Sat Writing Essay Score 81

SAT Essay scores for the new SAT are confusing to interpret, in part, because the College Board has intentionally given them little context. By combining College Board and student data, Compass has produced a way for students to judge essay performance, and we answer many of the common questions about the essay.

Why are there no percentiles for the essay on an SAT score report?

No percentiles or norms are provided in student reports. Even colleges do not receive any summary statistics. Given Compass’ concerns about the inaccuracy of essay scoring and the notable failures of the ACT on that front, the de-emphasis of norms would seem to be a good thing. The problem is that 10% of colleges are sticking with the SAT Essay as an admission requirement. While those colleges will not receive score distribution reports from the College Board, it is not difficult for them to construct their own statistics — officially or unofficially — based on thousands of applicants. Colleges can determine a “good score,” but students cannot. This asymmetry of information is harmful to students, as they are left to speculate how well they have performed and how their scores will be interpreted. Through our analysis, Compass hopes to provide students and parents more context for evaluating SAT Essay scores.

How has scoring changed? Is it still part of a student’s Total Score?

On the old SAT, the essay was a required component of the Writing section and made up approximately one-third of a student’s 200-800 score. The essay score itself was simply the sum (2-12) of two readers’ 1-6 scores. Readers were expected to grade holistically and not to focus on individual components of the writing. The SAT essay came under a great deal of criticism for being too loosely structured. Factual accuracy was not required; it was not that difficult to make pre-fabricated material fit the prompt; many colleges found the 2-12 essay scores of little use; and the conflation of the essay and “Writing” was, in some cases, blocking the use of the SAT Writing score — which included grammar and usage — entirely.

With the 2016 overhaul of the SAT came an attempt to make the essay more academically defensible while also making it optional (as the ACT essay had long been). The essay score is not a part of the 400-1600 score. Instead, a student opting to take the SAT Essay receives 2-8 scores in three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. No equating or fancy lookup table is involved. The scores are simply the sum of two readers’ 1-4 ratings in each dimension. There is no official totaling or averaging of scores, although colleges may choose to do so.


Readers avoid extremes

What is almost universally true about grading of standardized test essays is that readers gravitate to the middle of the scale. The default instinct is to nudge a score above or below a perceived cutoff or midpoint rather than to evenly distribute scores. When the only options are 1, 2, 3, or 4, the consequence is predictable — readers give out a lot of 2s and 3s and very few 1s and 4s. In fact, our analysis shows that a80% of all reader scores are 2s or 3s. This, in turn, means that most of the dimension scores (the sum of the two readers) range from 4 to 6. Analysis scores are outliers. A third of readers give essays a 1 in Analysis. Below is the distribution of reader scores across all dimensions.

What is a good SAT Essay score?

By combining multiple data sources — including extensive College Board scoring information — Compass has estimated the mean and mode (most common) essay scores for students at various score levels. We also found that the reading and writing dimensions were similar, while analysis scores lagged by a point across all sub-groups. These figures should not be viewed as cutoffs for “good” scores. The loose correlation of essay score to Total Score and the high standard deviation of essay scores means that students at all levels see wide variation of scores. The average essay-taking student scores a 1,080 on the SAT and receives just under a 5/4/5.


We would advise students to use these results only as broad benchmarks. It would not be at all unusual to score a point below these means. Scores that are consistently 2 or more points below the means may be more of a concern.

College Board recently released essay results for the class of 2017, so score distributions are now available. From these, percentiles can also be calculated. We provide these figures with mixed feelings. On the one hand, percentile scores on such an imperfect measure can be highly misleading. On the other hand, we feel that students should understand the full workings of essay scores.

The role of luck

What is frustrating to many students on the SAT and ACT is that they can score 98th percentile in most areas and then get a “middling” score on the essay. This result is actually quite predictable. Whereas math and verbal scores are the result of dozens of objective questions, the essay is a single question graded subjectively. To replace statistical concepts with a colloquial one — far more “luck” is involved than on the multiple-choice sections. What text is used in the essay stimulus? How well will the student respond to the style and subject matter? Which of the hundreds of readers were assigned to grade the student’s essay? What other essays has the reader recently scored?

