Jun 4, 2010

Do Colleges Pay Attention to the SAT Writing Score?

If you’re still hanging on to the notion that the SAT writing score doesn’t count in college admissions, I hate to disappoint. Many colleges and universities not only care about the writing score, but are placing increasing faith in its ability to predict college performance.

But let’s back up a minute. Responding to historical concerns about the overall usefulness of the SAT, the College Board launched a “new” SAT in March 2005. The test essentially morphed into three parts—Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. In addition to eliminating those pesky analogy questions, the new SAT added a 25-minute essay writing component to accompany a revised multiple-choice grammar section.

The essay—written in response to a specific prompt—is drafted in pencil and later scanned into a computer for posterity. The essay score counts for about one-third of the overall writing score and is combined with the multiple-choice section to produce a scaled score of between 200 and 800. The average writing score for 2009 high school graduates was 493—down one point from the previous year.

It’s worth noting that colleges may request to read the essay as written (remember it’s in the computer), but few are bothered unless they suspect something is amiss or there is a major disconnect between the application writing sample and the SAT essay.

While some colleges and anti-test advocates continue to grumble about the validity of an unedited essay written in 25 minutes on a previously unknown topic, an increasing number of schools are giving weight to the SAT writing score in admissions. In fact, some schools are using the writing score to place students in appropriate first-year writing classes.

In 2008, the College Board released a study analyzing data submitted by 110 colleges and universities and found that writing is “the most predictive section of the SAT” for forecasting first-year college performance. Both the College Board and the University of California (in a separate study) determined that the writing section is slightly more predictive than either math or critical reading.

The following will give you an idea of how well successful applicants to local colleges scored on the SAT writing section (middle 50% of first year students):

American University: 580-690
College of William & Mary: 610-710
George Washington University: 600-690
Goucher College: 540-650
Howard University: 430-660
Johns Hopkins University: 650-730
Loyola University of Maryland: 550-640
St. Mary’s College of Maryland: 560-670
Towson University: 500-580
UMBC: 530-630
University of Mary Washington: 530-630
University of Richmond: 580-690
University of Virginia: 610-710
Virginia Commonwealth University: 480-580

Local colleges not listing writing scores and presumably not using the score in admissions include Georgetown, George Mason University, Christopher Newport University, Catholic, University of Maryland-College Park, and James Madison University.


  1. This is the most cogent discussion of the impact of the SAT writing test on the college application process that I have seen anywhere. Thank you! Do you have any sense as to whether the colleges listed above are giving the writing test the same weight as the other two sections of the SAT?

  2. Interesting! Does the fact that a college lists its SAT writing scores necessarily mean that it takes them into consideration?

  3. this is bull no college can truely base anything off the wrtiting sections because there isnt enough data on the subject to get a good judgement on it and according to most guidance consolers colleges are still mainly lookin at math and critical reading