Most adults today can remember an SAT that had no written essay portion, since that section wasn’t added until March 2005. One wonders if the folks at the College Board wish they could return to that carefree era, back when the SAT dominated the college admissions landscape and before their rivals in Iowa City seemed to outflank them at every turn. Yet, given the chance to minimize the role of a writing sample or excise from the SAT entirely, the College Board instead appears to be doubling down on the essay.
To date, the essays on both the SAT and ACT have been exercises in persuasive writing. The redesigned SAT moves into uncharted territory by requiring students to produce a cogent and clear written analysis, based on both critical reasoning and evidence drawn from the source, of a provided text. No more will students be asked to manufacture evidence on the fly when everything they’ll need will be right in front of them.
Many students who have traditionally struggled with the impromptu position piece demanded by the current SAT may prefer the new analytical writing assignment. However, nobody will likely approve of the extended length of the essay, now 50 minutes instead of 25. On the bright side, at least the essay will be optional, at least as far as the College Board is concerned. For any college that requires the essay, this section is mandatory.
Interestingly, this portion of the test is still considered provisional pending further research. The current scoring rubric departs from the existing 1-6 scale in favor of a 1-4 scale across three analytic domains: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Each essay will ostensibly be scored by two graders for combined scores of 2-8.
(From Test Specifications for the Redesigned SAT)
WHAT’S THE SAME?
The SAT Essay is, in part, a test of extemporaneous writing skill and understand the relationship between claims and evidence.
So much is changed from the previous version of the essay. Not only is this essay optional, but students have twice as much time to work on it. Instead of requiring students to write a persuasive essay, the new SAT assigns them to analyze a persuasive essay.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
This may be the least impactful revision as far as colleges are concerned. Many schools ignored the essay even when it was a very familiar and mandatory part of the test. How that the essay explores new ground, involves a new scoring paradigm, takes twice as long, and is optional, colleges are likely to study the essay before factoring its scores into admissions decisions. From a student standpoint, the grueling length of the essay will be discouraging to say the least.