What Does a 4 Mean on an ACT or SAT Essay?

Have you already taken the ACT or SAT writing test? If so, did you get an 8 or less on your essay when you really hoped for a 10 or higher?

We think we know why so many of you get 8s, which is not bad; it is average.  We know, because we score the ACT and SAT essays our students write with the same rubrics used by the tests’ official graders.

We also know that with focused practice, most of you can improve your scores – if you do the work required. We emphasize focused practice, because it is not enough to simply write essay after essay. You need to understand how the essay was graded and where you can improve.

Click here for the ACT rubric or here for the SAT rubric, then read on.

Here’s the scoop: We’ve seen some patterns in the writing we’ve graded from our classes. A score of 4 (which would be an 8 if two graders gave the same score) is the norm.

No matter whether you take the ACT or SAT, a 4 essentially means the same thing: You did an adequate job but had some lapses in quality. Your essay showed an understanding of the task. You took a position, and you supported it. Your essay may have included some distracting errors, but they did not impede understanding.

We tend to find 2-5 grammar, usage or mechanical problems. Spelling errors top the list. Many students forget to include a counter-argument to support their position or don’t understand what a counter-argument is in the first place.

We see the word “lose” spelled as “loose” and the words “a lot” put together as “alot.” Other problems included sentence fragments and mistakes with subject and verb agreement.

We read many essays that are adequate in every way, but that do not stand out in the least. The arguments are general, without specific examples to back them up; the structure tends toward the perfunctory and simplistic.

We are convinced theses students can improve, and you can too. Practice outlining essays. Practice coming up with specific examples. Practice writing counter-arguments.

And then practice writing more full essays.

You can download essay prompts directly from the sites that administer the exams (ACT or SAT), or check out the SAT and ACT sample prompts on the Wow website.

Or sign up for our Score on the SAT Essay class scheduled for Thursday, June 2, at West Bloomfield High School. At the end of the two-hour class, you will understand what the essay portion of the exam is testing and how to use the allocated time. But most importantly, you will have had the opportunity to practice and get feedback before you practice some more.