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Until recently, the essay portion of the SAT was a part of the exam, and everyone took it. In 2016 the SAT test was overhauled and a new version of the test was released. In this new version, the essay portion of the test became optional. Since it is no longer a required portion of the test, many are left wondering whether or not to take the optional essay test. The answer to this question really depends upon your specific situation and what schools you are looking into.

You will definitely want to take the essay portion of the test if:

  • Any of the schools for which you are applying require the test: Typically this information is provided by the school to prospective applicants or is listed on the school’s website. It’s important to note that even if your current list of prospective schools does not require the test, you may find yourself applying to other schools that might.
  • You are good at writing and analysis: Even if you are certain that none of your prospective schools require the test, a high score on the optional essay portion of the test could still be a positive in the eyes of an admissions person. It is an opportunity for you to demonstrate your skill and ability in writing and critical thinking.
  • You are not certain which schools you’d like to attend: Definitely take the test if you are uncertain which schools you’d like to apply to. This gives you the maximum amount of options for schools without having to worry about going back later to take the essay portion of the test.

You are given more time than previously to complete the essay, but it is expected that you are able to go more in-depth in your analysis than in the old SAT test. Because of this, you will likely need to dedicate some time toward preparation for the optional essay. You may wish to decline the test if you feel that studying and preparing for the essay section would take too much time away from the time you feel you need to study in order to do well on the rest of the test, and you are certain that the schools for which you will be applying do not require the test. You are expected to analyze the arguments being put forward in the prompt.

While the essay section is scored separately there is value in completing it because – even if it is not required by your school – could slightly boost your application. There is also always the possibility that you may find yourself applying to other schools you have not yet considered, that may require the test. All other things being equal, it may be in your best interest to take the optional essay portion, even if you don’t think you’ll need it or if you know your school won’t require it.