Even good writers run into the unpredictability involved and the fact that essay readers give so few high scores. A 5 means that the Readers A and B gave the essay a 2 and a 3, respectively. Which reader was “right?” If the essay had encountered two readers like Reader A, it would have received a 4. If the essay had been given two readers like Reader B, it would have received a 6. That swing makes a large difference if we judge scores exclusively by percentiles, but essay scores are simply too blurry to make such cut-and-dry distinctions. More than 80% of students receive one of three scores — 4, 5, or 6 on the reading and writing dimensions and 3, 4, or 5 on analysis.

What do colleges expect?

It’s unlikely that many colleges will release a breakdown of essay scores for admitted students — especially since so few are requiring it. What we know from experience with the ACT, though, is that even at the most competitive schools in the country, the 25th-75th percentile scores of admitted students were 8-10 on the ACT’s old 2-12 score range. We expect that things will play out similarly for the SAT and that most students admitted to highly selective colleges will have domain scores in the 5-7 range (possibly closer to 4-6 for analysis). It’s even less likely for students to average a high score across all three areas than it is to obtain single high mark. We estimate that only a fraction of a percent of students will average an 8 — for example [8/8/8, 7/8/8, 8/7/8, or 8,8,7].

Update as of October 2017. The University of California system has published the 25th-75th percentile ranges for enrolled students. It has chosen to work with total scores. The highest ranges — including those at UCLA and Berkeley — are 17-20. Those scores are inline with our estimates above.

How will colleges use the domain scores?

Colleges have been given no guidance by College Board on how to use essay scores for admission. Will they sum the scores? Will they average them? Will they value certain areas over others? Chances are that if you are worrying too much about those questions, then you are likely losing sight of the bigger picture. We know of no cases where admission committees will make formulaic use of essay scores. The scores are a very small, very error-prone part of a student’s testing portfolio.

How low is too low?

Are 3s and 4s, then, low enough that an otherwise high-scoring student should retest? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. In general, it is a mistake to retest solely to improve an essay score unless a student is confident that the SAT Total Score can be maintained or improved. A student with a 1340 PSAT and 1280 SAT may feel that it is worthwhile to bring up low essay scores because she has previously shown that she can do better on the Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math, as well. A student with a 1400 PSAT and 1540 SAT should think long and hard before committing to a retest. Admission results from the class of 2017 may give us some added insight into the use of SAT Essay scores.

Will colleges continue to require the SAT Essay?

For the class of 2017, Compass has prepared a list of the SAT Essay and ACT Writing policies for 360 of the top colleges. Several of the largest and most prestigious public university systems — California, Michigan, and Texas, for example, still require the essay, and a number of highly competitive private colleges do the same — for example, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

The number of excellent colleges not requiring the SAT Essay, though, is long and getting longer. Compass expects even more colleges to drop the essay requirement for the classes of 2018 and 2019. Policies are typically finalized in late spring or during the summer.

Should I skip the essay entirely?

A common question regarding SAT scores is whether the whole mess can be avoided by skipping the essay. After all, if only about 10% of colleges are requiring the section, is it really that important? Despite serious misgivings about the test and the ways scores are interpreted, Compass still recommends that most students take the essay unless they are certain that they will not be applying to any of the colleges requiring or recommending it. Nationally, about 70% of students choose to take the essay on at least one SAT administration. When looking at higher scoring segments, that quickly rises to 85-90%. Almost all Compass students take the SAT Essay at least once to insure that they do not miss out on educational opportunities.

Should I prepare for the SAT Essay?

Most Compass students decide to do some preparation for the essay, because taking any part of a test “cold” can be an unpleasant experience, and students want to avoid feeling like a retake is necessary. In addition to practicing exercises and tests, most students can perform well enough on the SAT Essay after 1-2 hours of tutoring. Students taking a Compass practice SAT will also receive a scored essay. Students interested in essay writing tips for the SAT can refer to Compass blog posts on the difference between the ACT and SAT tasks and the use of first person on the essays.

Will I be able to see my essay?

Yes. ACT makes it difficult to obtain a copy of your Writing essay, but College Board includes it as part of your online report.

Will colleges have access to my essay? Even if they don’t require it?

Yes, colleges are provided with student essays. We know of very few circumstances where SAT Essay reading is regularly conducted. Colleges that do not require the SAT Essay fall into the “consider” and “do not consider” camps. Schools do not always list this policy on their website or in their application materials, so it is hard to have a comprehensive list. We recommend contacting colleges for more information. In general, the essay will have little to no impact at colleges that do not require or recommend it.

Is the SAT Essay a reason to take the ACT instead?

