SAT Essay: Optional, Required, or Discontinued?

Attempting SAT’s Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) sections is a must for those students who choose the SAT option for entering a college. But what about the essay? Should you better have it scored never to worry if it is obligatory in the college of your dreams? Or should you first investigate if any of the universities you aim at requiring the essay? Or has the College Board discontinued this test at all? Let’s deal with it together. 

Communication from the College Board as of January 2021

Three months ago the College Board announced that they would eliminate their SAT essay section effective from June 2021. If you have registered for the test with an essay, the latter can be canceled at no cost. The only exception is for those states that need the composition for the School Day test. Another good news is that together with the essay, the College Board discontinued Subject Tests. And it promises to keep this direction in the future. As the organization explains, such decisions were made to ‘adapt to new realities’ of admission processes in colleges. We have to admit another positive impact of the pandemic –– it advocated the simplification of demands to students. But why was writing an essay so tough in the end?

The Challenge of Taking the SAT Essay

The double challenge of attempting the essay was the task itself, and that students had to approach it after a tense and exhausting basic part of the test. SAT essays were taken by 1.2 million students in 2020, and all those former schoolers can prove it did not come easy. So approximately the same number of students in 2021 will be happy to hear that colleges no longer require this pretty tough 50-minute test.

Answering questions from the essential Math and EBRW sections lasts for nearly three hours. And you only have two 5-minute breaks. Naturally, by the time a young person gets to writing, he or she is already tired out. Still, within a bit less than an hour, you’ll have to analyze a written passage, outline the plan, and compose the response. The good point of the College Board decision is obvious –– less stress for schoolers. But on the other hand –– how will your mastery of writing be proved? 

The College Board states that writing is one of the main skills that demonstrate students’ readiness to college. And thus, it will definitely continue measuring your ability to edit and write pieces of text. But rather in its Reading and Writing and Language tests. Will those answers be a decent alternative to a demanding and time-consuming 5-paragraph writing assignment? Let’s take a step aside to take a look at the structure of the SAT essay.

What the SAT Essay Evaluates

The assignment of the SAT Essay section checks how the author builds an argument. Students have to analyze:

evidence: the examples that the author uses and the facts he brings up in the argumentation;

elements that convince and highlight the style. Whether the author uses certain words that can give a better understanding of his ideas and enhance them. Or he uses persuasive words and phrases;

argumentation: logical support for the ideas development, well-applied connection of claims and evidence. 

What a Successful Essay Tells About You

Most successful SAT essays had a 5-paragraph structure which proved students’ readiness for a reasonable discussion of the proposed topic. The essays were scored across three categories:

  1. Reading. After reading the passage and assignment a student was supposed to realize the main ideas, critical details, and how they interrelated. 
  2. Analysis. This mark showed how a schooler evaluated the way the author used reasoning, evidence, and other techniques. Every claim had to be supported by a proving evidence statement from the given text. 
  3. Writing. An essay was expected to be well-organized and created in a proper tone. Sentence structures were supposed to demonstrate a good command of English.

Every essay assignment used for SAT was taken from the published materials. It was generally understandable by a broad audience and expressed views on complex issues. Now when it is no more applicable, let’s take a look at its alternative –– Writing and Language Test.

SAT Writing and Language Test

The Writing and Language Test of your SAT makes you a proofreader for a while. Though attempting a test is a nerve-wracking job, the task is pretty simple, and as a student, you have to do it nearly every day. So, you are given passages with deliberately made errors. You need to detect and correct them. Some tests include graphs or tables, but you won’t need to apply your math skills there. All questions are multiple-choice and luckily you are not obliged to have profound knowledge of the topic of those passages. Subject areas include humanities, science, social studies, career, and history. 

Every question needs an individual approach. Some will require you to pay attention to one sentence only. Others will need to be completely rewritten to better describe the graphic.

Skills Measured by the Writing and Language Test

To successfully pass this subsection of the SAT exam, a student has to know, understand, and be ready to apply certain techniques and implement analytical thinking. Below are the competences assessed in the Writing and Language part: 

  • Expression of ideas

The way the words forge phrases, and how those phrases are incorporated into sentences is crucial for understanding your ideas. You will be asked to organize the words and word structures to better interact with each other and make your passage easy to understand.

  • Words in context

Since some words explain ideas more precisely than others, you’ll be offered to demonstrate a better word choice concerning the context. Once your passage becomes better readable, consider even changing the tone or style. Of course, mind the syntax, too.

  • Command of evidence

Check that the ideas in your passage were developed logically and consistently. If you see that one of the answers enhances or contributes substantial details to the argumentative statement, choose it. 

  • Standard English conventions

These questions will test your knowledge of punctuation, sentence structure, and language usage. Be prepared to replace whole sentences, clauses, or single words while restructuring offered blocks of writing. 

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies and Science

Look at the passages related to science, social studies, or history with a judgmental editorial perspective. Think about how to improve those statements to make them clear and precise.

Don’t forget that you can always try the sample questions before you ‘go live’!

Colleges that Required Essays

Here you will find the list of colleges that required an essay for their admission procedure. In other institutions, it was not obligatory, though strongly recommended. As the update of SAT essay policy is relatively new, it is essential to ensure you don’t miss anything. Better double-check current requirements of the colleges concerning required exams. On the College Board website, you will find a list of profiles of the US universities and colleges with essay and scholarship policies. However, the ACT essay is available so far.

Non-SAT Sources to Evaluate Writing Skills 

College admissions teams will have to focus more on students’ writing within the last four years of studying at school. Their writing success in classes of social studies and English will be reflected in transcripts. Moreover, they will be able to trace the progress of the writing ability of the applicant and assess his mastery in the application essay. In any case, elimination of the SAT essay test does not mean that your composition skills and a good command of English are no more significant for your academic success.

More Flexible SAT

The College Board successfully accepts the challenge of digitizing, and it is attempting to make the SAT more flexible and innovative. While the test remains an excellent instrument for students to demonstrate their skills to colleges, there’s no doubt that it needs to be more relevant to the digital era we live in. Though the College Board has not yet mentioned the release date of its digital version, we can be sure is on the way. 

And in the meantime, the organization adds venues that would locate more people and ensure additional seats for SAT-taking students ‘at the expense’ of the vacant places of the Subject Test takers. 

To Sum It Up

SAT essay has been an optional but significant part of the college-entering process for many years. Some high-level universities and colleges required an essay when admitting students, though SAT’s Writing and Language Test covered similar areas of academic progress. But during the pandemic, not all students had a chance to attempt SAT, so colleges agreed to be less demanding in terms of the entering scores. 

Surprisingly, in January 2021, the College Board announced that it canceled the essay option as well as Subject Tests. According to the official statement, this decision was motivated by adaptation to new simplified admission procedures. 

Still, another testing body – ACT Inc. has not revoked the essay option, and, probably, you can switch to ACT to comply with all requirements. 

Leave a Comment