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Rescoring Sat Essay Score

Did you make a weird error in filling out your multiple choice answer sheet that led to a dramatically reduced score? Was your essay scanned incorrectly? Hand Score Verification is a way for you to address and correct these mistakes without having to retake the test.

In this guide, I'll describe what SAT Hand Score Verification is, how it can help you, and how it might hurt.


What Is Hand Score Verification?

Normally, the College Board grades its hundreds of thousands of test answer sheets through automated scanning machines. This is why the SAT instructs you to fill in answers using only No. 2 pencils.

If you order Hand Score Verification, the College Board reviews your multiple choice answer sheet or essay again manually (by a human) for a fee. It's $55 for either multiple choice or the essay ($110 for both). If you used a fee waiver for the SAT, the fee is reduced to $27.50 each.

If you marked the answer sheet correctly but there was a problem in the scanning or scoring process, your score may change, and the fee you paid for score verification will be refunded.

If you made an obvious error in filling in the information on the answer sheet (putting your answers in the wrong section of the answer sheet, improperly recording the test identifying code), your score may change, but you won’t get a fee refund.

For the essay, the College Board will determine whether there was an error made in the scanning of the essay or the processing of scores assigned by essay readers. In this situation, your adjusted score will be automatically reported and your fee will be refunded.

This is not a way to appeal your essay score if your essay was already reviewed and scanned in correctly. Your essay doesn't get reread and re-scored in the process of Hand Score Verification unless it didn't scan properly. If your essay was written in pen (which messes with the scanning process), your score may change, but you won't get a fee refund.

Note that your whole answer sheet will be reviewed, even if you only think there was a mistake on one section. I'll explain why this is important next.


When Should You Use Hand Score Verification?

Because SAT Hand Score Verification costs quite a bit of money, and your score could potentially change for the worse, there are only a few specific situations where it's a good idea.


Scenario #1: Your Overall Score Was Very Different from What You Expected 

If you ended up with consistently high scores on practice tests but you scored fairly low, you could have reason to question your results. You might have bubbled in an entire section incorrectly, or there might have been a mistake with the scanning. Score verification would fix both of these and raise your score.


Scenario #2: You Missed Many Questions That You Would Normally Ace 

Look at your detailed score report to see which types of questions you missed on the test. The College Board splits questions up into easy, medium, and hard categories on the score report and tells you how many of each you got wrong within each section. If you find you missed a lot of easy questions in your strongest subject areas, there might have been a mistake in the scoring process.


Scenario #3: Your Essay Is Blank or Unreadable in the Online Score Report

This could indicate a scanning error (especially if you remember writing your essay in pen). In this case your essay will be rescored.


Scenario #4: You Can't Find Answers with Other Means of Score Verification 

The College Board also offers Score Verification services in the form of the Student Answer Service and the Question-and-Answer Service. The Student Answer Service just provides you with the types of questions on your test; their levels of difficulty; and whether you answered correctly, incorrectly, or not at all.

The Question-and-Answer Service provides you with a booklet copy of the questions on the test and your answers, the correct answers (including how the questions were scored), and information about the types and difficulty levels of all questions on the test. If your scores still don't make sense to you after wading through all this information, Hand Score Verification may be the way to go.


That's deep, bro.


When Should You NOT Use Hand Score Verification?

In these situations, you should consider against SAT Score Verification, because it's unlikely to improve your score.


Scenario #1: Your Score Is Only Marginally Lower Than Expected

Some students will freak out because they got a 700 instead of an 800 on one section of the SAT, thinking there must have been some sort of terrible mistake. I'd say that if your score is 0-100 points lower in a section that you expected it to be (or up to 300 points lower overall), you shouldn't order Hand Score Verification unless you look at your score report and the questions you got wrong make no sense to you at all. Hand Score Verification could actually hurt you in this situation because your scores might go down, and you would lose the $55 fee.


