(This is the first of two articles about the new SAT. Part two, “The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section,” will follow next month, so be sure to check back.)

In March, 2016, the College Board released a newly designed SAT. One major change that comes with the new SAT is an optional essay. Before this spring, the essay was a mandatory part of the test; it is now up to the tester whether he or she opts to write the essay. Our advice: Write the essay! Read more to learn why.

In this blog, All About Writing provides an overview of the new SAT essay, as well as a general comparison of the old and new SAT versions.

Again, we stress that we advise almost all students to take the essay, and for several reasons: the new essay is more attainable than the old SAT’s essay; many colleges will require it, despite it being optional; choosing to write the essay shows initiative and rising to the challenge; and taking the essay from the start avoids having to take that portion of the test at a later date if a college you later decide to apply to requires it.

The new SAT essay prompt provides clear instructions as to what students must include in their essays, which is a good reminder come test day. The new prompt’s consistency (only the passage changes, not the writing task) also allows for plenty of streamlined practice and predictability before taking the test.

General Overview of New SAT Essay:

The new SAT…

  • Is optional (many schools require it, so it is suggested that students take it, plus choosing to write the essay shows ambition)
  • Allows 50 minutes to prewrite, write, and revise responses (instead of the inadequate 25-minute time limit imposed for the old SAT essay)
  • Adds an additional score to the evidence-based reading/writing and math scores
  • Is assessed by two scorers who each give a 1 to 4 score in 3 separate areas: reading, analysis, and writing; the total score range for a student is 6 to 24)
  • Resembles an expository text analysis prompt students are already familiar with doing in their classes (the 5-paragraph structure with an introduction, conclusion, and 3 body paragraphs in between works well)
  • Presents a prompt question that is almost identical on every test and includes detailed instructions about the writer’s task and elements that need to be included in the response; only the passage changes, which allows for predictable preparation and focused practice
  • Prompt passages span different genres, covering topics such as the sciences, the arts, culture, politics, government, and civic life
  • Students will have to analyze how well the writer of the passage presents and builds a persuasive argument, with consideration for the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements (these should be included in the student’s essay)
  • Students are scored in three areas: reading (how well they understood the passage and referenced main ideas and key points from the passage), analysis (how well the student discussed the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and stylistic or persuasive elements to build his or her argument), and writing (how well the student executed proper writing skills, language use, sentence structure, writing focus, and organization).
  • Students must include text support and references to the text as evidence in their responses; student responses do not choose a side or agree or disagree with the author.

Remember, All About Writing suggests that students take the optional essay in case they later decide to apply to a school that requires it. It is a good idea for students to check the SAT essay requirements for all colleges they made apply to down the road.

General Overview, Old SAT vs. New SAT (as of March, 2016):


Old SAT: 2400 max. including essay

New SAT: 1600 max. with separate essay score of 6 to 24


Old SAT: 3 hours, 45 min. (including 25-min. essay)

New SAT: 3 hours (plus 50-min. optional essay)


Old SAT: Critical reading, writing, math, and essay

New SAT: Evidence-based reading, writing/language, math, and optional essay


Old SAT: -1/4 point guessing penalty

New SAT: No guessing penalty


Old SAT: Print only

New SAT: Print or computer options

Here is a detailed breakdown of what to expect for each section of the new SAT:

  • one 65-minute/52-question reading section (5 passages with 10 to 11 multiple-choice questions per passage)
  • one 35-minute/44-question writing and language section (combined with the reading section to make one score for evidence-based reading and writing/language;4 passages with 11 multiple choice questions per passage)
  • one 55-minute/38-question math section with a calculator
  • one 25-minute/20-question math section without a calculator
  • one 50-minute optional essay prompt (remember to take it!)

For the College Board’s overview of the newly designed SAT essay and sample passages and prompts, visit https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/inside-the-test/essay.

For the new SAT essay scoring rubric, take a look at https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/scores/understanding-scores/essay.

To register to take the SAT, or for more general information on the SAT and its recent changes, go to https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat.

All About Writing offers SAT tutoring for the essay and evidence-based reading/writing portions of the newly redesigned exam, in addition to academic writing and college admission essay assistance throughout all phases of the processes. We provide students with plenty of essay writing pointers, strategies, and practice that build test-day confidence.

Here is a link to our “Academic Papers and College Admission Application Essays” website page for more information on these specific services: https://allaboutwritingconsulting.com/academic-papers-and-college-admission-application-essays/.

Learn more about All About Writing, Howell, NJ and owner Christa Riddle by clicking here. Remember, with All About Writing, writing help is just a call or click away!

Call us today to eliminate the unnecessary stress surrounding the SATs and college application essays. Put our expertise to work for you!

-by Christa Riddle


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