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What Is The Best Score On The Sat Essay

You've gotten back your SAT scores. On your score report, there's information about how you did on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math, compared to students in 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!

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?

First, a quick reminder about how SAT essays are scored: two graders score each SAT essay on a scale of 1-4 across three different dimensions:

Summed together, this means your score can range between 2 and 8 for each area. There is no longer one single "total" SAT essay score, just Reading, Analysis, and Writing essay scores.

Logically, it would seem that the average SAT essay score in each domain should be a 5 (since that's halfway between 2 and 8). The most recent SAT essay score data bears this out except when it comes to the Analysis dimension.

The average SAT essay score for students graduating high school in 2017 was 5 out of 8 for Reading, 4 out of 8 for Analysis, and 5 out of 8 for Writing (source: CollegeBoard 2017 Total Group Report).

To get a better idea of how frequently different essay scores were assigned, I created several different SAT essay score distribution charts that show how many students got each essay score for Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

The data in this first chart shows the distribution of scores across all three dimensions for students who graduated high school in 2017.

 

Distribution of SAT Essay Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class

(data source for all graphs: CollegeBoard)

From this chart, we can see that there's the same general trend for the numbers of students who got various Reading and Writing scores, while there's something quite different going on with Analysis scores. Let's separate these scores out into separate graphs, starting with Reading and Writing essay scores.

 

Distribution of SAT Essay Reading Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class

 

Distribution of SAT Essay Writing Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class

If you compare the graphs for the distribution of Reading and Writing scores, you'll see a striking similarity between them when it comes to how many students got each score on Reading and Writing. There's a huge drop-off from the middle range of scores (4-6) to the upper and lower ends of the scale.

Because so many people score towards the middle on SAT Essay Reading and Writing scores, it's safe to say that if you score a 3 or below, your essay score is definitely lower than average; if you score a 5-6, your score is pretty average; and if you score a 7 or above, your score is significantly higher than average.

Things are a little murkier when it comes to the Analysis essay scores. Let's take a look.

 

Distribution of SAT Essay Analysis Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class

In contrast to the trend for Reading and Writing scores, Analysis scores are heavily skewed toward the bottom of the scale. Even though the average Analysis score for 2017 was a 4 out of 8 (which is towards the middle), the Analysis score the most students received was 2 out of 8.

Why did so many students score lower on Analysis, while still managing to do okay on Reading and Writing? The most likely answer is that the Analysis dimension is the part of the SAT essay task that is most different from what students have had to do on other standardized test essays.

Instead of giving their opinion on the passage in the SAT essay prompt, students are asked to analyze the author's opinion. While this analysis is pretty straightforward once you manage to wrap your mind around it, it is very different from what students had to do on the old SAT essay (and what students are still asked to do on the ACT essay) and other standardized essays like DBQs.

Because of the different trends for Analysis scores on the SAT essay, an Analysis score of a 6 or above puts you well above average; a score of 3-5 is solidly middle of the pack; and a score of 2 is low. If you did get a 2/8 Analysis score, the good news is that you can most likely boost it to at least a 4 (if not a 6 or higher) by reviewing these 15 SAT essay tips.

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 score first, your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores next, and your essay scores last (if they care about your SAT essay scores at all). This leads into my next point...

 

How Much Does My Essay Score Matter?

Because your essay score no longer affects your Writing section score on the SAT, the importance of the SAT Essay has decreased significantly. More and more schools are dropping the requirement for students to submit SAT with Essay scores entirely, and schools that do require the SAT Essay often place much less importance on your essay score than on your other SAT scores.

Still, there are highly competitive programs and schools that use SAT scores to place students in the appropriate level classes that require students to submit SAT Essay scores. For these kinds of schools, while your SAT essay score still won't matter as much as almost any other part of your application, you'll still want to aim for a high enough score that you're not immediately disqualified (or so that you don't get bumped down into remedial writing).

So what's the average SAT essay score you should target for more competitive schools?Our advice is to aim for at least a 6 out of 8 on Reading, Analysis, and Writing.

Higher essay scores (particularly on the Analysis dimension) are even better, but a 6 out of 8 shows that you have above-average writing skills on a standardized essay written at the end of a multihour-long test. In cases where admissions offices might wonder if your application's personal statement was a fluke, your SAT essay scores can confirm that you do have a certain level of writing ability. And the SAT essay rubric requirements to get a 6 out of 8 on each section are a pretty reasonable minimum standard for colleges to expect students to meet.