Scenario #2: You Aren't Happy with Your Essay Score, but Your Essay Shows up Clearly in the Online Score Report

Score Verification doesn’t involve the review or rescoring of essays that were scanned in properly. Even if you're convinced your essay was destined to be a defining literary classic for your generation and couldn't possibly have gotten the score it did, don't order Hand Score Verification in this situation.


Scenario #3: You Didn’t Fill in Your Answer Sheet Properly  

Examples of this include circling bubbles instead of filling them in or making tiny unicorn drawings in the bubbles to indicate your answers. If this is the case your score won't be changed, but you might just get a magical imaginary 800 for creativity (not accepted by colleges).


How Do You Order Score Verification?

After reviewing the pros and cons of hand score verification, you might decide it's the right choice for you. 

Here's a link to the form you need to fill out to order Hand Score Verification. You can request Hand Score Verification for up to five months after your original test date. 

As I mentioned in the first section, there is a fee of $55 for Hand Score Verification for either multiple choice or the essay. However, that fee can be reduced by half if you used a fee waiver to pay for SAT registration. If you have information that you think could affect the results of the verification process, you should report it to Customer Service (contact info listed on the form) at the same time that you submit the form.


The exact check you will receive in the event of a fee refund for Hand Score Verification.


A Final Word About Hand Score Verification

If you aren’t 100% sure that you want to order Hand Score Verification, don’t do it until you have exhausted all other score verification measures. These include Student Question-and-Answer Services or Student Answer Services depending on when you took the SAT. 

If you order Hand Score Verification, you won't have access to the Student Answer Service or Question-and-Answer Service for your hand scored answer sheet. You also won't see the full online score report for this new round of scoring. This time you'll only receive your score report in the mail, just like teenage cavemen did when they took their first SATs. 

Hand Score Verification is the most rigorous score verification process the College Board offers, so there are no score appeals beyond it. Once Hand Score Verification results are reported, they are final for that version of the test. Don't worry though, you can still take the SAT again if you are unhappy with your results. 

You should get a letter back within five weeks with your new scores and, depending on whether there was an irregularity in the scanning and scoring process, cold hard cash in the form of a fee refund. Well, it'll probably be a check, but you get the idea. 


What's Next?

If you're reading this article, chances are you're not too happy with your score. We're here to help.

Read our in depth guides on earning a perfect score on the SAT, along with strategy guides for reading, math, and writing.

Maybe you don't need to aim as high as you think. To come up with the ideal target score for you, and you alone, this article will help you figure out what you should be aiming for based on your top choice schools.

If you're unhappy with your score, you can still take the test again! Check out our article on how many times you should take the SAT. You can also take a look at test dates for 2016-2017.


Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:


SAT Essay scores for the new SAT are confusing to interpret, in part, because the College Board has intentionally given them little context. By combining College Board and student data, Compass has produced a way for students to judge essay performance, and we answer many of the common questions about the essay.

Why are there no percentiles for the essay on an SAT score report?

No percentiles or norms are provided in student reports. Even colleges do not receive any summary statistics. Given Compass’ concerns about the inaccuracy of essay scoring and the notable failures of the ACT on that front, the de-emphasis of norms would seem to be a good thing. The problem is that 10% of colleges are sticking with the SAT Essay as an admission requirement. While those colleges will not receive score distribution reports from the College Board, it is not difficult for them to construct their own statistics — officially or unofficially — based on thousands of applicants. Colleges can determine a “good score,” but students cannot. This asymmetry of information is harmful to students, as they are left to speculate how well they have performed and how their scores will be interpreted. Through our analysis, Compass hopes to provide students and parents more context for evaluating SAT Essay scores.

How has scoring changed? Is it still part of a student’s Total Score?

On the old SAT, the essay was a required component of the Writing section and made up approximately one-third of a student’s 200-800 score. The essay score itself was simply the sum (2-12) of two readers’ 1-6 scores. Readers were expected to grade holistically and not to focus on individual components of the writing. The SAT essay came under a great deal of criticism for being too loosely structured. Factual accuracy was not required; it was not that difficult to make pre-fabricated material fit the prompt; many colleges found the 2-12 essay scores of little use; and the conflation of the essay and “Writing” was, in some cases, blocking the use of the SAT Writing score — which included grammar and usage — entirely.

