Sat Essay Max Score On Sat

In days of yore, the SAT Essay was very different. For starters, it was a required portion of the exam, scored as part of the writing section. You had a measly 25 minutes to give and support your opinion on such deep philosophical issues as the importance of privacy or whether people perform better when they can use their own methods to complete tasks.

Things are very different now. Along with the SAT itself, the SAT Essay has been completely revamped and revised. Among other things, it is now an optional portion of the exam. In light of this SAT Essay renovation, many schools will no longer require that students take the SAT Essay when they take the exam.

But what do all these changes mean for you? Is the SAT Essay important? Read on for a breakdown of the new SAT changes, information on which schools continue to require the SAT Essay, why schools do and don’t require this portion of the exam, and how to figure out if the SAT Essay is necessary or important for you.


The New SAT Essay

The SAT was revised in March 2016. The aspect of the exam that is most changed is the essay. Instead of writing a 25-minute opinion piece, you will have 50 minutes to analyze how the author of a given passage constructs his or her argument.

Additionally, instead of having the exam integrated into your composite score, you will receive a separate score for your exam that does not affect your 1600-point score. The new exam is graded out of 24 points - 8 points each in “Reading” (essentially reading comprehension), “Analysis,” and “Writing” (writing style). See our breakdown of the new rubric here.

Finally, the new essay is a completely optional portion of the exam. You don’t have to take it, and you’ll still get your 1600-point score. In this way it’s a lot like the ACT, which also has an optional essay. If you wish to register for the SAT Essay, you’ll pay an extra $11.50.

Because the essay is now optional, colleges have the option of not requiring students to send SAT Essay scores. Thus, many colleges have dropped this requirement. So who still requires the SAT Essay?

Let this creepy happy pencil guide you through the SAT Essay!


Who Requires the New SAT Essay?

According to a Kaplan poll in which 300 schools were surveyed, most schools will not require the optional SAT Essay. However, some still do recommend or require it, particularly in the most selective tier of institutions.

Notably, elite schools like the Ivy League, Stanford, MIT, and the University of Chicago are divided on the issue, with some requiring the essay and some neither requiring or recommending it. In the Ivy League, Harvard, Princeton, Dartmouth and Yale will continue to require the SAT Essay, and Columbia, Cornell, UPenn, and Brown will not.

Big state schools are similarly divided: for example, the University of California system and the University of Michigan both require the essay, University of Illinois and Purdue University recommend it; and Penn State, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Indiana University neither require nor recommend the essay.

For the most up-to-date information on a school’s position on the SAT Essay, check the College Board. If the school isn’t on the list, check their admissions website. Those schools that do require the essay have gone on the record with specific reasons for doing so; I’ll break those down in the next section.


Schools are divided, like this egg.


Why Do Schools Require the SAT Essay?

Given that so many schools won’t require the essay going forward, you may be curious about those that do still require it. What’s their reasoning? Based on public statements from school officials, it seems to boil down to three main reasons:


#1: More Information Is Better

Some colleges seem to feel that all of the information they can get from applicants is helpful in painting a complete picture of the applicant. Certainly the SAT Essay presents a somewhat unique data point in that there are no other standardized elements of a college application that would include specific information on an applicant’s timed writing skills. It makes sense that schools that value having all the information that it is conceivably possible to obtain about a student would require the SAT Essay.


#2: The Revised Test Is Similar to College Work

The old SAT Essay involved a fairly arbitrary task and bore no resemblance to any work students do in college. However, the revised essay engages a student’s rhetorical analysis skills and requires the kind of analytical thinking students will perform in college. Thus, some colleges require the new SAT Essay because they feel it gives valuable insight into how a student might perform with college-level work.


#3: Sending a Message on the Importance of Writing

Institutions may also require the SAT Essay simply because they wish to telegraph to the world that they believe writing is important. This was part of the rationale given by Yale as to why they would continue to require the essay.


That’s why schools require it—but what about schools that don’t require the essay? What’s their reasoning?


Cats or dogs: another hot-button issue at elite institutions


Why Don't Schools Require the SAT Essay?

There are four main reasons that schools have given for not requiring the SAT essay going forward:


#1: Consistency

Many schools already do not require the optional writing portion of the ACT. So now that the SAT Essay is also optional, it makes sense to not require it, either. This simply makes testing guidelines consistent for those schools.


#2: The Essay Is Redundant

Some schools feel that they already have sufficient evidence of an applicant’s writing capability through application essays. This is particularly true at institutions where multiple essays are required as part of the application.


