“Three hours and forty-five minutes!” that’s what Julie said when I told her how long the New SAT was.

“And I have to study Critical Reading, Vocabulary, Math, Grammar and Writing!” she added.

“Yes,” I said. You’ve got to study all of that.

Well, I’ll just prioritize by focusing on the important stuff like the Math, Reading, Vocabulary and Grammar. The essay’s only 25 minutes of the test. It can’t affect my score that much right?” Julie was partly right.

The essay is only about 1/9th of your potential score of 2400. However, in this case what Julie didn’t know could hurt her.

What she didn’t know is that college admissions officers won’t just look at Julie’s admission essay score when judging her suitability for admission. They will read a scan of the essay she wrote and use that as one criterion when they decide to reject or accept her application. In fact there are at least three important ways that college admission officers plan to use your student’s SAT Essay in deciding who will attend their undergraduate programs.

1.To see if your student can really handle the pressure of a college “blue book” exam.

How can an admissions officer know who will sail through their college exams, get on the honor roll each semester and graduate in 4 years? The answer: they can’t know for sure. That’s why they are constantly looking for new ways to predict college success and failure. And since most high school students don’t take in class essay exams as part of their curriculum admissions officers can’t use their transcripts to see how well they’ll do on college essay exams. That’s where the SAT Essay comes in.

Many universities intend to use it to see who will do well on exams. For example, Ted Spencer, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and trustee of the College Board stated,

“The SAT essay will be a first draft, written under timed conditions not unlike the on-demand writing of a college “blue book” exam. It will… give us a better, more complete understanding of the student’s writing abilities.”

And Lee Stetson, dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said, ‘

“the admission essay test will give admissions officers a better feel for applicants’ writing and verbal skills and their ability to perform under ‘constraint.’”

2.To see how well you communicate ideas “on the spot” (even for math and science majors).

It’s a common misconception that math and science majors only need to do well on the Math section of the SAT. College officials from math and science oriented disciplines have consistently expressed the need for their students to have highly developed writing skills.

For example, Ben Streetman, Dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin said,

“This new requirement will be a great help to us in choosing students who can succeed in engineering. One of the most important skills an engineer has is the ability to present his or her ideas verbally and in writing. Virtually every engineering project begins with a written proposal, requires interim reports and culminates in a written summary. Professional success in engineering depends not only on the ability to apply the techniques of math and science to solve problems, but also on the engineer’s ability to write those proposals and reports in a way that helps others understand the work.”

So while knowledge of math and science is obviously still very important for your student to gain admission to these programs, having powerful writing skills will set him or her above many students who lack these skills.