EDIT: I really can't believe that this was on the front page for most of the day. Thus I shall go down in history as the perpetrator of the MOST BORING AMA EVER. WOW.

Following up on this request, I was an SAT scorer employed by Pearson. I scored SAT essays for one school year. Frankly, it was a lousy job, because I taught English all day and then went home and scored essays in the evenings. It wasn't worth it financially, either--$12/hour for training and $17/hour for scoring (back then, anyway. Might be another $1-$2/hour more now. Whee.) Which, given that I already had my normal grading load to keep up with, wasn't enough to make it worth it.

That said, I didn't do it for the money--I did it to learn more about the essay so that I could help my students better prepare for it. In that respect, it was a successful endeavor.

I am no longer an SAT essay scorer, and if I were, I wouldn't be doing this AMA. Even with that, this is still a different account than the one I regularly post with--I had to sign an NDA when I left, and while I think it was only good for four years, I'd still rather be safe than sorry, on the off chance I ever decide that I want to work for them again.

It's been a few years, and it looks like I dumped most of my emails from that time, but I do have this one as proof. Hopefully that's enough proof for y'all.


To answer the questions in the original thread:

Why people score what they do, what you guys look for, etc.

We're given a pretty fair amount of training on how to score and what to look for. Honestly, if you look at the Essay Scoring Framework, it's pretty comprehensive. That's a rather broad question, so I'm not entirely sure what else to answer.


1.Has anyone ever stapled money inside a test booklet that you received? 2. If someone has, did you give them the max credit?

SAT essays are scanned, and we read them on a computer. So, no.

I lied a lot in my essay, did you notice?

Whether or not we noticed is irrelevant, since we're not allowed to score on correctness of content.


What was the most memorable thing you've read/happened during grading?

Honestly, nothing sticks out. We had to score ~20-30 essays an hour to keep the pace they wanted us to, and I did my scoring after a full day of teaching high school English, so generally I was pretty cross-eyed by the time I was through.


has there been any that you had to drop reading because of the quality.

Nope. In fact, those are easier to score, since it's not like my day job teaching HS English where I have to give meaningful feedback on each essay. The hardest ones were the 3/4 and 4/5 ones. 1s, 2s, and 6s were pretty easy to spot from a mile away.

Incidentally, not correcting your "has" is making me twitchy. So I'll just nudge you and remind you that it should be "Have there been..."


How do you determine plagiarism? Since the essays are hand-written I can't see an automated system working very well.

Since testing is conducted in a controlled environment and the questions aren't known ahead of time, it's pretty difficult to plagiarize. That said, there is a process for flagging suspected plagiarism. In my year of scoring, I don't think I ever used this process.


I remember when I did AP Modern European History test I was on loritabs for my broken arm. I remember finishing the essay, something about communism and Stalin, then since I had answered the question I went on to write about how Stalin loved piggys and how he loved to rub their warm pink bellies and run through the fields with them. 4/5 bitches!

I might have docked you a point for that, but not more than that as long as you fully answered the question. I never saw anything like that on the SAT essay, though. Sadly.

Comments: 1482 • Responses: 41  • Date: 

beFoRyOu1052 karma

To summarize this AMA:

"Anything fun happen?" "No."

e-to-the-x593 karma

Pretty much.

smellslikecomcast98 karma

Do you think it is creepy the amount of penetration Pearson has in the education world: textbooks, testing, software (no doubt)? At the same time, they seem pretty good at what they do. It just seems like the maximum-testing-fetish in the US has to be feeding money to these companies that own or do the testing.

e-to-the-x16 karma

Yes. As an educator, I'm frustrated that so much of our educational system has been sold to the highest bidder. But I'm a cog in the wheel, so what can I say, really?

[deleted]856 karma


e-to-the-x1071 karma

Yes. I've also jumped on tables and recited poetry.

elbenji522 karma


e-to-the-x734 karma


Soltheron348 karma

Incidentally, not correcting your "has" is making me twitchy. So I'll just nudge you and remind you that it should be "Have there been..."