#3: The SAT Essay Does Not Predict College Success

In the past, the old SAT essay has been shown to be the least predictive element of college success on the SAT. While there is not yet data on the new SAT essay’s predictive capabilities, schools have taken this opportunity to shed what they feel is basically dead weight in an application.


#4: Requiring the SAT Essay Presents a Burden to Underprivileged Students

Columbia’s primary concern is that the extra cost of the essay may be a deterrent to underprivileged students.  University of Pennsylvania has made similar statements—minority and underprivileged students are least likely to have a “complete testing profile.” So, they’ve eliminated the SAT Essay requirement in the hopes of attracting a more diverse applicant pool.


A diverse tomato pool.


So Does the SAT Essay Matter to Your College Chances?

I’ve gone over how and why schools use or don’t use the SAT Essay. But what does all of this mean for you?

There are two main questions you need to answer to determine how important the essay is for you: first, should you take the SAT Essay section, and second, how important is your score?


Should I Take the SAT Essay?

This comes down mostly to whether or not you are applying to schools that require or recommend the SAT Essay. (In college applications, I would generally err on the side of treating recommendations as nicely-worded requirements.)

If you are truly not interested in a single school that requires/recommends the essay, and you don’t see yourself changing your mind, go ahead and skip it. However, if there’s even a chance you might be interested in a school that does require/recommend the essay, you should take it.

And if you’re applying to highly selective schools, definitely take the essay portion, because around half of them require the essay. So if you change your mind at the last minute and decide you’re applying to CalTech as well as MIT, you’ll need that essay.

I advise this because if you don’t take the essay portion and then end up needing it for even one school, you’ll have to take the entire test over again. If you’re happy with your score already, this will be a big four-hour drag for you.

You might also want to take the essay portion if you are particularly good at rhetorical analysis and timed writing. Even for colleges that don’t require the essay, a stellar score will look good.


How Important Is Your SAT Essay Score?

This is a little more complicated, as it does depend to a certain extent on the schools you are applying to. I spoke to admissions officers from several schools, and some themes emerged as to how important they consider your essay score to be, and how they use it in evaluating your application:

  • The general consensus was that the essay was the least important part of the SAT overall. Admissions offices will look much more closely at your composite score.
  • The SAT Essay is primarily looked at in combination with your other writing-based application materials: your admissions essay and your high school English transcripts are also used to determine your writing and language skills. Essentially, it’s a part of a facet of your application.
  • That said, bombing the essay would be a red flag to admissions officers that you might not be fully prepared for college-level work.

Overall, I would advise you not to sweat your essay score too much. The most important thing is that your essay score is more or less consistent with your other test scores. It certainly doesn’t have to be perfect—if you get a 1600 and an 18 out of 24, I wouldn’t stress too much. But if you, say, have a 1500 and get a 9/24 on the essay, that’s a little more concerning, as it may cause concern among admissions officers that you aren’t prepared for college-level work.

In general, then, schools really look at the score, but it’s not one of the most important parts of your application or even your SAT score. Your best bet if you are interested in a given school that requires the essay and you want more specific guidance how they use the essay is to call the admissions office and ask. To learn more about what a good SAT Essay score is, check out our guide to the average SAT Essay score.


Not this kind of score!


How Can I Succeed on the SAT Essay?

Luckily, it’s very possible to learn the skills to hit the SAT Essay out of the park every time. Here are some general tips:

  • Learn specific persuasive and argumentative techniques that you can reference in your essay. If you can’t identify what devices authors can use to make arguments, how will you write an essay about it?
  • Make sure you have a clear thesis that can be defended with evidence from the passage.
  • Include an introduction and a conclusion. This will help “bracket” your great points and show that you know how to structure a solid piece of writing.
  • Rely on evidence from the passage to build your argument.
  • Don’t give your opinion on the issue! The new SAT essay is not opinion-based.
  • Make sure you use correct grammar and academic language. (No “This passage, like my brows, is on fleek.”)

Also see this guide to getting a perfect SAT Essay score and this one on improving your score.


Tips to success: don't fold up the Essay section into origami boats.


Final Summary and Actionables

With the new SAT making the essay section optional, many schools have chosen to neither require nor recommend that students take it. Most schools will no longer require the essay, but highly selective schools are divided on the issue.

Among those schools that do require the SAT Essay, many have gone on the record to say that they feel the essay provides a valuable additional piece of information on an applicant’s potential for college-level work. They plan on using the essay as a way to further evaluate an applicant’s writing skills, although for most of these schools it is considered the least important part of the SAT score.

At schools where the SAT Essay is not required, the essay has been eliminated for a variety of reasons: for more consistency with ACT requirements, because the Essay seems redundant or poorly predictive of college success, or to attract a more diverse applicant pool.

