What is a SAT Essay and Why Do You Need It?


First thing’s first, did you know that the SAT Essay is OPTIONAL? Of course it is, but before you go running off thinking there is no point in writing the SAT with essay, read further.

To figure out whether or not you should write the test, you should first determine which colleges require it. If the college that you are applying to does not request it, it still might be worthwhile to complete this section in the test to prove that you have strong analytical and writing capabilities.

Anyway, it is better to do it than not to do it. Writing it can’t hurt anything!

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Some Tips How to Write SAT Essay

Nearly every expert asked recommends that students at least attempt the essay. The Essay asks students to analyse how an argument works. Most people writing the essay find that this is an interesting and engaging task, one that they don’t mind putting a little extra thought into. More importantly, in writing it, they are provided with the opportunity to showcase their writing, analysis and reading skills. Each of the aforementioned skills are paramount to success not only as a student, but also as a future professional in the workforce. The score that is received after the completion of the essay offers valuable insight into strengths and areas that could be improved upon.

One more advantage is that preparing for the SAT essay is one of the best things that a student can do to help prepare for their future as a post-secondary student.

Understanding the SAT Essay Score

The responses provided to the SAT essay prompts are evaluated by a team of scorers. Each scorer has the responsibility of assigning a score of 1 to 4 in the following categories: Reading, Analysis and Writing. The scores are then added together to return a final score of 2 to 8 in each category.


The reading score identifies how well the student is able to show that they have a thorough comprehension of the source text. First of all, a student should understand correctly what exactly they have read. Are they using evidence such as quotes to show that they understand?


The analysis score identifies how well the student has analysed the passage they were given and have explained how the author delivers their argument, using strong evidence and sound logic. Does the essay make use of relevant details? Does the essay support any claims made?


The writing score identifies how capable the student is when it comes to using language. Are they able to articulate their response? Is the essay clearly structured? Is there verbiage used correct? Does the essay follow a logical progression of thoughts and ideas?  This score focuses on the actual writing skill – not the ideas presented.

Writing a New SAT Essay

Typically, each and every SAT essay will consist of a single passage no fewer than 650 words and no greater than 750 words in length. The student will be asked to read, and then reply to, the passage. They will then be allotted fifty minutes to complete the task at hand.

The overall objective of the new SAT essay is to gauge the student’s ability to analyze the argument presented by the author of the passage. They must respond with an articulate essay. In order to do this, they must focus on how the original writer utilizes evidence, reason or other elements to create a solid and convincing argument.

In ever test, the essay exercise is the same. The only thing that will change is the passage that students will be asked to review. If a student is able to view the prompt prior to test day, they will be in a better position to prepare.

SAT Essay Format

They essay format used when writing an SAT essay is similar to all other essays. A strong essay has an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion.

When authoring their essay, students are asked to consider how to author uses the following, and use their findings to support their own argument.

  • How does the author use evidence to support their claim
  • How does the author use logic or reasoning to connect the evidence to their claim
  • What persuasive elements are present

SAT Essay Prompts

There are a number of factors to consider when reviewing the prompts (or passages).

What to Consider

The Topic: More often than not, the prompt will be directly related to an argument written for a broad audience. In each prompt, you will be presented with a claim and the author will endeavor to persuade you that their claim is valid. For example, they may tell you that climate change is not a bad thing, or that the gender wage gap is entirely made up, or that the moon landing was fake.

Keep in mind that students are not expected to have any prior knowledge of the topic in the passage in order to write their essay. And those who do have knowledge of the topic should be cautious on sharing it – they are not being asked to share their expertise, they are being asked to show that they can write and analyze and follow instructions.

The Essay: The reply written about the passage should thoroughly explore the way the author chose to deliver their argument, and should not focus on their content of the prompt. It is crucial to analyse and discuss how the author develops their argument. Do not simply restate or reword the thesis.

Remember not to simply say what the prompt was about (For example, kites), and this is not an opportunity to disclose personal opinions about the argument made by the authors (For example, I think blue kites are the best too!)

The Objective: The objective is to clearly explain how the author develops their argument and how they use tools to convince their reader of their point. Students will need to uncover the primary point that the writer has made (For example, blue kites fly higher than red kites and because of this people should only buy blue kites.) and to analyze exactly how the writer arrives to this point. They must use examples that come only from the passage, and nowhere else.

Colleges that Require SAT Essay

As mentioned, the essay is largely optional. However, there are a number of colleges that now require that students write the essay, and some that strongly recommend that students take it.