Well, if you're going to be a grammar Nazi, I'm going to be a grammar Nazi, too:

I am no longer an SAT essay scorer, and if I was were

It is subjunctive mood.

e-to-the-x272 karma

Excellent point. I don't have any students today (teacher work day) but I'm doing this AMA while also trying to grade. I'm not getting as much grading done as I should be, but I'm rationalizing it by telling myself that I'm helping other students. :-)

The_Yellow_Dart397 karma


e-to-the-x224 karma


No, seriously--I showed it to my students every year before they had to write out their well-thoughtout Engllish papers... er, research papers.

One year, I even had a student turn their paper in with the battery pictures and some coins taped to it, as well as a fake million-dollar bill. I still have that somewhere.

j120243 karma


e-to-the-x148 karma

vactuna216 karma

How many of the essays you scored included references to Hitler and/or Nazis?

I somehow managed to do it in every single SAT essay (I took the test 3 times) no matter what the topic was...

e-to-the-x364 karma

I couldn't honestly tell you, since I don't think my brain filtered them like that. I will say that the essays tended to be EXTREMELY topical centered around what students generally were learning at that point in the year in English and history.

For example, in the December admission, I'd say 20-25% of the essays would revolve around the Civil War/Adventures of Huck Finn/Frederick Douglas (you get the idea.) February was 20-25% The Great Gatsby/Roaring 20s, March would be the Great Depression/Grapes of Wrath, etc. Those were the ones that stuck out the most to me, anyway.

cliffyb85 karma

lol for my year, the "cool" thing to do was to try to incorporate Gandhi or MLK into whatever essay you were writing. Some kids honestly believed that would guarantee them a perfect score.

Edit: Protection from the grammar police

e-to-the-x42 karma


gryffon5147210 karma

Just wanted to say... sorry for the crappy handwriting over the years.

How often is it that you get something completely illegible or incoherent?

e-to-the-x261 karma

If it makes you feel any better, I have notoriously horrible handwriting. It's one of the many reasons I could never teach elementary school, where on-the-blackboard penmanship by teachers counts for something. :-)

To answer your question, I've always had a hard time reading cursive. Compounding the legibility problems were the fact that the essays were all written in wooden pencil and scanned into a computer for us to read online.

However, after years of teaching high school English, I'm pretty used to the axe murderer handwriting, so for the most part, it didn't faze me. There was a process by which we could report illegible essays, but I think I may have had to use that once, if that.

That said, if an essay had really, really poor handwriting, I'd tend to skim it more quickly than I might otherwise have, and an essay that has been quickly skimmed likely wouldn't have received as high a score from me as one that was easily legible and allowed me to quickly skip back to and review and ponder the student's key points and writing style.

Moral of the story: use decent penmanship on those essays, people. It won't take you THAT much longer. Outline on another page first if you must. Having taken a number of AP tests and SAT subject tests when I was in high school, I remember the pressure of timed tests. But the more easily the scorer can read your writing, the better they will be able to evaluate it.

vineskyle154 karma

This AMA is really disappointing me... this has to be the most boring job in the world...

e-to-the-x253 karma

Honestly, it's up there. I hated pretty much every second of it, and there were times where it was downright EXCRUCIATING. But I didn't take it for the money, I took it to better be able to prepare my own students for the SAT essay, and in that vein, it was extremely helpful.

sllewgh294 karma

Good girl teacher: Gets a shitty, boring, badly paying job to help her students.

Thank you for caring enough to do this. A good high school teacher can make all the difference to an individual.

My 11th grade English teacher, Ms. Bond, told me something I will never forget. I've always been a pretty good writer, and when I was younger I was egotistically verbose in my writing. She handed back a paper one day, and said, "The smartest writer is the one who can say the most in the fewest words." That has stuck with me as a writing philosophy to this day.