What does all this mean for you? If there’s even a chance you’ll apply to a school that requires or recommends the essay, take the SAT with Essay. If you don’t and end up needing it later, you’ll have to re-take the entire exam.

If you do take the SAT Essay, don’t stress too much about getting a perfect score, but do prepare enough that you are confident you won’t get a very low score compared to your composite.


What's Next?

If you're thinking about test scores and college, check out my article on the minimum SAT score for college. 

Ready to get started with practice essays? Check out our thorough analysis of the SAT essay prompt and our complete list of prompts to practice with.

Aiming for a perfect SAT essay score? Read our guides to get strategies on how to get an 8/8/8 on your SAT essay.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:


In 2016, the SAT changed drastically from the old SAT. In terms of content, no other SAT changes in the past few decades have been this dramatic. If you're familiar with the old SAT, here's what you must know to do well on the current version of the SAT.

In this article, I'll summarize the largest, must-know changes of the SAT. But for those of you who are serious about taking the test, it'll be well worth your time to read some of our more in-depth SAT guides. After all, a few minutes of reading through our expert guides is nothing compared to the sweet payoff of a high SAT score and an acceptance to the college of your dreams!

  • New 2016 SAT: What's a Good Score? — Before you take the SAT, it's a smart idea to figure out what a good score is, both in general and for you specifically. This guide explains what a good SAT score is based on percentiles and your own college preferences.


The Main Differences Between the New SAT and Old SAT

The current version of the SAT is pretty different from the old version of the SAT. Below, I go over the major changes made to the overall SAT and to each section.


General Changes to the SAT

We'll start generally. This chart offers a broad overview of the biggest differences between the two versions of the SAT:

Administration2005-January 2016March 2016-present
Score Range600-2400400-1600
Length of Test3 hours 45 minutes3 hours (w/out Essay)
3 hours 50 minutes (w/ Essay)
Total # of Questions/Tasks171154 (155 w/ Essay)
  • Critical Reading
  • Writing + Essay
  • Mathematics
Guessing PenaltyMinus 1/4 point per incorrect answerNone
75th %ile Score (Good)*17201190-1200
50th %ile Score (Average)*14801050-1060
25th %ile Score (Poor)*1260910-920

*All percentiles for the new SAT come from the College Board's 2017 percentiles, and all percentiles for the old SAT come from the College Board's 2015 percentiles.

As you can see, the current SAT is slightly longer than the old SAT if you opt to take the Essay, but significantly shorter if you don't take the Essay. It also combines your Reading and Writing section scores into a single Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score.

Perhaps the biggest change most students know about is the score range: on the old SAT the max score was 2400, but on the current SAT the max score is just 1600.

Finally, there is no longer a score penalty for incorrect answers on the SAT. Therefore, it's best to answer all SAT questions, even if you have to guess on some of them.

Now that you've seen the overall changes, let's look at the differences on each section of the test.


SAT Reading Changes

The SAT Reading section has undergone some massive changes since early 2016. Here are some of the biggest differences to note:

 Old SAT Reading New SAT Reading
Section NameCritical ReadingReading
Scoring200-800 (separate from Writing score)10-40 test score, which is then combined with Writing to get Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score on a scale of 200-800
# of Sections31
Order on TestRandom1st
# of Questions24, 24, 19 (in random order)
Total: 67
Total Time25 minutes, 25 minutes, 20 minutes (in random order)
Total: 70 minutes
65 minutes
Time per Question63 seconds75 seconds
Content TestedHigh-level vocab in isolation, Sentence Completions, passage-based questionsAll passage-based questions, medium-level vocab in context, evidence support, data interpretation
SubscoresNoneWords in Context
Command of Evidence
Analysis in History/Social Studies
Analysis in Science


Overall, you now have fewer questions on SAT Reading and more time per question.

The biggest change to be aware of, though, is that SAT Reading is now entirely passage-based. All questions, even vocabulary ones, are based on passages, so it's imperative to have a solid passage-reading strategy to use on test day.

In terms of content, you'll still see vocab questions, but these are more focused on medium-level vocab words and your ability to figure out their meanings in context. In addition, you need to be able to identify specific areas in passages you found your answers in.



