Get Essays Marked

How the SAT Essay Is Scored

Responses to the optional SAT Essay are scored using a carefully designed process.

  • Two different people will read and score your essay.
  • Each scorer awards 1–4 points for each dimension: reading, analysis, and writing.
  • The two scores for each dimension are added.
  • You’ll receive three scores for the SAT Essay—one for each dimension—ranging from 2–8 points.
  • There is no composite SAT Essay score (the three scores are not added together) and there are no percentiles.

We train every scorer to hold every student to the same standards, the ones shown on this page.

Quick Links

Reading Scoring Guide

Analysis Scoring Guide

Writing Scoring Guide

Score of 4

  • Demonstrates thorough comprehension of the source text.
  • Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and of most important details and how they interrelate, demonstrating a comprehensive understanding of the text.
  • Is free of errors of fact or interpretation with regard to the text.
  • Makes skillful use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating a complete understanding of the source text.

Score of 3

  • Demonstrates effective comprehension of the source text.
  • Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) and important details.
  • Is free of substantive errors of fact and interpretation with regard to the text.
  • Makes appropriate use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating an understanding of the source text.

Score of 2

  • Demonstrates some comprehension of the source text.
  • Shows an understanding of the text’s central idea(s) but not of important details.
  • May contain errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text.
  • Makes limited and/or haphazard use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating some understanding of the source text.

Score of 1

  • Demonstrates little or no comprehension of the source text.
  • Fails to show an understanding of the text’s central idea(s), and may include only details without reference to central idea(s).
  • May contain numerous errors of fact and/or interpretation with regard to the text.
  • Makes little or no use of textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both), demonstrating little or no understanding of the source text.

Score of 4

  • Offers an insightful analysis of the source text and demonstrates a sophisticated understanding of the analytical task.
  • Offers a thorough, well-considered evaluation of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing.
  • Contains relevant, sufficient, and strategically chosen support for claim(s) or point(s) made.
  • Focuses consistently on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.

Score of 3

  • Offers an effective analysis of the source text and demonstrates an understanding of the analytical task.
  • Competently evaluates the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing.
  • Contains relevant and sufficient support for claim(s) or point(s) made.
  • Focuses primarily on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.

Score of 2

  • Offers limited analysis of the source text and demonstrates only partial understanding of the analytical task.
  • Identifies and attempts to describe the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s own choosing, but merely asserts rather than explains their importance, or one or more aspects of the response’s analysis are unwarranted based on the text.
  • Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made.
  • May lack a clear focus on those features of the text that are most relevant to addressing the task.

Score of 1

  • Offers little or no analysis or ineffective analysis of the source text and demonstrates little or no understanding of the analytic task.
  • Identifies without explanation some aspects of the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or feature(s) of the student’s choosing.
  • Or numerous aspects of the response’s analysis are unwarranted based on the text.
  • Contains little or no support for claim(s) or point(s) made, or support is largely irrelevant.
  • May not focus on features of the text that are relevant to addressing the task.
  • Or the response offers no discernible analysis (e.g., is largely or exclusively summary).

Score of 4

  • Is cohesive and demonstrates a highly effective use and command of language.
  • Includes a precise central claim.
  • Includes a skillful introduction and conclusion. The response demonstrates a deliberate and highly effective progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.
  • Has a wide variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates a consistent use of precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.
  • Shows a strong command of the conventions of standard written English and is free or virtually free of errors.

Score of 3

  • Is mostly cohesive and demonstrates effective use and control of language.
  • Includes a central claim or implicit controlling idea.
  • Includes an effective introduction and conclusion. The response demonstrates a clear progression of ideas both within paragraphs and throughout the essay.
  • Has variety in sentence structures. The response demonstrates some precise word choice. The response maintains a formal style and objective tone.
  • Shows a good control of the conventions of standard written English and is free of significant errors that detract from the quality of writing.

Score of 2

  • Demonstrates little or no cohesion and limited skill in the use and control of language.
  • May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea or may deviate from the claim or idea over the course of the response.
  • May include an ineffective introduction and/or conclusion. The response may demonstrate some progression of ideas within paragraphs but not throughout the response.
  • Has limited variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive.
  • Demonstrates general or vague word choice; word choice may be repetitive. The response may deviate noticeably from a formal style and objective tone.
  • Shows a limited control of the conventions of standard written English and contains errors that detract from the quality of writing and may impede understanding.