Good teachers that care touch lives.

e-to-the-x155 karma

I'm female, but thanks. :-) That's pretty much my goal as a teacher--do things to help students. Which is why I'm sitting here answering your questions instead of taking advantage of our teacher work day to actually get grading done. :-)

LadyGodiva21122 karma

I hope you were lucky enough to see my AP Stats essay in 2004 about Dinosaurs. I drew pictures of dinosaurs eating graphs. Totally worth the terrible score.

e-to-the-x69 karma

I haven't graded AP essays, just SAT essays. But I would have smiled. :-)

MexicanWaterGod118 karma

In your opinion, what should a top essay have? I've heard to put at least 1 pop culture reference and 1 historical reference.

e-to-the-x201 karma

Strong argument, at least three well-thought-out reasons supporting that argument, strong, relevant, specific examples for each reason, and a thorough analysis of the examples in relation to your reasons and core argument will get you to at least a 5. I've never really honestly paid much attention to pop culture/historical references, but I will say that if someone only gives examples from their personal life, that to me is a MUCH weaker essay. I want them to look back at all of what they've learned and apply that, even if they remember something incorrectly (for example, saying that George Washington freed the slaves.) At least there's an attempt there to apply knowledge they've learned.

The 6th point comes through style--use of language, diction, syntax, vocabulary. Like I said above, a 6 essay is pretty easy to identify--they almost jump off the page at you most of the time. It's the 3s/4s and 4s/5s that will kill you. Is it a 3 or a 4? Is it a 4 or a 5? Ugh.

Edit: correctly fixed "incorrectly." :-)

mwuhahaha57 karma

You might mean "even if they remember something INcorrectly" there. :)

e-to-the-x178 karma

Ha!! Thanks!! Ahhh, the perils of outing oneself as an English teacher on the internet...

gehrc101 karma

Did they really get pissed if we didn't re-write the integrity statement entirely in cursive?

e-to-the-x129 karma

I have no idea--that's not my department. That said, at my old school, I had a lot of foreign-born students who never learned cursive. So I just told them to draw lines connecting their letters. I always thought that was BS anyway, but I hate cursive. :-p

slatecitylights89 karma

Do you score essays better when they adhere to the standard Introduction (with a Thesis Sentence), Body, Body, Body, Conclusion format?

I've always figured that a Thesis Paragraph post-Introduction was always more effective at expressing my main point.

e-to-the-x146 karma

I don't give essays any better or worse a score for conforming to the standard "five paragraph essay" format than ones that don't. That said, those are generally the ones in which students are able to be the most organized in the 30 minutes that they get to write the essay. As long as I know the argument you're trying to make, I'm not going to dock you for having a thesis paragraph post-introduction. But in a short essay like that, that's much more difficult to effectively pull off than it would be in, say, a longer research paper.

I do have to say that, from a scorer's standpoint, the standard five-paragraph format is MUCH easier to score. But it's also hideously boring, repetitive, and often devoid of creativity. I think it has its place, and the SAT essay is a good place for that. But I've seen a lot of essays work that didn't adhere to that.

[deleted]66 karma

Do you ever feel guilty about giving people bad scores? Did someone ever write about their personal life and it was so sad you gave them a higher grade than they deserve? How thoroughly did you read through the essays?

e-to-the-x130 karma

Nope and nope to your first two questions. I'm an English teacher--we're generally pretty heartless. :-) Ok, I'm not really, but no, I haven't.

To answer your third question, we have to average 2-3 minutes per essay with our scoring time, or the system actually flags us and makes us redo some of our training.

Generally in that time, I'd read each essay twice. Sometimes three times, depending on the essay.

[deleted]66 karma

Oh wow, teachers used to make it seem like you would skim through the essays and not really read them very carefully.

snoharm172 karma

If they read it twice in two minutes and assign a score in that time, I really don't think they're reading it very carefully.

e-to-the-x148 karma

I've always read really quickly. When I'm reading a novel, I generally read around 200 pages/hour. When I'm studying something, I generally read around 100 pages/hour. Why do you think I was an English major in college? :-)

HerpDerpinAtWork79 karma

You have to remember that from a grading perspective, it's not like a typical in-class essay. SAT graders don't have to justify, comment, and the grade can only be one of six numbers. Plus, they have a very particular set of guidelines that tells them what counts for/against a score (i.e. the content can be factually wrong and not matter).