SAT Writing Changes

SAT Writing has undergone some noticeable changes since the test's redesign in early 2016. Here are the most important ones to note:

 Old SAT Writing New SAT Writing
Section NameWritingWriting and Language
Scoring200-800 (separate from Reading score)10-40 test score, which is then combined with Reading to get Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score on a scale of 200-800
# of Sections3 (one essay and two multiple-choice sections)1 (essay = separate section)
Order on TestRandom2nd
# of Questions35, 14 (in random order)
Total: 49
Total Time25 minutes, 10 minutes (in random order)
Total: 35 minutes
35 minutes
Time per Question43 seconds48 seconds
Content TestedImproving Sentences, Identifying Sentence Errors, Improving Paragraphs, grammar rules in isolation All passage-based questions, grammar and punctuation, logic and expression of ideas
SubscoresNoneExpression of Ideas
Standard English Conventions
Words in Context
Command of Evidence
Analysis in History/Social Studies
Analysis in Science


As the chart shows, the SAT Writing section is no longer scored on its own but in conjunction with SAT Reading (to give you a combined Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score). Additionally, the Essay is now a separate (optional) section and is not considered part of the Writing section. 

You also now have fewer Writing questions, giving you slightly more time per question. 

In regard to content changes, all questions are now based on passages (like the Reading section), and there is a bigger emphasis on sentence style, logic/flow, and punctuation.


SAT Math Changes

Though the SAT Math section has changed the least of all SAT sections, it still looks quite different now than it used to before the redesign. Here are the major differences between the current SAT Math section and the old SAT Math section:

 Old SAT Math New SAT Math
Section NameMathematicsMath
# of Sections32 (No Calculator Test and Calculator Test)
Order on TestRandom3rd = No Calculator Test
4th = Calculator Test
Calculator Permitted?YesYes, but only on Calculator Test (not on No Calculator Test)
# of Questions20, 18, 16 (in random order)
Total: 54

44 multiple choice, 10 grid-ins
No Calculator Test: 20
Calculator Test: 38
Total: 58

45 multiple choice, 13 grid-ins
Total Time25 minutes, 25 minutes, 20 minutes (in random order)
Total: 70 minutes
No Calculator Test: 25 minutes
Calculator Test: 55 minutes
Total: 80 minutes
Time per Question75 or 83 seconds (depending on section)No Calculator Test: 75 seconds
Calculator Test: 87 seconds
Content TestedArithmetic, numbers and operations, algebra, functions, geometry, some data analysis

Arithmetic, algebra, functions, advanced algebra, data analysis, word problems; <10% = geometry, trigonometry, complex numbers

SubscoresNoneHeart of Algebra
Passport to Advanced Math
Problem Solving and Data Analysis


You now get more time on SAT Math and four more questions in total. The section is also divided into two subsections: a No Calculator test (on which you may not use a calculator) and a Calculator test (on which you may use a calculator).

Content-wise, you're still being tested on many of the same fundamental topics, including algebra, functions, and arithmetic. However, there is now less emphasis on geometry and more emphasis on data analysis, graphs, and word problems.

Moreover, the old SAT Math section did not test any trig whatsoever, whereas the current SAT has at least a few questions on trig.



SAT Essay Changes

Finally, we get to the SAT Essay section. Here are the biggest changes to know:

 Old SAT Essay New SAT Essay
Section NameEssayEssay
Scoring 2-12 (based on two scores by two readers, each on a scale of 1-6)One score for each dimension on a scale of 2-8 (based on two scores by two readers, each on a scale of 1-4)
Dimensions NoneReading, Analysis, Writing
# of Sections11
Order on Test1st5th (if taking SAT with Essay)
# of Prompts11
Total Time25 minutes50 minutes
Essay PromptAnswer a theoretical prompt by citing your own evidenceAnalyze a passage and the author's argument by citing evidence from the passage


As you likely already know, the Essay section is optional with the current SAT, while before it was a mandatory section (and part of Writing).

Essay scoring has also changed dramatically: test takers now get three scores, each on a scale of 2-8 (so a perfect Essay score would be 8|8|8).

Before you had to provide your own evidence and answer a theoretical prompt, but now you must read a short passage and analyze the author's argument using textual evidence. Note that you are not expected to insert your personal viewpoint into your essay.


New SAT vs Old SAT: 1-Sentence Summary 

For those of you who are interested in a summary of big-picture changes, here it is: the current SAT is a lot more like the ACT in that it tests more skills considered relevant to college success and relies less on trying to trick you.


What's Next?

Got more questions about how the current and old SATs differ from one another? Then check out our detailed examination of all changes between the two. In addition, our guide to the new SAT format gives you tips on how to prep for the current version of the test.

Not sure what SAT score to aim for on test day? Get a step-by-step guide on how to find your goal score based on the schools you're applying to.

Looking for a detailed SAT resource to help you study for the test? Our ultimate SAT study guide contains links to our very best SAT articles and guides. And the best part is it's free!


Get Started Improving Your SAT Score Today:

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