Score of 1

  • Demonstrates little or no cohesion and inadequate skill in the use and control of language.
  • May lack a clear central claim or controlling idea.
  • Lacks a recognizable introduction and conclusion. The response does not have a discernible progression of ideas.
  • Lacks variety in sentence structures; sentence structures may be repetitive. The response demonstrates general and vague word choice; word choice may be poor or inaccurate. The response may lack a formal style and objective tone.
  • Shows a weak control of the conventions of standard written English and may contain numerous errors that undermine the quality of writing.

Dear student,

I have just read your essay, and I must apologise – I have absolutely no idea what it said.

When you hold this essay in your hands in a few weeks’ time, I know that you will look immediately at the mark I’ve written at the top of the first page. You will make assumptions about yourself, your work – perhaps even your worth – based on this number. I want to tell you not to worry about it.

How to survive marking dissertations

When I was a student, I assumed – as you probably do now – that my work was meticulously checked and appraised, with the due consideration it deserved, by erudite scholars who perhaps wore tweed.

I wonder now if it was actually marked by someone like me: a semi-employed thirtysomething on a zero-hours contract, sitting at home in pyjamas, staring at a hopeless pile of marking, as hopes of making it to the shops for a pint of milk today fade.

Your essay is one of 20 or so I’ve tackled in one sitting this afternoon. They are beginning to blur into one; a profusion of themes and things “to be noted” and endless variations on the phrase “It is interesting that...”.

I’m reading something you wrote on page two and I’m wondering if I just read an explanation of this concept on page one, or if that was in someone else’s essay. I have to go back a page, eyes swimming, and check.

Your essay does not stand alone, but becomes amalgamated with the others I’ve read so far today, all talking about the same things, with varying degrees of clarity. Your words are diluted by the ones that came before, they are lost on me even before I begin.

It should not be like this. In an ideal world, I would spend my morning carefully marking three essays at most, giving them the thought they deserve. I would spend the early afternoon wandering around a meadow picking flowers – something, anything, to clear my head so I can approach the next batch with a fresh outlook and enthusiasm.

Academic workload: a model approach

But I do not have that kind of time. I have academic work of my own; I have a job interview to prepare for; at various points of the year, I have additional employment to help tide me over. (And I’m only a part-time lecturer, I’m aware that my colleagues in full-time jobs have a lot more of this to do.)

I have cleared this bit of space in my schedule to read your essays, and I have come at them genuinely excited to see what you have found out this term, and to tell you how you can improve. I try to be thorough and write actual comments on your essay, even though I’m aware that I could probably get away with a few ticks, question marks and a cryptic “needs improvement”.

I’ve been at it all day and it is 6.20 pm. There are 11 unmarked essays. I could carry on, but I can’t make sense of anything you say any more. I have to force myself to understand anything other than the clearest, nicest writing; the kind of writing that takes me by the hand and shows me round all your ideas. (Dear student, please note: I am not so exhausted that I can’t spot nice writing. Do us both a favour and spend time on your essay. Make it good. Edit, polish, relieve my boredom and let me award you a first.)

I know that I should go back and reread a few essays to compare the marks I’ve given, but there isn’t time. I would like to look up the references you cite, to tell you if there are other gems in those books you may have missed, or suggest other interpretations, but there’s no chance. I also have a life – washing to do, family to spend time with, that sort of thing.

In this letter (which I’ve written with an aching hand) I ask three things of you:

  • Work hard on your essays. Help people like me. It’ll open your mind, and it’ll make me happy. And I really, really want to give you a first.
  • Don’t think that if you just waffle on for three pages to bring your essay up to the required word count, I won’t notice. I will.
  • Do not get too upset – or complacent – because of whatever mark you’ve got. Don’t take it too personally. I’ve tried my best to be consistent and fair, and other lecturers will moderate my marking, but really, by a certain stage, I’m just pulling numbers out of the air. (55? 58? I don’t know)

Teaching at a university means constant pressure - for about £5 an hour

Your essay does not stand alone; it’s either going to impress me or sap my energy, and if it does the latter, it affects how I read the ones which come afterwards. Too many awful essays and I can’t concentrate anymore.

The books on your reading list will tell you everything about the subject that you need to know; read them. There are also books in the library with titles like How to Write an Essay; make use of them. If you don’t understand something, come along to my office hour. I’ve gone on about it all term, and you know where that is.

All the best,

Your lecturer

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