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What's The Average SAT Essay Score?

Posted by Laura Staffaroni | Oct 18, 2015 11:00:00 AM

SAT Writing

 

feature_averagetrophyYou've gotten back your SAT scores. On your score report, there's information about how you did on Math, Reading, and Writing, compared to the previous year's graduating class who took the SAT.

But what about your essay? How does your essay score compare to everyone else? There's no percentile information for that in the score report.

Find out what an average SAT essay score looks like (and how you stack up) in this article!

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 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: FLL Small, Medium, & Large Trophies by David Luders, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.

 

What’s an Average SAT Essay Score?

Currently, two graders score each SAT essay on a scale of 1-6, leading to a total essay score out of 12. Essays that aren't on topic, are blank, or are illegible get scores of 0.

In theory, you'd think that the average SAT essay scosre is around a 6 (since that's halfway between 0 and 12, right?). However, it's not possible for an essay to score a 1/12, because that would mean one grader thought an essay was not gradable and the other thought it was. So in practice, an average essay score should be around a 7.

This hypothesis about average SAT essay scores is borne out by the data. The average SAT essay score for students graduating high school in 2015 was exactly a 7/12 (source: CollegeBoard 2015 Total Group Report). Even for students graduating high school in 2006, who were the first students to take the essay portion of the SAT, the average essay score was 7.2/12 (source: CollegeBoard).

To get a better idea of what these numbers mean, I found an SAT essay score distribution chart that shows how many students got each essay score. While the chart below is for students graduating high school in 2006, the average essay score hasn't changed all that much since then (7.2/12 then vs. 7/12), so I think this graph is still useful to look at.

 

body_SATessay_scoredistribution

(source: CollegeBoard)

What's most striking to me from this chart is that there's a huge drop-off from the middle range of scores (6-8) to the upper and lower ends of the scale. Basically, if you score a 5 or below, your essay score is definitely lower than average; if you score a 6-8, your score is pretty average; and if you score a 9 or above, your score is higher than average.

When colleges look at your SAT scores, however, they usually won't look at your essay scores all by themselves. Most schools look at your overall SAT Writing score first, then at your essay score (if they care about your SAT essay scores at all). This leads into my next point...

 

How Much Does My Essay Score Matter?

How much is your essay score affecting your overall SAT Writing score? To answer this question, I found a sample SAT Writing score chart (from an official SAT practice test) and highlighted a couple of key pieces of information.

In the table below, I’ve highlighted the “7” column in yellow, to show the range of SAT Writing scores that are possible with an average essay score. Since the average SAT Writing score in 2015 was 484 (source: CollegeBoard Total Group Profile Report 2015), I've also highlighted every 480 and 490 score on the chart in blue. Where the two factors overlap (e.g. when an essay score of 7 gives you an SAT Writing score of 480/490), the scores are highlighted in green.

 

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

 

On the practice test this scoring chart was sourced from, with an average essay score of 7 you can get anything from a 220 to a 760 on SAT Writing (nearly the full possible score range of 200-800).

In the table above, you can also see that your multiple-choice raw score is weighted more heavily in score calculation than your essay score. Even if you completely butcher the essay and get a 2, you can still get a 690 on SAT Writing by answering all of the multiple choice questions correctly (although that scenario is unlikely). By contrast, even with an essay score of 12 you can't get higher than a 690 if you have a multiple-choice raw score of 38 or below.

 

Where Do I Fit?

The background colors in the table above aren't just pretty to look at - they also mark out boundaries of where your essay score and multiple choice scores affect each other.

 

If you score to the left of the yellow and above the blue...

You're in good shape. Increasing your essay score will still yield an overall score increase, but it’s not holding you back.

 

If you score to the right of the yellow and above the blue...

Your essay score is bringing down your total score. You have a higher-than-average SAT Writing score, but your essay score is below average. Take the time to work on improving your essay, starting with a look at our articles on writing an SAT essay, step-by-step and SAT essay tips.

 

If you score to the left of the yellow and below the blue...

Your essay score is amazing, and your multiple-choice score is bringing you down. But don't despair! Analyze which types of questions you're getting wrong on the SAT Writing multiple-choice questions and dig deep into why you're missing them. Are you rushed for time? Confused about certain grammar concepts or certain question types? Learn more about how to analyze your mistakes on the SAT with this article.

 

If you score to the right of the yellow and below the blue...

Your essay score and multiple-choice scores are both on the low side. If you want to increase your SAT Writing score, you'll need to do some focused prep for both the multiple-choice Writing questions and the essay section.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you know what an average SAT essay score is, what should be your target? Find out in our article on what a good SAT essay score is for you.

Discover what the relationship is between SAT essay length and essay score here!

What's the real deal with SAT essay scoring? Get strategies and insights from real SAT essay graders and learn about SAT essay scoring.

 

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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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