3 Things You’ll Be Happy to Read About the 2016 SAT Essay Change

Earlier this month, College Board publicized that the SAT essay will undergo a redesign and will be made an optional part of the exam. This SAT overhaul is scheduled to go into effect 2016. This is a good thing.

Many educators have shared some not-so-positive thoughts about the current SAT essay, including Noodle’s very own CEO John Katzman.

If you’re taking the SAT prior to 2016, then you’ll need to read up on tips to ace the essay portion of the exam. But if you know you’ll be taking this test in two years, here’s what the essay change will mean for you:

1. No more formulaic-speed-writing on totally obscure topics.

One of the major complaints of the current essay is that it does not actually measure your ability to write well, but your ability to write fast, at length, and to make things up. Les Perelman, a retired writing director at M.I.T., discovered that the major factor in scoring highly on the SAT essay was length. Regardless of what a student wrote, longer essays received higher scores. He also found that factual accuracy doesn’t matter and that utilizing uncommon words like “plethora” or “myriad,” even if used incorrectly, often won points with graders. Perelman used the results of his research to coach students to achieve high scores on the essay, but discouraged them from writing like that ever again. And for good reason, too. It’s more beneficial to learn that writing involves a long process — which requires thinking, drafting, and endless revision — because it’s that type of process that will ultimately prepare you to write well later in college.

2. The new essay covers stuff you’ve actually studied.

College Board has shifted the essay focus from reflection into a detailed analysis of a passage. “In the redesigned SAT we will ask students to analyze the core argument of a source document for its use of evidence, reasoning, and persuasive or stylistic technique,” said College Board President David Coleman in a speech announcing the changes. According to Coleman, the new essay more closely mirrors reading lesson plans taught in high school and college. So, in theory, without any additional tutoring you should be able to walk into the exam, read the passage, identify an author’s main argument, and explain how he/she gets that message across.

3. The new essay is completely optional — sort of.

This should come as good news: No more essay! But the reality is that completing the essay might be a good way to show prospective schools your full skills. Although College Board decided to make it optional, the real decision lies with individual colleges and universities. “When we asked our member admission officers whether this enhanced essay should be optional or required, they were split,” Coleman said. So, down the line, be on the lookout for whether the colleges you plan on applying to decide to take into account the new SAT essay.


Balf, T. (2014, March 06). The story behind the sat overhaul. Retrieved from The New York Times Magazine.

College Board (2014, March 06). Delivering Opportunity. [Video file] Retrieved from USTREAM TV.

Jaschik, S. (2007, March 26). Fooling the college board. Retrieved from Inside Higher Ed.

Malady, M. (2013, October 10). We are teaching high school students to write terribly. Retrieved from Slate Magazine.

Perelman, L (2005, May 29). New SAT: Write long, badly and prosper. Retrieved from Los Angeles Times.

Winerip, M. (2005, May 4). SAT essay test rewards length and ignores errors. Retrieved from The New York Times.

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