SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

What Is A Good SAT Essay Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 18, 2015 10:30:00 AM

SAT Writing

 

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SAT Essay scoring can be tricky to figure out. Maybe you've already created target goals for your SAT score, following our guide, so you at least have that score goal set.

But where does your essay score fit into all this? What is a good SAT essay score? This article will answer those questions.

Note: The information in this article is for the old (pre-March-2016) SAT essay, which was scored out of 12 and part of the Writing section. Scores for the March 2016 SAT were only released May 10th, 2016, which means that data on percentiles and averages aren't going to be available for a while yet. We'll update this article as soon as the information comes out.

feature image credit: Doing Great by Eli Christman, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What Is the SAT Essay Out Of?

Before you can know what a good SAT essay score is, you need to know how many points you can get total on the essay. So what's the SAT essay out of?

Currently, the SAT essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 6 by two graders, for a total essay score out of 12. Your essay is scored holistically, which means you don’t get bumped down to a certain essay grade if you make, for instance, a certain number of comma errors. Instead, SAT essay scorers use the SAT essay rubric to grade your essay as a whole.

Note: SAT essay scoring will change beginning with the March 2016 SAT. For more information on that change, read our other articles on the new SAT essay prompts and the new SAT essay.

 

What Is a Good SAT Essay Score?

As with most things on the SAT, a good essay score depends on what your goals are. These goals should be concrete and determined by the colleges you’re applying to - after all, if your reach schools have an average essay score of 9, then there's no need to burn yourself out trying to get that elusive 12.

To some extent, your essay score goal will also be influenced by your performance on the multiple choice section of SAT Writing. If you do better on multiple-choice questions, you may be able to cut yourself some slack in the essay department.

But how do figure out what your SAT Writing (and SAT essay) goals should be? Use our three-step process, explained below.

 

Step 1: Know Your Target SAT Writing Score

If you’ve read our free ebook on calculating your target SAT score, you may already have figured out your target SAT Writing score. If not, it's time to calculate it! I'll walk through the process using the example of Virginia Commonwealth Unversity.

First, download this worksheet. It's designed for calculating your target SAT score out of 2400, so you'll have to modify it a little bit. Fill in the schools you want to apply to in the leftmost column. Here's what the worksheet will look like for Virginia Commonwealth University:

 

 

Next, google "[name of school] average SAT writing" to get the middle 50% of all SAT Writing scores. For instance, if you're interested in Virginia Commonwealth University, you'd do the following search:

 

 

There'll usually be a collegeapps.about.com link that has this information. Sometimes (as you can see above) the college website will also pop up, so you can use that to double-check your numbers. You're looking for the 25th and 75th percentile scores on the SAT Writing section.

A quick refresher on what "percentile scores" mean: 25th percentile means that 25% of the students attending have a score at or below that number (below average). The 75th percentile means that 75% of students have a score at or below that number (above average). In essence, the 25th/75th percentile score range covers the middle 50% of all students admitted to Virginia Commonwealth University.

If the sites don’t list a specific SAT Writing score range, you can divide the top and bottom of the overall SAT score range by 3 to get a general idea of what your Writing score needs to be. In this case, there is information about the SAT Writing score range, so we can fill that in on the worksheet:

 

 

Do the same for all of the schools you want to apply to. Include dream or “reach” schools, but don’t include “safety schools” (schools you think you have at least a 90% chance of getting into).

Once you've filled in the information for all of the schools you want to apply to, average the 25th percentile and 75th percentile columns, then choose a target SAT Writing score with that information.

 

 

As it says on the worksheet, we recommend that you take the 75th percentile score as your target SAT Writing score. It'll give you a very strong chance of getting into the schools you’ve listed. If you’re applying to humanities programs, you may even want to consider a higher score target for SAT Writing.

 

Step 2: Find an Official SAT Writing Score Chart

The next step is to take a look at an SAT Writing score chart to find out the range of essay scores that will get you your target SAT Writing score. The chart will differ in precise score differences from test to test, but it can at least give you a broad idea of the range.

Let's say that your target SAT Writing score is 576 (rounded up to 580). I've highlighted this in green in the following SAT Writing score chart (from an official SAT practice test):

 

