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Are the SAT and ACT Essays Becoming Obsolete?

By Priyam, IvyWise Master Tutor

The requirements for college entrance exams like the SAT or ACT have experienced some major changes over the years with the rise of test-optional admissions policies and the fact that the SAT, which previously required students take the essay section, has now made that essay portion optional. As a result, some colleges have stopped requiring first-year applicants to submit SAT and ACT essay scores as part of their testing profile. So where does this leave students weighing whether or not to take the optional essay portion of the SAT or ACT?

Why Schools are Dropping the Essay Score Requirement for the SAT and ACT
The decision to drop the requirement for the essay portion of the SAT or ACT has been driven by the fact that, in recent years, many states, counties, and cities have funded SAT and ACT testing during the school day in public schools, making the exams free for students. Sometimes, those testing programs include the optional essay sections, but sometimes they don’t. That produces a quandary for students who might be thinking about whether to apply to colleges that require the essay – should they have to take the test all over again just to get an essay score?

It’s also important to consider that the essay on the SAT has had a rather complicated history and it is difficult to sometimes see the need for it, especially when students are already submitting additional essays and writing samples in their college applications. Is there value in knowing how well applicants write in a timed setting as opposed to an essay which students may have written and edited for days, weeks, or months? Perhaps.

When making the case for requiring the essay, one can consider the possibility that the timed SAT or ACT essay can allow for more testing scores to evaluate or even an additional examination of students’ writing style and abilities. However, it’s more realistic to understand that college admissions officers are evaluating thousands of applications, and are reading many in just a few minutes, so eliminating the essay requirement can make the process more manageable for admissions officers and allow students’ other application elements, like grades and personal statement, to speak more accurately to their abilities and fit for the institution.

Should You Skip the SAT or ACT Essay?
The bottom-line is that there are only about 20 colleges that still require the SAT or ACT essay. If your plan is to apply to a school that does require the essay at this time, then yes you should write the essay. You should also consider whether those schools super-score exams, in which case you would just need to do well on the essay in one exam sitting, rather than taking it multiple times if you choose to retake the SAT or ACT at a later date.

However, if you are certain that you will only apply to schools that do not require the essay, then you can skip the essay – just remember that if you change your mind you will have to retake the entire SAT or ACT again. Selective colleges typically require students to submit one or more essays with their applications anyway, and they also look closely at performance in English classes.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to take the essay portion of the SAT or ACT, you should discuss your options with your college counselor who better understands the application process and may have insight into which schools really value the SAT or ACT essay.

Many aspects of the college admissions process are changing drastically, whereby certain schools are even dropping standardized test requirements altogether, so it’s quite possible that soon all schools will drop the essay requirement, making the essay section obsolete.

Bearing all this in mind, for now it doesn’t hurt to simply do the essay once in your exams and, assuming your desired schools super-score, then you can skip the essay if you need to take the exam again. In all reality if you are a good writer, can carry an idea, use logical and coherent language, are grammatically savvy, then the SAT or ACT essay should not be that difficult. The only difficulty is that it is timed and that can cause even some very gifted writers to get nervous, lose focus, and not perform as well.

The best approach is to simply practice writing as many SAT or ACT essays as your schedule allows. Write them initially without timing yourself and as you get comfortable with the different types of essay questions and grading rubric/criteria, you will notice that you are naturally getting faster at writing the essays. Then start implementing time into the essay practice and it should not be a hurdle anymore.

At IvyWise, we work with students to not only develop a comprehensive and customized college admissions strategy, but we also provide tutoring and test prep services to help students reach their goal scores on the SAT or ACT. If you need help with your SAT or ACT prep, including the essay section, contact us today for more information on our test prep services!