ACT & SAT Essay Sections: What should you know?

UPDATE: Following the June 2021 SAT, College Board is discontinuing the SAT essay section.

People often forget that there is a fifth section to both the ACT and the SAT: an essay. Here are some common questions we are asked regarding this lesser known fifth section:

What is the ACT Writing Section?

  • The ACT Writing Section asks students to write a well-reasoned persuasive essay, arguing their stance on a broad contemporary topic. 

  • The ACT Writing Section comes at the very end of the test and is 40 minutes long.

What is the SAT Essay Section?

  • The SAT Essay asks students to read an article and write a rhetorical analysis essay, analyzing how the author constructs their argument. 

  • The SAT Essay comes at the very end of the test as well, and students are given 50 minutes.

Are the ACT & SAT essays required?

  • For both the ACT & the SAT, the essay is the only optional part of the test. When registering for the ACT or the SAT, you will have the option as to whether or not you would like to sign up for ACT with the Writing Section or the SAT with the Essay. Selecting the essay does increase the price for both the ACT and the SAT.

  • For both the ACT Writing Section & the SAT Essay, the essay’s score is NOT factored into the overall composite score. In other words, what you score on the essay (ACT out of 12 & SAT out of 8) will have no effect on your total score (ACT out of 36 & SAT out of 1600).

Should you sign up to take the essay portion of the test?

  • Select schools do still require the ACT or SAT essay score as a part of the admissions process.* While not everyone requires the ACT or SAT essay score, several schools still recommend submitting your essay score. Be sure to check with the schools to which you’d like to apply. What are their specific testing admissions guidelines?

  • Generally, we advise that students sign up for the essay portion of their respective test, especially if they are not yet sure to which colleges they will be applying. In the past, we have seen students scramble to retake the ACT or SAT in order to meet an essay requirement for college admissions. 

*NOTE: As we deal with the changes in admissions policies due to the COVID-19 crisis, it is likely that for the Class of 2021 the essay requirement will be dropped or made “optional”  for many of the universities that previously required it. Submitting the essay score would be included under any “testing optional” policies.

What is a good essay score?

  • The ACT Writing Section is scored on a 2-12 scale. For the ACT, scoring an 8 on the essay would put you in the 90th percentile. Scoring a 10 or higher would place you in the 99th percentile.

  • The SAT Essay is scored on a 2-8 scale, and you receive 3 separate scores (Reading, Analysis, Writing)--8, 8, 8 would be the highest score you could receive. For the SAT Essay, there is no composite score, and there are no percentiles. Scoring a 6 or above on Reading, Analysis, and Writing would be nicely above the average. 

Have additional questions about the ACT or SAT essays? Please let us know!

Back to blog