With the many changes that have come about affecting the essay portion of both the SAT and the ACT, it is no wonder that some people are having a difficult time deciphering what it all means.
On the SAT students are evaluated out of a total of 4 possible points in three categories: analysis, reading, and writing. Each essay is graded by two graders. The scores are then averaged and added together to come up with a final score ranging from 2 to 8.
On the ACT students are evaluated out of a total of 6 possible points in 4 categories. Again, each essay is graded by two graders. The scores are averaged and then added together to come up with a final score ranging from 1 to 12.
Since both of these essay formats are relatively new, it is hard to know exactly how the scores stack up. One thing we do know for certain, though, is that scores in the middle range are common while scores on either end of the spectrum are not. On the SAT, for example, more than 80 % of test takers receive a 4, 5, or 6 on the scale of 2 to 8. On the ACT, 65 % of students receive a score of 6, 7 or 8 on the scale of 1 to 12. Furthermore, less than 5% of all test takers get a 1, 2, 11, or 12!
Why is my essay score much lower (or higher) than my other scores?
While on the other sections of the test multiple questions on different topics contribute to your score, on the writing section it is just a single essay in response to a single prompt. Because of this there is a lot more “luck” involved in the writing score than in the other scores on the test. Additionally, the writing section is graded by actual humans so there are more external factors that could affect your final score.
What do colleges expect?
On the SAT writing, it is expected that most students admitted to highly selective colleges will have a score in the 5 – 7 range (possibly closer to 4-6 for the “analysis” subscore). On the ACT, it is expected that students admitted to highly selective colleges will have a score in the 8-11 range. However, it is important to keep in mind that only about 15 % of colleges will even consider the writing score when they are reviewing applications.