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The good news: The SAT and ACT essay are both optional.

The bad news: They’re not really.

Although the essay is no longer included in the comprehensive score report for each test, many colleges and universities still want students to complete and submit the essay along with whichever standardized test they have chosen.

The SAT and ACT essay, much like the tests themselves, differ in significant ways.

So, what are the differences?

SAT Essay

  • One prompt, 50 minutes to write a response
  • Essay scored by two readers
  • Essay scored 1 – 4 in three categories:
    • Reading
    • Analysis
    • Writing
  • The prompt provides students with a passage, and students must:
    • Consider how the author uses evidence to support their claims
    • Explain how the author builds an argument
    • Analyze the ethos, pathos, and logos used to strengthen the author’s arguments

ACT Essay

  • One prompt, 40 minutes to write a response
  • Essay scored by two readers
  • Essay scored 1 – 6 in four categories:
    • Ideas and Analysis
    • Development and Support
    • Organization
    • Language Use and Convention
  • The prompt presents three perspectives on an issue, and students must:
    • Evaluate those perspectives
    • State their own perspectives
    • Elaborate on the relationships across the perspectives

More so than the SAT essay, the ACT essay calls on students to employ their expository writing skills to evaluate arguments and provide rhetorical analysis. The SAT essay simply prompts student to explain the argument already existing within a provided passage.