 

What If My SAT Essay Scores Are Below Average?

If you're struggling to get a 4 or above on each SAT essay section, don't despair—you're not alone, and there is hope.

Start by reading our collection of SAT essay blog articles. I recommend starting with our introduction to the new SAT essay prompts, our SAT essay tips article, and our explanation of the SAT essay rubric. Next, follow along as I write an SAT essay, step-by-step. With these four articles, you'll learn just what is required to excel in each dimension of the SAT essay and how to approach reading the prompt, analyzing the passage, and writing the essay.

For further help, you can take a look at how to create your own SAT essay templates and how to get a perfect 8/8/8 score on the SAT essay. If you're struggling with identifying how the authors of SAT essay prompts build their argument, we also go into the six most common argumentative essay devices.

Finally, if you think you'd benefit from more personalized feedback on your essay writing, you might want to try out PrepScholar SAT. You'll get to write essays on official SAT essay prompts and receive feedback from graders on what you're doing well and how you can improve and boost your score to the next level.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you know what an average SAT essay score is, what should be your target? Learn more with 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!

Do you need to submit an SAT essay score for the schools you're applying to? Find out if your schools are on the list of schools requiring the SAT with essay here.

 

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1600.

Wait, wait – not so fast! Let’s break this down a little. After all, understanding how a test is scored is absolutely vital to, well, getting the highest SAT score possible on it.

Furthermore, some of you may still be thinking: “Uh…isn’t it 2400?”
 

The Quick Answer

It used to be. Up until January 2016, the highest possible score on the SAT was 2400. As of March 2016, however, the highest possible score is now 1600, as it was for most of the twentieth century. So what gives? Were parents just protesting that they wanted to know how well they’d done in comparison to their kids?

Not exactly.  Here’s what happened:
 

The Long Answer

On the “old” (pre-March 2016) SAT, there were three sections: reading, writing, and math. Each section had a possible score of between 200 and 800, for a total composite (overall) score of between 600 and 2400. However, that writing section presented a problem. A significant amount of the score was made up of the grade students received on an essay. Anecdotal evidences indicates that many colleges reasoned that because the essay grading was subjective, the writing score was not so useful for admissions—and so they’d ignore it, making the actual score they were looking at between 400 and 1600.

The College Board, the company that makes the SAT, caught on to this (they’re pretty bright over there). They began a redesign of the test that not only made the essay a score separate from the composite score, but also reworked the test in other areas to make it more relevant to what students were learning in school and to what they’d be learning in college.
 

Highest SAT Score: Section Scores

So! Now, the multiple-choice section of the test is broken down into two categories: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (which includes both reading passages and English grammar and usage questions), and Math. Within each of these sections, you can score between 200 and 800 (“section scores”), for a total score of 400 to 1600 (“total score”).
 

SAT Subscores and Cross-Test Scores

However, you’ll also receive subscores in the Reading/Writing section: in two separate categories (Reading/Writing & Language), you’ll receive a subscore out of a possible 40 points. This also holds true for Math, though that section doesn’t have subscores.

But wait, there’s more! Now, there’ll also be “cross-test” scores, also out of 40 points. These subscores, as their name implies, cross the tests and apply to Reading, Writing, and Math—basically, any question that has a Science, History, or Social Studies context.
 

New SAT Essay Score

Whew! After all that, the new essay scoring is pretty simple: three scores between 2-8 in the categories of Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The good news, though? It’s now optional, as it is on the ACT. Heads up, though: some colleges may continue to require it.

Head spinning? We don’t blame you! Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember this:
The highest SAT score on the new test is 1600. End of story.
 

P.S…Go here for updated information on SAT Score Ranges for the Top 100 Colleges and Universities!

About Rachel Kapelke-Dale

Rachel is a TOEFL and SAT/ACT blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and is currently a doctoral candidate at University College London. She has taught the TOEFL for six years, and worked with nearly 1,000 students in that time. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. When she’s not teaching or studying, she’s either riding (horses), or writing (fiction), a pair of activities that sound so similar that it confuses even native English speakers. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!


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