The Essay
The Bigger Picture
Your essay score is factored into your multiple-choice Writing score. You will receive a multiple-choice Writing scaled subscore between 20 and 80. You will receive an essay subscore between 2 and 12. (Remember, you get two readers, each grading you on a scale from 1 to 6.)
So what do the essay subscores actually mean? The College Board recommends treating them similarly to the more familiar 200–800 scaled scores of the other sections. A 560 in Math, Critical Reading, or Writing is not really a 560. It’s the middle of a range (usually ten or twelve or so points in either direction). So when a school sees a 560 in Critical Reading, they’re supposed to think something like this: “Well, on any given Saturday, this kid could have gotten anywhere from, say, a 540 to a 580. He’s a mid-500-er.
Likewise, if you get a 3 on your essay, The College Board recommends, and schools have been told, that your ability is anywhere from a “low 3” to a “high 3.” Additionally, even with all the effort The College Board has put into standardizing this writing assessment, they realize that since we’re all human, there will be some variation in scoring. It’s likely that the distinction between an upper-half (4, 5, 6) and a lower-half essay (1, 2, 3) may be as important to a school as the actual number itself. Note that the scale is even: there is no middle score. That implies that readers must make a distinction between the upper and lower halves of the scoring rubric for the bulk of the essays they read.
The essay subscore counts for about one-third of the final scaled Writing score. The multiple-choice Writing subscore counts for the rest. The SAT has a formula that combines the multiple-choice subscore with the essay subscore. Don’t worry about it—no one outside of The College Board really knows what it is, but you can rest assured that it will be applied to everyone fairly. The bottom line is that the essay counts for about one-ninth of your total SAT score. (The essay is a third of the Writing score, and the Writing score is a third of the total, along with Math and Critical Reading.)
The essay only counts for one-ninth of the whole test? What’s the big hoo-hah, then? Well, a ninth is still a ninth. And there are some other uses for the essay that you may not have heard of. Colleges and universities have the right and ability to do exactly what SAT readers will do: download a PDF of your essay. They can then use your essay to make placement decisions for freshman writing courses or as a comparison to your admissions essay.
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