Almost all colleges that require the SAT Essay require Writing for ACT-takers. The essays are very different on the two tests, but neither can be said to be universally “easier” or “harder.” Compass recommends that the primary sections of the tests determine your planning. Compass’ content experts have also written a piece on how to attack the ACT essay.

Key links in this post:

ACT and SAT essay requirements
ACT Writing scores explained
Comparing ACT and SAT essay tasks
The use of first person in ACT and SAT essays
Understanding the “audience and purpose” of the ACT essay
Compass proctored practice testing for the ACT, SAT, and Subject Tests

 

 

If you took the SAT from 2008-2010, you may be wondering what your percentile score is on the SAT. Is a 2000 on the SAT in 2010 the same percentile score as a 2000 in 2008? Do percentile scores change over time?

In this article, I will explain SAT percentile scores, how they change, and I'll provide the percentile scores for SAT combined scores and section scores for 2010, 2009, and 2008.

  

What Are Percentile Scores?

Percentile scores reveal how well you did in relation to other people. If you scored in the 99th percentile, then you did better than 99% of the people who took the test. If you scored in the 40th percentile, then you scored higher than 40% of the people who took the test.

The College Board determines its percentile scores annually from the scores of college-bound high school seniors who took the SAT. The higher your percentile score, the better you did relative to other high school seniors

 

Do Percentile Scores Change?

Generally, percentile scores for equivalent SAT scores stay the same from year to year. For example, a combined SAT score of 1800 was the 81st percentile in 2010, 2009, and 2008.

However, percentile scores for the same combined and section scores can change very slightly. A combined score of 2100 was the 96th percentile in 2010, but it was the 97th percentile in 2009 and 2008. Similarly, a score of 640 on Critical Reading was the 88th percentile in 2010 and 2009, but it was the 87th percentile in 2008.

The SAT does try to utilize its scoring system so that equivalent SAT scores are indicative of the same percentile scores and skill level, regardless of when the test was taken. The purpose of the SAT is to provide a valid way to compare students. A score of 1700 from April 2015 is supposed to be equivalent to a 1700 from both May 2015 and May 2007

 

How Should You Use This Data and Why Is It Important?

Your percentile score is the most straightforward way to determine if you got a good or bad SAT score. If you scored higher than the majority of test-takers, then you did well. However, when you apply to a specific college, you're being compared to the other students who apply to that school. Most colleges publicize their 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores. If you want to be competitive for admission at a certain college, then your target score should be around the school's 75th percentile score.

Also, percentile scores help put your scores in context. There may not seem to be much difference between a 680 on the Critical Reading section and a 600 on Math, but that Critical Reading score is the 93rd percentile while the Math score is the 74th or 75th. Raising each section score by 100 points would raise the Critical Reading percentile ranking by 6 points but the Math by about 15. If you're considering retaking the SAT, your percentile scores can help you determine how you should prioritize your time.

Similarly, a small composite score increase can have a huge impact on your percentile score if you received a middle score. For example, a 1520 is the 51st or 52nd percentile but a 1760 is the 77th or 78th. Raising your score 250 points can raise your score from average to among the top 1/4 of test-takers.

Finally, seeing the percentile scores for multiple years shows how little variance there is between percentile scores for the same SAT composite or section score in different years. If you're worried about how an older SAT score stacks up with more recent scores, take a look at these charts to get an idea of how it compares.

 

 Frii Spray/flickr

 

