and focus that makes the essay incoherent
• numerous vocabulary errors
• fundamental errors in sentence structure
• errors in grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make parts of the essay unintelligible.
0 Essays written on a topic other than the one assigned will receive a score of zero.
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