The Redesigned SAT Essay Basics

Redesigned SAT Essay
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In March of 2016, the College Board administered the first Redesigned SAT test to students across the country. This new Redesigned SAT is very different from the SAT of the past! One of the major changes is the SAT essay. It is no longer required. That's right. The Redesigned SAT Essay is optional, although many colleges and universities will still require it for consideration of admissions.

This page explains what you can expect to find if you choose to take the SAT essay.

 Need even more Redesigned SAT info? Then take a peek at the Old SAT vs. Redesigned SAT chart for an easy explanation of each test's format or Redesigned SAT 101 for all the facts. 

Aim of the SAT Essay

According to the College Board, "The basic aim of the redesigned SAT’s optional Essay is to determine whether students can demonstrate college and career readiness proficiency in reading, writing, and analysis by comprehending a high- quality source text and producing a cogent and clear written analysis of that text supported by critical reasoning and evidence drawn from the source."

Format of the SAT Essay

  • 1 prompt
  • 1 650 – 750 word passage to read
  • 50 minutes
  • An assessment of three domains: Reading, Analysis and Writing on a scale from 2-8 (a combined score from two graders grading on a 1-4 scale), pending further research

The SAT Essay Prompt and Passage

No longer will the SAT Essay prompt ask for your opinion or beliefs on a particular subject.

The old SAT essay used prompts that asked you to analyze a small passage of text and respond with your viewpoint, pulling from the prompt and your experience to argue for or against an idea.

The Redesigned SAT Essay provides a high-quality, previously published passage of text that argues for or against something already.

Your job on the new essay is to analyze the author's argument. The prompt for every SAT administration will be very similar – you'll be asked to explain how the author builds an argument to persuade the audience. The prompt will inform you to study the author's use of evidence, reasoning, and stylistic and persuasive elements but you'll also be given the freedom to analyze whatever else you'd like from the passage.

You will be instructed that the SAT Essay should not, under any circumstance, tell whether or not you agree with the author. Essays that head in that direction will be graded poorly as the content will be irrelevant. Rather, the graders want to see if you can pick apart the text to determine if the author makes a great argument or not.

Skills Tested on the Redesigned SAT Essay

As you may have guessed, the Redesigned SAT Essay is assessing skills other than just writing. Here's what you'll need to be able to do:


  1. Comprehend the source text.
  2. Understand the central ideas, important details, and their interrelationship of the text.
  3. Represent the source text accurately (i.e., no errors of fact or interpretation introduced).
  4. Use textual evidence (quotations, paraphrases, or both) to demonstrate understanding of the source text.


    1. Analyze the source text and understand the analytical task.
    2. Evaluate the author’s use of evidence, reasoning, and/or stylistic and persuasive elements, and/or features chosen by the student.
    3. Support your claims or points made in the response.
    4. Focus on features of the text most relevant to addressing the task.


    1. Use a central claim. (Did the author provide a solid argument or not?)
    2. Effectively organize and progress ideas.
    3. Vary sentence structure.
    4. Employ precise word choice.
    5. Maintain a consistent, appropriate style and tone.
    6. Demonstrate a command of the conventions of standard written English.

    Preparing for the Redesigned SAT Essay

    The College Board is working with the Khan Academy to offer free test prep for any student interested in practicing for the Redesigned SAT. Woo-hoo! In addition, test prep companies like Kaplan, The Princeton Review and others have put together test prep books to help get students ready for this test.


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    Roell, Kelly. "The Redesigned SAT Essay Basics." ThoughtCo, Dec. 5, 2016, Roell, Kelly. (2016, December 5). The Redesigned SAT Essay Basics. Retrieved from Roell, Kelly. "The Redesigned SAT Essay Basics." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 23, 2018).