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Do the ACT and SAT Essays Matter?

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We’ve talked a lot about how the ACT and SAT essays are poor representations of the kind of writing that students are expected to do in college. Creativity, vocabulary, and solid evidence matter less than proficiency in cranking out a formulaic essay that checks off the boxes on the scoring rubric does. An essay can include grammatical errors, factual inaccuracies, and logical inconsistencies and still receive a score of 10 to 12. Because the ACT and SAT essays are such inaccurate reflections of a student’s actual writing skill, you may be wondering if the scores even matter. Do colleges take them seriously when considering applications? The short answer is “maybe.” The longer answer is that it depends on the school(s) you want to attend and the field(s) that you wish to major in.

The first question you should ask yourself is if the colleges and universities that you would like to attend even require a certain essay score as a baseline for admission. The next question should be if the essay score is important to or required for your desired major. A pre-med or science program might consider only the total combined score of Reading, Writing, and Math (or even just Reading and Math) on the SAT. If, on the other hand, you plan to major in something like English or creating writing, the essay score might be significantly more important.

If the essay is important to your college and/or major, check out the blogs that we’ve written on acing the ACT and SAT essays. If you’re still struggling after reading these, and you live in the Metro Atlanta area, one of the Learning Island’s experienced tutors can walk you through how to improve your ACT or SAT essay score.

Even if your college/major of choice doesn’t care about your essay score, you should not necessarily ignore the essay section entirely. Some colleges simply want proof that you have taken the essay, period. They’re essentially looking for assurance that you can write on-topic and coherently enough to get a score greater than zero.

Which exam you are taking also matters. The ACT essay is optional and does not influence the numerical score you receive on ACT English (the ACT’s multiple-choice writing section). If a college just wants you to provide evidence that you have taken the essay, you can literally flunk the Writing (essay) section without it negatively affecting your multiple choice score.

If you’re taking the SAT and your Writing section score is a factor in your admission, you still need to prepare for the essay to a certain extent. Approximately 70 percent of your Writing score comes from the multiple choice questions. The remaining 30 percent is influenced by your essay grade. Assuming that you answer every multiple choice Writing question correctly and receive a 6 on your essay (3 from each grader), you will still receive an overall score greater than 700.  Even a zero on the essay can still earn you a Writing score in the low 600s, provided that you only answer a couple of multiple choice questions incorrectly.

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