Composite Score Percentiles, 2008-2010

Score2010 Percentile2009 Percentile2008 Percentile
240099+99+99+
239099+99+99+
238099+99+99+
237099+99+99+
236099+99+99+
235099+99+99+
234099+99+99+
233099+99+99+
232099+99+99+
231099+99+99+
230099+99+99+
229099+99+99+
228099+9999
2270999999
2260999999
2250999999
2240999999
2230999999
2220999999
2210999999
2200999999
2190989898
2180989898
2170989898
2160989898
2150989898
2140989798
2130979797
2120979797
2110979797
2100979797
2090969696
2080969696
2070969696
2060959595
2050959595
2040959595
2030949494
2020949494
2010949494
2000939393
1990939393
1980929292
1970929292
1960919191
1950919191
1940909090
1930909090
1920898989
1910898989
1900888888
1890878788
1880878787
1870868686
1860858686
1850858585
1840848484
1830838384
1820828383
1810828282
1800818181
1790808080
1780797980
1770787979
1760777878
1750767777
1740757676
1730757575
1720747474
1710737373
1700727272
1690717171
1680707070
1670686969
1660676868
1650666767
1640656666
1630646565
1620636464
1610626362
1600616261
1590596160
1580585959
1570575858
1560565757
1550545655
1540535554
1530525353
1520515252
1510495151
1500485049
1490474948
1480464747
1470444646
1460434544
1450424443
1440414242
1430394141
1420384039
1410373938
1400363737
1390353636
1380333535
1370323433
1360313332
1350303231
1340293030
1330282929
1320262828
1310252727
1300242626
1290232525
1280222424
1270212323
1260202222
1250192121
1240182019
1230181918
1220171817
1210161717
1200151616
1190141515
1180131414
1170131413
1160121313
1150111212
1140111111
113010111
112091010
11109109
1100899
1090888
1080788
1070777
1060677
1050666
1040566
1030565
1020555
1010455
1000444
990444
980344
970333
960333
950333
940333
930222
920222
910222
900222
890222
880121
870111
860111
850111
840111
830111
820111
810111
800111
790111
7801-1-1-
7701-1-1-
7601-1-1-
7501-1-1-
7401-1-1-
7301-1-1-
7201-1-1-
7101-1-1-
7001-1-1-
6901-1-1-
6801-1-1-
6701-1-1-
6601-1-1-
6501-1-1-
6401-1-1-
6301-1-1-
6201-1-1-
6101-1-1-
600------

 

 

 

                                                                           Enokson/flickr

 

Section Score Percentiles

Here are the percentile scores for each section for 2008-2010.

 

Critical Reading

Score2010 Percentile2009 Percentile2008 Percentile
80099 9999
79099 99 99 
78099 99 99 
77099 99 99 
76099 99 99 
75098 98 98 
74098 98 98 
73097 97 97 
72097 97 96 
71096 96 96 
70095 95 95
69094 94 94 
68093 93 93 
67092 92 92 
66091 91 90 
65089 89 89 
64088 88 87 
63086 85 85 
62084 84 83 
61082 82 82 
60080 79 79 
59077 77 77 
58075 75 74 
57072 72 71 
56069 69 68 
55066 66 65 
54063 63 62 
53059 60 58 
52056 56 55 
51053 53 51 
50050 49 48 
49046 46 44 
4804242 41 
47039 39 37 
46035 36 34 
45032 32 31 
44029 28 27 
43026 26 25 
42023 22 22 
41020 20 19 
40017 17 17 
39015 15 15 
38013 13 12 
37011 11 10 
360
350
340
3305
320
310
300
290
280
270
260
250
240
230
220
210
200-- -- -- 

 

 

Mathematics

Score2010 Percentiles2009 Percentiles2008 Percentiles
800999999
790999999
780999999
770989899
760989898
750979798
740979797
730969697
720959596
710949495
700939493
690929292
680909191
670898989
660878888
650858586
640848383
630828181
620807979
610777776
600757474
590727271
580706968
570666766
560646363
550616160
540585856
530545553
520515150
510484847
500454543
490414140
480383836
470353533
460313130
450282827
440262625
430232322
420202019
410171716
400151514
390131312
380111111
370999
360887
350666
340565
330454
320444
310333
300223
290222
280122
270111
260111
250111
240111
23011-1
2201-1-1
2101-1-1-
200------

 

 

Writing

Score2010 Percentiles2009 Percentiles2008 Percentiles
80099+99+99+
7909999+99+
780999999
770999999
760989999
750989999
740989898
730989898
720979797
710969697
700969696
690959595
680949494
670939393
660929292
650909090
640898989
630878787
620868585
610848483
600828181
590797979
580777776
570757473
560727271
550696968
540666664
530636362
520605958
510575654
500535251
490504947
480464644
470434240
460393937
450363533
440323230
430292927
420252523
410222220
400191918
390171715
380141413
370121211
36010109
350887
340776
330555
320444
310443
300333
290222
280212
270111
260111
250111
240111
230111
2201-1-1-
2101-1-1-
200------

 

 

What's Next?

Check out the SAT historical percentiles for 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011, and learn more about how to understand your SAT scores. Also, you may be interested in this post about whether SAT scores predict success.

Finally, read this article if you're wondering if you need SAT scores to transfer colleges.  

 

Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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