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How Scorers Rate Your Essay on the SAT Writing Test

Written by CB Experts

Below you will see a prompt and two writing samples for the Writing Section of the SAT.  In the scoring process two scorers read your essay.  Your overall score is the combination of these two scorers’ ratings.

A scorer can rate an essay from 0 to 6.  Of course, you want both scorers to rate your essay 6 for an overasll score of 12. That, however, doesn’t always happen.  Of these two samples, the first received a rating of 3 from a scorer. The second received a 5. After each is an explanation for why the scorer rated as she or he did.  Maybe seeing what a scorer sees will help you earn those 6s.

First, let’s see the writing prompt, one you could see on the actual SAT.


The Prompt

Consider the following statement and assignment. Then write an essay as directed.

“I have met many people that have helped me in life, but one person who taught me the most was__________.”

Assignment: Write an essay that completes the statement above. Explain the reasons behind your choice.

Writing Sample # 1 – The Essay Which Scores a 3

I have met many people that have helped me in my life, but one person who taught me the most was a teacher I had in nineth grade. That was a very good year, because of him.

Mr. Higgins taught me algebra my freshman year. I loved his sense of humor and his way of making everyone feel comfortable. He made algebra easy for me and I wasn’t any good as a math student.

Mr. Higgins really got me through algebra. I might have failed it but he let me stay after school and work on my homework with him. If I failed a quiz he let me and others make it up. That’s probably why I passed.

The best was Mr. Higgins never made me feel stupid. He made me feel like I could learn, and he gave me the extra help. I even took another math class with him my sophmore year.

Mr. Higgins was one teacher who helped me a lot.

Evaluation of Writing Sample # 1 – This essay deserves a medium, mediocre rating.

Sample #1 has the very basic elements: an introduction and a conclusion and three body paragraphs. Its thesis sentence is a clear and supportable sentence.

But, there are major problems: The body paragraphs are not well-developed (no details and only three sentences each). There are no transitions within the paragraphs and certainly not between the paragraphs. The support, especially in the first body paragraph, does not directly or clearly relate to the thesis sentence; because this student liked Mr. Higgins does not prove Mr. Higgins was a big help to the student. There are topic sentences for each paragraph, but they, again, do not refer back to the thesis statement in the introduction.

Other errors: There is no sentence in the introduction that explains how the writer will look at the ways Mr. Higgins helped him, which might have helped the writer create better topics sentences. The conclusion restates the thesis in the introduction but has no wrap sentence. There is no sentence variation, just basic subject – verb sentences and a few compound sentences. There are misspellings: ninth and sophomore. Most of the compound sentences do not have commas, and the comma before because in the first paragraph is incorrect.

The essay is okay, not horrid. It makes sense, but is a bit simplistic and ordinary. Take out one of the body paragraphs and add a run on sentence and the essay would have scored a 2. Some scorers might be tempted to give it a 4 because it does follow the general requirements for a five-paragraph essay and because it does make sense and sounds honest. It is the disconnect from the thesis sentence that would keep the scorer from giving it a 4.

Writing Sample # 2 – The Essay Which Scores a 5

Although I hate math, it was Mr. Higgins, my ninth grade Algebra teacher who taught me the most, both in and out of school. From him I learned to study, how to earn a grade, and what a bit of discipline in your life can do for you.

When I walked into high school, I had never studied in my life, but I met one teacher whose class was not even passable until I studied, so I had to learn. My first test grade in algebra was a 35 and that was followed by worse. When I failed my first quarter of algebra, I knew driver’s ed was out of the question until I brought up my grades. Mr. Higgins offered after class study sessions, and I went. Before December, I had gotten the knack of how practicing problems, asking questions, reading the material a few times, and talking an algebra chapter over with my dad could make it so I wasn’t just walking in the dark but finding some furniture to grab onto. I was learning how to study because of Mr. Higgins harder expectations and his willingness to clue me into how to go about studying math.

I got a “B” in algebra my first semester, and I was proud. Mr. Higgins helped me see that grades are earned, they just don’t come from the sky. I had never worked for a grade. Mostly in middle school I had Bs and Cs, and I never thought about them. Now I had failed and brought my grade up to a B. It was a conscious effort. Mr. Higgins was sure to stop by my desk and congratulate me on my progress. He told me I earned it, and I believed him. I earned that B.

But the most important lesson Mr. H taught me was what some self discipline can do. He expected me to work hard and to earn what I got in his class. He showed me how to study. He was there every night after school and I was, too. It took some effort to stay after school and not go home to play ball or go somewhere with my friends. It took guts to keep trying, especially after failing. It took discipline not to blame it all on the teacher but take the responsibility on my own shoulders. I had learned both algebra and how I had some control over how well I did in algebra class.

Mr. Higgins has helped me grow up. I found out what I can do, even if I don’t really want to. That’s a powerful lesson. Thanks, Mr. H.

Evaluation of Writing Sample # 2 – This essay is strong, not perfect, but very good.

It has many strengths: It has a strong introduction that uses different words for the thesis than the prompt provides but still captures the main idea, and the introduction indicates what will follow in the body paragraphs. All the body paragraphs clearly support the thesis statement. Most of the body paragraphs’ topic sentences follow the lead in the introduction and make it clear what the paragraph will be about. (Only paragraph 2 makes you look harder.) Each body paragraph has 6 sentences which all support the topic ideas of the paragraphs, including details like test grades and times, middle school consciousness and teacher encouragement, and the student’s feelings about continuing in algebra after failure and how the student stayed after school. The details in the 2nd and 3rd body paragraphs are not as good as in the first, but they are indicated. The conclusion has a wrap and refers back to the introduction. There is a little sentence variation: When I…, Although I…, etc. And, the language is interesting here and there—Mr. H, walking in the dark… and grabbing onto furniture….

Some problems are still there: Transitions between paragraphs are weak (but, and when.) The re-statement of the thesis sentence in the conclusion is not clear or close enough to the opening thesis statement. Small errors exist like no possessive for Mr. Higgins’ expectations, capitalization of algebra once, and a run on, which is serious (…grades are earned. They just don’t come out of the sky.). And, there is some trite language, like that last phrase along with powerful lesson.

This is surely a 5 essay, unlikely a 4, but also not likely a 6—why? There is the dropped idea of both in and out of class from the thesis sentence. The details could be more vivid. There is a run on, along with punctuation problems. The conclusion is weak, and there is a lack of creative approach—this is a bit predictable.

Critiquing the essays above will make you more adept at writing. Keep the plusses and the minuses in mind as you practice to write your own essay on the big test day.

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CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.