• SAT Essay Readers: What They Do and How They Do It

• Essay Scores: What the Numbers Tell You

• Sample SAT Essay Questions and Student Responses

• Essay Topics for Practice

How Essays Are Judged and Graded

Your essay will be evaluated on a scale of 6 (best) to 1 (worst). Evaluators are trained to read the essays quickly, or holistically. That is, they’ll avoid the “Gotcha! Syndrome”—hunting down every little error. Rather, they’ll read for an overall impression of your writing. Knowing that your essay has been composed in under half an hour, they won’t hold minor mistakes against you and won’t deduct a certain amount for every error in grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

Naturally, an essay that’s mostly correct will make a better impression than one that’s full of mistakes. Like other readers, evaluators enjoy good writing and delight in thoughtful, neatly phrased ideas. They abhor empty platitudes and know in an instant when a writer is throwing the bull.

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SAT readers won’t hold minor mistakes against you.

Evaluators will approach your essay with a positive mind set, prepared to reward you for what you’ve done well. When reading your essay, they’ll compare it to other essays written on the same topic at the same time. Your essay, in other words, won’t be competing against some ideal essay written by a professional author.

Handwriting is not supposed to count in the evaluation. But think about this: If readers have trouble deciphering your penmanship, several things can happen. Frustration may cause them to be unfavorably disposed toward the essay. They won’t give you the benefit of the doubt about spelling or grammar if the letters are malformed or difficult to read. When readers are forced to stop regularly to puzzle out the words, your flow of ideas will be interrupted—with adverse effects. Unreadable essays will be given no credit at all. At this stage in your life, it may be difficult to change your penmanship. But if you know that teachers and others have a problem interpreting your script, try to slow down as you form the letters, or as a last resort, print clearly. For most people printing is slower than cursive writing, but with practice you can increase your speed.