I read it once - did it seem basically perfect? 6. Bam. Done.

I read it once - did it seem crap? 1 or 2. Bam. Done. There is effectively zero difference between these two grades to begin with - both of them scream "I'm bad at rhetoric."

The middle ones, as he/she says, are the trickier ones, and those might require a re-read, but even then it's mainly to see if you can find anything else that would definitely push it towards one of the two numbers you already have in your head anyway. As soon as you spot it, done.

That might be frustrating to hear as a student taking an exam that seems like it can make or break their college career, but that's how it goes. It's as much an exercise in learning what the graders want and giving it to them as it is an actual assessment of how well you write.

e-to-the-x50 karma

Exactly, and well-said. I LOVED the 1s, 2s, and 6s as a scorer.

e-to-the-x23 karma

I read the whole thing once. I don't reread every single word, but I go back to key points and look at those more closely, and look to follow a train of thought through a paper.

bobbyt201254 karma

I heard that if you put a line through a sentence it is supposed to not be counted. Did you see "Why so serious?" crossed out or anything like that?

e-to-the-x47 karma

Yes, and no, but HA. :-)

steelpan48 karma

What's the funniest thing you've ever come across in an essay?

e-to-the-x149 karma

Honestly, nothing sticks out. It's been a few years. In a non-SAT student essay, though, I've come across TONS of hilarious things, like the kid who interrupted his argument on how the government should give NASA more funding to expound for a page on the marvels of velcro. I called him Velcro Boy for the rest of the year after that.

And all of the essays I received stained with Hot Cheetos fingers... yuck, guys. Wash your hands first.

e-to-the-x132 karma

Oh, also, I was once proctoring one of our state tests and a freshman was picking his nose, and got a nosebleed all over the test document. I had to give him a new form and, since it was an official answer document, write up an exception form detailing what had happened (I included the nose picking for the lulz) and put the "spoiled" (bloody) test into a ziploc baggie and return it to the office.


swimmingincheesecake48 karma

I've taken SAT courses in China and the actual test twice. I have the feeling that getting a good score requires a very formulaic approach and frankly, that's one of the reasons I dislike the SAT so much. Any thoughts on this?

e-to-the-x58 karma

I agree with you--it's very much geared toward a five-paragraph essay. As an English teacher, I abhor the five-paragraph essay past about the 9th grade. But, unfortunately, it does have its place, and a 30-minute timed essay is going to be fairly formulaic just because of the task assigned, the requirements, and the time allotted in which to complete it.

As I replied to an earlier comment, I don't give essays any better or worse a score for conforming to the standard "five paragraph essay" format than ones that don't.

That said, those are generally the ones in which students are able to be the most organized in the 30 minutes that they get to write the essay. As long as I know the argument you're trying to make, I'm not going to dock you for having a thesis paragraph post-introduction. But in a short essay like that, that's much more difficult to effectively pull off than it would be in, say, a longer research paper.

I do have to say that, from a scorer's standpoint, the standard five-paragraph format is MUCH easier to score. But it's also hideously boring, repetitive, and often devoid of creativity. I think it has its place, and the SAT essay is a good place for that. But I've seen a lot of essays work that didn't adhere to that.

AlexIsYoDaddy27 karma

Which ethnic group gets the most 2400s?

e-to-the-x78 karma

There are no names or other identifying marks on the essays we receive.

[deleted]24 karma

how far in an essay can you get before you know it is a horribly written one? and do you stop reading and just give it a bad grade if you can tell?

e-to-the-x39 karma

Nope, I always read the entire essay. Generally at least twice. But within the first two paragraphs, I can usually tell what the final score is going to be, just based on the quality of argument and writing ability in those first two paragraphs.

And like I said above, it's the poorly-written ones that are sometimes my favorites, because they're MUCH easier to score than the average-to-high-average (3/4 and 4/5) ones.

