SAT essay exam test section

What’s tested on the SAT Essay section?

The SAT Essay Test will assess your college and career readiness by testing your abilities to read and analyze a high-quality source document and write a coherent analysis of the source supported with critical reasoning and evidence from the given text.

The SAT Essay Test features an argumentative source text of 650–750 words aimed toward a large audience. Passages will examine ideas, debates, and shifts in the arts and sciences as well as civic, cultural, and political life. Rather than having a simple for/against structure, these passages will be nuanced and will relate views on complex subjects. These passages will also be logical in their structure and reasoning.

Keep in mind:

  • The SAT Essay is optional — but some schools will require it.
  • You have 50 minutes to complete your essay.
  • You won’t be asked to agree or disagree with a position on a topic or to write about your personal experience.
  • Prior knowledge is not required; all the information you need to write your essay will be included in the passage or in notes about it.

The SAT Essay Prompt

The prompt (question) shown below, or a nearly identical one, is used for every essay question.

As you read the passage below, consider how [the author] uses evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.

  • evidence, such as facts or examples, to support claims.
  • reasoning to develop ideas and to connect claims and evidence.
  • stylistic or persuasive elements, such as word choice or appeals to emotion, to add power to the ideas expressed.


Write an essay in which you explain how [the author] builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience that [author’s claim]. In your essay, analyze how [the author] uses one or more of the features listed above (or features of your own choice) to strengthen the logic and persuasiveness of [his/her] argument. Be sure that your analysis focuses on the most relevant features of the passage.Your essay should not explain whether you agree with [the author’s] claims, but rather explain how the author builds an argument to persuade [his/her] audience.

All passages that are given have these things in common:

  • Written for a broad audience
  • Argue a point
  • Express subtle views on complex subjects
  • Use logical reasoning and evidence to support claims
  • Examine ideas, debates, or trends in the arts and sciences, or civic, cultural, or political life
  • Always taken from published works

The SAT Essay Test will be broken down into three categories for scoring: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Each of these elements will be scored on a scale of 1 to 4 by two graders, for a total score of 2 to 8 for each category.


Wondering what is tested on the SAT Reading and Writing section? Find out here. For information about the SAT Math section, click here.