An overview of the SAT Essay scoring and content.

The SAT Essay

Hold on - it's optional?
Yes, the SAT Essay is optional. To determine if you should take the test, first find out if any of the colleges or postsecondary institutions to which you’re planning to apply require the SAT Essay. If they don’t, you may still want to consider completing this section as it will showcase your analytical and writing skills.
Should I do it?
We recommend that you seriously consider taking the Essay. The task the Essay asks you to complete — analyzing how an argument works — is an interesting and engaging one, and will give you an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your reading, analysis, and writing skills. These skills are critical to success in college and your career — and the scores you’ll get back will give you insight into your strengths and weaknesses in these areas.
Basically, prepping for the SAT Essay will help you prepare for college!
What's the assignment?
Each SAT Essay consists of one passage between 650 and 750 words that you will read and then respond to. You will have 50 minutes to complete the SAT Essay.
The purpose of the new SAT Essay is to assess your ability to analyze an author’s argument. To write a strong essay, you will need to focus on how the author uses evidence, reasoning, and other rhetorical techniques to build an argument and make it convincing.
The Essay task will be the same in every test. What will change is the reading selection you’ll be asked to analyze. If you are familiar with the Essay prompt ahead of time – and understand exactly what your task is – you will save time on Test Day and write a stronger essay.
Here's a generic version of the prompt - on a real test, the passage will be presented between these two boxes:

The Passage: What to expect

Topics. The passages you will be writing about will be “arguments written for a broad audience.” In each passage, an author will present a claim and attempt to persuade the reader of its validity. For example, "Robots are transforming many industries and should run the world" or "Climate change isn't as bad as environmentalists say it is" or "Invasive species of plants and animals should be vigorously controlled."
Note: You will not need prior knowledge about the topic in order to write the essay. If you find you have knowledge about the topic, be careful – the assignment does not ask you to share it!
Your Essay. Your response to the passage should examine the author’s choices in presenting the argument rather than the informational content of the passage. You will want to discuss how the author assembles the argument rather than restate what the argument is.
Let us say that again:
What the assignment is NOT: The assignment is not to simply state what the passage is about (e.g.: kittens), and it is not to share your personal opinion about the argument (e.g.: "I agree that kittens are super cute").
Your job: Explain how the author builds the argument to persuade the reader. You need to identify the point that the author is making (e.g.: "Kittens are cuter than puppies and for that and other reasons people should adopt more of them") and then analyze how the author makes the point, using examples drawn from nowhere but the passage itself.
Here's a sample passage and prompt:

Essay Scoring

Your essay response will be evaluated by two scorers. Each grader will assign a score of 1-4 in each of three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing (RAW). These scores will be added together to give you a 2–8 score on each of the three dimensions.
Remember: these scores aren’t combined with each other or with other scores on the SAT.

Your Reading Score

This score is about how well your essay shows that you have understood the source text. Do you use textual evidence (paraphrasing, direct quotation or both) effectively to demonstrate your understanding?

Your Analysis Score

This score is about how well you analyzed the passage and carried out the task of explaining how the author builds the argument to persuade the reader using evidence, reasoning and other persuasive elements. Does your essay employ relevant and well-chosen details and features from the passage to support your own claims?

Your Writing Score

This score is about how effectively you use language. How skillfully did you craft your response? Is your essay's structure clear? Does your essay have a clear thesis or claim? Are the sentences varied? Is your choice of words precise? Does the essay follow a logical progression of ideas? Are the paragraphs (introduction, body, conclusion) well crafted? Do they "flow?" This score is meant to focus on your writing skill, and not on your ideas themselves.

Attributions

This article was adapted from the following sources:
“SAT Practice Tests” from The College Board.
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