Jellyman147224 karma

My teacher claims that some of her best writers get 8's and 9's on the essay portion, while some of her weaker writers seem to get higher scores. She claims that it is because her students write on a level higher than the reader's, do you believe this is true?

e-to-the-x53 karma

I'm not sure what scoring system you're talking about--the SAT is scored on a 1-6 scale, and the AP is a 1-9 scale.

No, I don't believe that's true. All readers have to have at least three years of experience teaching high school or higher English, and a master's degree is highly encouraged (and I think is more common now as more teachers are coming out of school with master's degrees and having trouble finding tenured, steady teaching jobs even after three years in a classroom.)

Honestly, it's luck of the draw. Every essay is read by at least two scorers, sometimes three, very rarely four, if there's a significant discrepancy in score between the two scorers.

I'm going to guess that sometimes the "better writers" tend to take longer writing, and sometimes overthink things, both of which can hinder them on a 30-minute essay like the SAT's.

HerpDerpinAtWork28 karma

Looking for a little feedback here:

I think a lot of the trouble with the SAT essays is that the difference between earning a 4/5 and a 6 is not -I would argue- how well you can write, but instead how well you understand what the graders are looking for:

  • a clear position
  • three non-personal-anecdotes that support it (literary + history + pop culture is a good way to role)
  • a solid closer

Do that with proper grammar in the allotted time and you're at a 6.

A lot of "good" writers end up at sub-6 ratings because it's hard for them to throw away their idea of what a "good" essay is and instead focus on delivering what the graders want.

Disclaimer: this is largely anecdotal evidence from my own experiences taking and a friend who tutors kids for the SAT

e-to-the-x13 karma

More or less. I don't mind students using personal anecdotes, and I'm not going to mark them down specifically for that, but the problem is that when they go with personal anecdotes, (a) they tend to not be very strong or relevant, and (b) they immediately slip into a more informal writing style.

Honestly, I don't even always look at closers/conclusions. A 6 essay can still be a 6 essay without a conclusion. I just want to see an argument with at least three solid reasons (you can get away with two, but your support better be flawless) that is well-supported with examples and comprehensive analysis.

carioca313 karma

On the essay portion of the SAT you get a score from 2-12 (1-6 from two readers.)

e-to-the-x15 karma

Ahhh! The rubric is 1-6 (which is what I use with my own students.) I think I knew this and just forgot. :-p

UnrealCh13f23 karma

I lied a lot in my essay, did you notice?

Whether or not we noticed is irrelevant, since we're not allowed to score on correctness of content.

So if I were to bring up an event where "Derpity Derp" assassinated some dude back in the fifties and went through his motive for doing it, you would have to treat it as true and valid?

e-to-the-x51 karma

Yep. If a student says that George Washington freed the slaves, we aren't allowed to mark down for that.

gripmastah23 karma

How does one get appointed as an SAT scorer?

e-to-the-x21 karma

I saw an ad in a flyer at a summer conference I went to, went home and filled out the online application. This was mid-August. As you can see by my email proof above, the training started in September, and the first test administration that I scored for was in October.

Blu3j4y16 karma

I must be old, but I don't remember any essays on the SAT. (AP tests, sure.) Is that a recent addition? (and by "recent", I mean in the last 20 years)

Anyhow, I gotta love the SAT: I got a nice academic scholarship due to my scores.

e-to-the-x15 karma

I took the SAT in 1995 and 1996, and it was just Math and Verbal. The SAT II (now called the SAT subject test) covered writing, which is where I took the writing test (I got a 760 on the SAT II Writing, FWIW.)

The writing component was introduced in 2005.

beanstein15 karma

Hi, thanks for the AMA! I'm an SAT tutor, and we teach our students to sort of shift the given topic toward one of a few essays they've already practiced - one on heroes, one on creativity, one on progress/technology, and one on individual morals. (Most essay topics seem to fall into one of these categories, anyway.)

