What is the SAT Essay?
The SAT essay is an analytical essay that is quite similar to the AP Language rhetorical analysis essay. The SAT essay tasks students with reading a 700 word passage and evaluating the author’s argument through a written response. Similar to the AP Language essay, you’ll need to identify and analyze the ways the author uses evidence, reasoning, and other rhetorical devices to craft his or her argument. In other words, you’ll need to identify the point the author is making and the methods they use to make that point. A standard 5 paragraph essay in which you choose 3 rhetorical devices and focus on one in each body paragraph will suffice.
Do not summarize the passage. Do not give your personal opinion on the topic.
Should I take the SAT Essay?
Each of the Ivy League schools and almost all of the selective liberal arts schools neither require nor recommend the essay. Two notable exceptions are Amherst College and Occidental College, which both “recommend” the essay. We’ll get into what that means more in a minute. That said, some colleges do require the essay and will consider your application incomplete if you apply with only the SAT without Essay. See the list at the bottom of this blog to check which schools have this requirement.
In short, if you want to apply to a school that requires the essay, then you must take it!
If you want to apply to a school that recommends the essay, you should probably take it. While it is unlikely that not taking the essay will significantly affect your chance at being admitted to these schools, if you score well, it could give your candidacy a boost, which could help you.
I would say that the only exception to this is if you know you are a bad timed writer. If writing the SAT essay would show a great weakness in your academic abilities, then it might be best to skip it.
What if I don’t know where I want to apply?
Because most students make decisions about testing before they’ve finalized their college lists, the safe choice is to take the SAT with essay at least once. In these cases, we at Streamline recommend taking the SAT without essay the first time and with the essay the second. That way, you can focus on what’s most important for all schools first. If once you’ve finalized your list, you realize none of your schools require it, they will not even have the opportunity to see your essay score. If some of your schools “recommend” it, they will be able to view your essay score, so you should definitely try your best! Check out this blog, which makes the case for taking the essay (even if you don’t want to!).
*This list only includes the top 100 National Universities and top 50 liberal arts colleges according to US News.