Here is the list.

Colleges that Require the SAT Essay

  • Augsburg University
  • Brown University
  • Claremont McKenna College
  • Darmouth College
  • DeSales University
  • Dominican University of California
  • Florida Atlantic University
  • Harvard College
  • Howard University
  • Martin Luther College
  • MODUL University Vienna
  • Princeton University
  • Rhode Island College
  • Sam Houston State University
  • Schreiner University
  • Soka University of America
  • Stanford University
  • Texas A&M University-Galveston
  • United States Military Academy (West Point)
  • UC Berkeley
  • UC Davis
  • UC Irvine
  • UC Los Angeles
  • UC Merced
  • UC Riverside
  • UC San Diego
  • UC Santa Barbara
  • UC Santa Cruz
  • University of Miami
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of North Texas
  • University of San Diego
  • Western Carolina University
  • Yale University

Colleges that Recommend the SAT Essay

  • Abilene Christian University
  • Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Science
  • Allegheny College
  • Amherst College
  • Bryan College
  • Bryn Athyn College
  • Cairn University
  • Caldwell University
  • Chapman University
  • Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
  • Colby College
  • Corban University
  • Cornerstone University
  • Dallas Christian University
  • Delaware State University
  • Eastern Illinois University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Hamline University
  • Husson University
  • LeHigh University
  • Madonna University
  • Manhattan College
  • Marygrove College
  • Marymount California University
  • McMurry University
  • Michigan State
  • Morehouse College
  • Mount Saint Mary College
  • Mount St Joseph College
  • New Jersey City University
  • New York Institute
  • Nichols College
  • North Park University
  • Occidental College
  • Ohio University
  • Oregon State University
  • Pfeiffer University
  • Point Loma Nazarene University
  • Pamona College
  • Randall
  • Randolph College
  • Saint Michael’s College
  • Silver Lake of the Holy Family
  • Springhill College
  • Stockton University
  • Sul Ross State
  • SUNY Maritime
  • SUNY Birgminham
  • SUNY Stony Brook
  • Taylor University
  • Texan A&M
  • University of Laverne
  • University of Mary Hardin

SAT Essay Topics

The SAT essay passage always follows the same standard format, under the new guidelines, the format follows the same standards, and students are asked to complete the same task – discuss how the author builds their argument.

The goal here is to help the student maintain focus on the preparation of the analytical portion of the task. This is why the same question is presented on each test:

“As you read the passage below, consider how the author uses

  • Evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • Reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • Stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to as power to the ideas expressed. “

At the end of each passage, the same statement will be presented:

“Write an essay in which you explain how the author builds an argument to persuade his or her audience that whatever they are arguing for is right. In your essay, analyze how the author uses one or more of the features listed in the box above (or features of you own choice) to strengthen the logic of persuasiveness of their argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant feature of the passage.

Your essay should not explain whether or not you agree with the claims made, but rather explain how the author builds their argument.”

Finding SAT Essay Examples

The best way to learn what is expected of you is through someone who has already done it.  In an attempt to show students the difference between a high scoring SAT essay and a low scoring SAT essay, the College Board has provided a number of examples that include not only actual responses from students who have taken the SAT test, but also offered a detailed explanation of where they stood on the SAT scoring rubric and why.

The first example is a student who scored exceptionally well, in fact, they received a 4 /4 / 4 – the perfect score.

That example can be found here: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat/x0a8c2e5f:untitled-709/x0a8c2e5f:example-essays/a/sat-essay-high-scoring-student-example

The next is an example from a student who still scored high on the rubric, but received a 4 /3 /4.

That example can be found here: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat/x0a8c2e5f:untitled-709/x0a8c2e5f:example-essays/a/sat-essay-high-scoring-student-example

More examples of SAT Essays

Students still looking to get ahead of the curve, have a number of resources available to them on the Internet to help them prepare and to strengthen their reading, analytical and writing skill. Additional STA essay examples are available:

The next example comes from a mid-range scorer, who received a 3 / 3 / 3

The example can be found here: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat/x0a8c2e5f:untitled-709/x0a8c2e5f:example-essays/a/sat-essay-medium-scoring-student-example-1

Still in the midrange, this student received a 3 /3 /3

That example can be found here: https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/sat/x0a8c2e5f:untitled-709/x0a8c2e5f:example-essays/a/sat-essay-medium-scoring-student-example-2

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