In 2005, the SAT added a new writing section to the test. Since then, I have been asked many times if the writing section even counts. I will try to shed some light on this question.
The SAT writing section is derived from the former SAT II writing test. When it first became part of the SAT, colleges argued that they did not have enough data about the predictive ability of the writing section, so they did not initially give it much weight. Some colleges continued to treat it as an SAT II; some colleges used it in admissions decisions, but did not weight it as heavily as the other two sections; and some colleges simply didn’t use it at all.
That said, the writing section is slowly becoming more accepted by colleges as a valid predictor of incoming college students’ first-year grade-point averages. In a study done by the College Board, which writes the SAT, data showed that the writing section was actually the best predictor of first-year grade point average of any of the three test sections. If you want to look at the study, you can read it here.
The importance of the writing section still varies from school to school. Some schools give it a fair amount of weight, and other schools still don’t look at it. You should investigate whether the schools you are looking at factor it into admissions decisions. However, if you are applying to the most selective schools, the writing section will most likely be important.
As that previous article states, the most highly criticized portion of the writing section has been the essay. Early on, tutoring companies developed essay templates that virtually guaranteed students high scores. However, as anyone who saw the reality television essay question in March will attest, the College Board has begun to figure out how prevent essay templates from being effective. As the test-makers gather more data, I believe they will find ways to lessen the effectiveness of templates, making the essay a more accurate gauge of writing ability. Graduate school tests like the GMAT and GRE contain similar essays, and these essays have not come under nearly as much fire as has the essay on the SAT.
As always, thanks for reading and check back soon for more blog entries.