With the 2016 overhaul of the SAT came an attempt to make the essay more academically defensible while also making it optional (as the ACT essay had long been). The essay score is not a part of the 400-1600 score. Instead, a student opting to take the SAT Essay receives 2-8 scores in three dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. No equating or fancy lookup table is involved. The scores are simply the sum of two readers’ 1-4 ratings in each dimension. There is no official totaling or averaging of scores, although colleges may choose to do so.

Readers avoid extremes

What is almost universally true about grading of standardized test essays is that readers gravitate to the middle of the scale. The default instinct is to nudge a score above or below a perceived cutoff or midpoint rather than to evenly distribute scores. When the only options are 1, 2, 3, or 4, the consequence is predictable — readers give out a lot of 2s and 3s and very few 1s and 4s. In fact, our analysis shows that a80% of all reader scores are 2s or 3s. This, in turn, means that most of the dimension scores (the sum of the two readers) range from 4 to 6. Analysis scores are outliers. A third of readers give essays a 1 in Analysis. Below is the distribution of reader scores across all dimensions.

What is a good SAT Essay score?

By combining multiple data sources — including extensive College Board scoring information — Compass has estimated the mean and mode (most common) essay scores for students at various score levels. We also found that the reading and writing dimensions were similar, while analysis scores lagged by a point across all sub-groups. These figures should not be viewed as cutoffs for “good” scores. The loose correlation of essay score to Total Score and the high standard deviation of essay scores means that students at all levels see wide variation of scores. The average essay-taking student scores a 1,080 on the SAT and receives just under a 5/4/5.

We would advise students to use these results only as broad benchmarks. It would not be at all unusual to score a point below these means. Scores that are consistently 2 or more points below the means may be more of a concern.

College Board recently released essay results for the class of 2017, so score distributions are now available. From these, percentiles can also be calculated. We provide these figures with mixed feelings. On the one hand, percentile scores on such an imperfect measure can be highly misleading. On the other hand, we feel that students should understand the full workings of essay scores.

The role of luck

What is frustrating to many students on the SAT and ACT is that they can score 98th percentile in most areas and then get a “middling” score on the essay. This result is actually quite predictable. Whereas math and verbal scores are the result of dozens of objective questions, the essay is a single question graded subjectively. To replace statistical concepts with a colloquial one — far more “luck” is involved than on the multiple-choice sections. What text is used in the essay stimulus? How well will the student respond to the style and subject matter? Which of the hundreds of readers were assigned to grade the student’s essay? What other essays has the reader recently scored?

Even good writers run into the unpredictability involved and the fact that essay readers give so few high scores. A 5 means that the Readers A and B gave the essay a 2 and a 3, respectively. Which reader was “right?” If the essay had encountered two readers like Reader A, it would have received a 4. If the essay had been given two readers like Reader B, it would have received a 6. That swing makes a large difference if we judge scores exclusively by percentiles, but essay scores are simply too blurry to make such cut-and-dry distinctions. More than 80% of students receive one of three scores — 4, 5, or 6 on the reading and writing dimensions and 3, 4, or 5 on analysis.

What do colleges expect?

It’s unlikely that many colleges will release a breakdown of essay scores for admitted students — especially since so few are requiring it. What we know from experience with the ACT, though, is that even at the most competitive schools in the country, the 25th-75th percentile scores of admitted students were 8-10 on the ACT’s old 2-12 score range. We expect that things will play out similarly for the SAT and that most students admitted to highly selective colleges will have domain scores in the 5-7 range (possibly closer to 4-6 for analysis). It’s even less likely for students to average a high score across all three areas than it is to obtain single high mark. We estimate that only a fraction of a percent of students will average an 8 — for example [8/8/8, 7/8/8, 8/7/8, or 8,8,7].