Writing MC

Raw Score

Essay Raw Score

12

11

10

9

8

7

6

5

4

3

2

0

49

800

800

800

800

790

760

750

730

720

710

690

680

48

800

800

780

770

750

720

710

690

680

670

650

640

47

790

770

760

740

720

700

680

660

650

640

630

620

46

770

750

740

720

700

680

660

650

630

620

610

600

45

750

740

720

710

690

660

650

630

620

610

590

580

44

740

730

710

690

670

650

630

620

600

590

580

570

43

730

710

700

680

660

640

620

600

590

580

560

550

42

720

700

680

670

650

630

610

590

580

570

550

540

41

700

690

670

660

640

610

600

580

570

560

540

530

40

690

680

660

650

630

600

590

570

560

550

530

520

39

690

670

650

640

620

590

580

560

550

540

520

510

38

680

660

640

630

610

590

570

550

540

530

510

500

37

670

650

640

620

600

580

560

540

530

520

500

490

36

660

640

630

610

590

570

550

530

520

510

490

490

35

650

640

620

600

580

560

540

530

510

500

490

480

34

640

630

610

590

570

550

530

520

510

490

480

470

33

630

620

600

590

570

540

530

510

500

490

470

460

32

630

610

600

580

560

540

520

500

490

480

460

450

31

620

600

590

570

550

530

510

500

480

470

460

450

30

610

600

580

560

540

520

500

490

480

460

450

440

29

610

590

570

560

540

520

500

480

470

460

440

430

28

600

580

570

550

530

510

490

470

460

450

430

420

27

590

580

560

540

520

500

480

470

450

440

430

420

26

580

570

550

540

510

490

480

460

450

440

420

410

25

580

560

550

530

510

490

470

450

440

430

410

400

24

570

550

540

520

500

480

460

450

430

420

410

400

23

560

550

530

510

490

470

450

440

430

410

400

390

22

560

540

520

510

490

470

450

430

420

410

390

380

21

550

530

520

500

480

460

440

420

410

400

380

380

20

540

530

510

490

470

450

430

420

400

390

380

370

19

530

520

500

490

470

440

430

410

400

390

370

360

18

530

510

500

480

460

440

420

400

390

380

360

350

17

520

500

490

470

450

430

410

400

380

370

360

350

16

510

500

480

470

440

420

400

390

380

360

350

340

15

510

490

470

460

440

420

400

380

370

360

340

330

14

500

480

470

450

430

410

390

370

360

350

330

330

13

490

480

460

440

420

400

380

370

350

340

330

320

12

480

470

450

440

410

390

380

360

350

340

320

310

11

480

460

440

430

410

390

370

350

340

330

310

300

10

470

450

440

420

400

380

360

340

330

320

300

300

9

460

450

430

410

390

370

350

340

320

310

300

290

8

450

440

420

400

380

360

340

330

320

300

290

280

7

440

430

410

400

380

350

340

320

310

300

280

270

6

440

420

400

390

370

350

330

310

300

290

270

260

5

430

410

390

380

360

340

320

300

290

280

260

250

4

420

400

380

370

350

330

310

290

280

270

250

240

3

410

390

370

360

340

320

300

280

270

260

240

230

2

390

380

360

350

320

300

290

270

260

250

230

220

1

380

370

350

330

310

290

270

260

240

230

220

210

0

370

350

340

320

300

280

260

240

230

220

200

200

-1

350

340

320

300

280

260

240

230

210

200

200

200

-2

340

320

300

290

270

250

230

210

200

200

200

200

-3

320

300

290

270

250

230

210

200

200

200

200

200

-4 and below

310

300

280

260

240

220

200

200

200

200

200

200

 

As you can see in the chart above, there are theoretically over ten ways to get a 580 on SAT Writing, with anywhere from a 25-46 multiple-choice raw score and a 0-12 essay score.

But is it really realistic to expect to score a 12 on the SAT essay if your multiple-choice raw score is only a 25? Probably not. In 2015, the average SAT Writing score was a 484, and the average SAT essay score was a 7 (data from the CollegeBoard; for more on this, read our upcoming article on average SAT Writing scores).

Based on this information (and on an official practice SAT Writing score chart), we've created a table of realistic essay scores you can expect to achieve if you're scoring in a certain range:

 

SAT Writing Score Range

Realistic Essay Score

200-340

4 or below

340-440

5

440-540

6

540-640

7

640-740

8

740-800

9 or above

 

So while you can get a 580 on SAT Writing with an essay score from 0-12, you're more likely to do so if you can score a 7 or above on the essay.

 

Step Three: Take a Timed SAT Writing Section and Score It

The final step is to see what your multiple choice score is now so that you know how much prep time you'll have to put in. To do this, you'll need to take a timed SAT Writing section and calculate your multiple-choice raw score. The best way to get a realistic idea of what your raw multiple-choice Writing score is would be to take a full-length practice test (because it’ll give you an idea of how tired you get from the other sections and how you deal with switching back and forth). If you don't have the time to do this, just take the Writing sections from an official SAT practice test, adhering to the time limits.

How do you calculate your multiple-choice raw Writing score? Use the following equation:

Your raw score = (# of questions you got right - # of questions you got wrong x 0.25)

For example, if you answered 34 (out of49) questions right, skipped 7, and got 8 questions wrong, your raw score would be:

34 – (8 x .25) = 34 – 2 = 32

With a raw score of 32, you can get anything from a 450 to a 630 on SAT Writing, depending on your essay score. If you stay at the same multiple-choice raw score, you'll need an essay score of 9 or above to make your target Writing score of 580. This is a tough essay score to get for anyone, especially considering the average essay score for 2015 was a 7.

As you increase your multiple-choice raw score, the essay score needed to get your target score will drop. To use the example from before, if you're aiming for an SAT Writing score of 580, a realistic essay score would be a 7; according to the SAT Writing score chart above, this means you'll need to increase your raw multiple-choice score to a 37 (a far more manageable goal for most students than raising their essay scores to a 9).

 

Actions To Take

Figure out your target SAT Writing score, using the worksheet above.

Use an SAT Writing scoring scale to figure out the essay grade you’ll need to shoot for to make your target SAT Writing score.

Figure out how you’re doing on the Writing multiple choice questions and how much you need to improve (both on the multiple-choice questions and on the essay) to meet your SAT Writing score goal.

 

What’s Next?

Get the inside scoop on what really goes on behind the scenes with our strategies based on interviews with real essay graders.

Can you write a high-scoring SAT essay in less than a page? Discover how essay length affects your score in this article.

Still confused about how the SAT essay is scored? Try our article that explains the official SAT essay scoring policy and what strategies you should use to take advantage of it.

Curious about how well everyone does on the SAT essay? Read our article to find out what’s an average SAT essay score.

 

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Laura Staffaroni
About the Author

Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.



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