Would you give a lower score to an essay like this that sort of steered the question in a slightly different direction?

e-to-the-x13 karma

Not necessarily, as long as they answered the original question. Sometimes it's obvious that students are trying to do this though, and then yeah, it will affect them negatively. Students will try to shoehorn things in for the purpose of having them in there, and it sticks out like a sore thumb.

elbenji13 karma

Aw, I wanted to hear of a reallllly weird one =/. So, what was the average you scored if you remember and do you feel HS English classes are doing enough grammar help for this kind of essay?

e-to-the-x17 karma

Average essay was probably a 3/4, but it's really hard to say.

It depends on the high school. Where I went to high school (upper middle-class area), yes. Where I used to teach, no. Where I teach now, really no (although I now teach at a school for at-risk kids, so we're just thrilled when they graduate, for the most part.)

That said, I don't think high school English classes SHOULD be focusing on this type of essay. It's a formulaic, 30-minute, single-draft essay. One of my biggest frustrations, honestly, is HAVING to focus on essays like this, instead of focusing on the drafting and revision process. I've worked with FAR too many students who feel like they're done after the first draft.

I'm currently in grad school, and I can't even tell you how many revisions my thesis has gone through. THAT'S how academic writing works, not like what's on the SAT essay.

But it serves a purpose, so, yeah. I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing--it has its place. But I don't think it should be taught to, per se.

Barry_McCockiner13 karma


e-to-the-x31 karma

It's pretty obvious when people are just trying to fill up pages. Come on--we're ENGLISH teachers. We see this all the time.

We also notice when you switch your font to 13-pt Courier instead of 12-pt TNR, and when you make your margins 1.5" instead of 1", and spacing 2.25 instead of double. :-)

Examples ARE allowed to be made up--this IMO is one of the lesser-known secrets. As long as they're STRONG examples, and don't tell us they're made up, and you're convincing with your BS, GO FOR IT.

I was a GREAT BSer all through HS, college, and now grad school. IMO it's an EXTREMELY important skill to have. You just have to do it well.

Incidentally, I'm a lousy liar... but I'm a great BSer, especially in writing. Go figure.

(And no, this AMA is not BS. Honest.) ;-)

Formulaic, for this, is much better. Creativity unfortunately won't generally get you very far. That said, you can be very creative with your reasons and examples.

Grantselrich12 karma

I feel like you're my teacher, he mentioned how he graded SAT's today in class and has said that he likes reddit. I won't mention your name on here in case you actually by some divine chance that you are my teacher, but ill ask him tomorrow B| If you are, you'll recognize my name.

e-to-the-x27 karma

Wrong gender, but thanks. :-)

prince52812 karma

I once read that bigger words literally score higher on the SAT -- as in, more syllables, more points. Are there any weird grammar/syntax things like this that graders look for?

e-to-the-x36 karma

Not specifically, but a stronger vocabulary is one major thing that separates a 6 from a 5. As long as the words are use correctly and appropriately, though. Randomly throwing in ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM isn't going to win you any points.

First_Wikipedia_Line91 karma

Antidisestablishmentarianism is a political position that originated in 19th-century Britain in opposition to proposals for the disestablishment of the Church of England, that is, to remove the Anglican Church's status as the state church of England, Ireland, and Wales.

e-to-the-x35 karma

I <3 novelty accounts. :-D

xzzz7 karma

Any ideas why they (the "man" of course) won't let us use a goddamn computer and keyboard for writing essays? It makes your life easier, our life easier, and will result in higher scores because you spend more time thinking rather than writing letters on a piece of paper.

e-to-the-x16 karma

Too hard to standardize. They do for the GRE, but that's at a controlled testing center. If the SAT was done on computer, every wannabe teenage hacker would try to take down his/her school's network the morning of the test.

Don't I wish, though!!

likealedzep6 karma


e-to-the-x14 karma

I've seen it once or twice, but nothing jumps out at me. Generally those people will leave it blank and not even try, or reword the prompt. A blank essay gets a 0. Rewording the prompt (not rewriting it, but summarizing it in their own words) gets a 1.