Update as of October 2017. The University of California system has published the 25th-75th percentile ranges for enrolled students. It has chosen to work with total scores. The highest ranges — including those at UCLA and Berkeley — are 17-20. Those scores are inline with our estimates above.

How will colleges use the domain scores?

Colleges have been given no guidance by College Board on how to use essay scores for admission. Will they sum the scores? Will they average them? Will they value certain areas over others? Chances are that if you are worrying too much about those questions, then you are likely losing sight of the bigger picture. We know of no cases where admission committees will make formulaic use of essay scores. The scores are a very small, very error-prone part of a student’s testing portfolio.

How low is too low?

Are 3s and 4s, then, low enough that an otherwise high-scoring student should retest? There is no one-size-fits-all answer to that question. In general, it is a mistake to retest solely to improve an essay score unless a student is confident that the SAT Total Score can be maintained or improved. A student with a 1340 PSAT and 1280 SAT may feel that it is worthwhile to bring up low essay scores because she has previously shown that she can do better on the Evidence-based Reading and Writing and Math, as well. A student with a 1400 PSAT and 1540 SAT should think long and hard before committing to a retest. Admission results from the class of 2017 may give us some added insight into the use of SAT Essay scores.

Will colleges continue to require the SAT Essay?

For the class of 2017, Compass has prepared a list of the SAT Essay and ACT Writing policies for 360 of the top colleges. Several of the largest and most prestigious public university systems — California, Michigan, and Texas, for example, still require the essay, and a number of highly competitive private colleges do the same — for example, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford.

The number of excellent colleges not requiring the SAT Essay, though, is long and getting longer. Compass expects even more colleges to drop the essay requirement for the classes of 2018 and 2019. Policies are typically finalized in late spring or during the summer.

Should I skip the essay entirely?

A common question regarding SAT scores is whether the whole mess can be avoided by skipping the essay. After all, if only about 10% of colleges are requiring the section, is it really that important? Despite serious misgivings about the test and the ways scores are interpreted, Compass still recommends that most students take the essay unless they are certain that they will not be applying to any of the colleges requiring or recommending it. Nationally, about 70% of students choose to take the essay on at least one SAT administration. When looking at higher scoring segments, that quickly rises to 85-90%. Almost all Compass students take the SAT Essay at least once to insure that they do not miss out on educational opportunities.

Should I prepare for the SAT Essay?

Most Compass students decide to do some preparation for the essay, because taking any part of a test “cold” can be an unpleasant experience, and students want to avoid feeling like a retake is necessary. In addition to practicing exercises and tests, most students can perform well enough on the SAT Essay after 1-2 hours of tutoring. Students taking a Compass practice SAT will also receive a scored essay. Students interested in essay writing tips for the SAT can refer to Compass blog posts on the difference between the ACT and SAT tasks and the use of first person on the essays.

Will I be able to see my essay?

Yes. ACT makes it difficult to obtain a copy of your Writing essay, but College Board includes it as part of your online report.

Will colleges have access to my essay? Even if they don’t require it?

Yes, colleges are provided with student essays. We know of very few circumstances where SAT Essay reading is regularly conducted. Colleges that do not require the SAT Essay fall into the “consider” and “do not consider” camps. Schools do not always list this policy on their website or in their application materials, so it is hard to have a comprehensive list. We recommend contacting colleges for more information. In general, the essay will have little to no impact at colleges that do not require or recommend it.

Is the SAT Essay a reason to take the ACT instead?

Almost all colleges that require the SAT Essay require Writing for ACT-takers. The essays are very different on the two tests, but neither can be said to be universally “easier” or “harder.” Compass recommends that the primary sections of the tests determine your planning. Compass’ content experts have also written a piece on how to attack the ACT essay.

Key links in this post:

ACT and SAT essay requirements
ACT Writing scores explained
Comparing ACT and SAT essay tasks
The use of first person in ACT and SAT essays
Understanding the “audience and purpose” of the ACT essay
Compass proctored practice testing for the ACT, SAT, and Subject Tests