3 Possible Reasons For An Odd Number Score on your SAT or ACT Essay

Many students don’t understand the scoring system of the SAT or ACT essays and, although the formatting of the essays are different, the grading of the essays are virtually the same – talk about this with your Orange County ACT tutor before taking the test. Two graders will read their essay and their final score will be out of 12. Each grader will give a score between 0 and 6. It makes sense that most graders would give the same score but some have differing opinions. This is where the odd number scoring comes into play (READ: “February ACT Study Timeline: 7 Steps to Success“).


A lot of students shoot for a score between 10 and 12 on their essay. A score of 10 or higher is very impressive and can put students into an entirely new category of writing skills. So what happens if the student gets a 9? This means that one grader assigned a score of 4 and the second assigned a score of 5. Receiving an 8 – meaning both graders gave a 4 – is a decent score. However, achieving a 10 would be much safer for college admissions. So how can a student improve if one grader thought their essay was “above average” and the second thought their essay was “near excellent”?

Although, of course, we can’t speak to these graders personally, as educators and students we can make a good guess.

1. One of the graders is picky about punctuation and spelling and the other is not

Although graders follow a very strict grading rubric they are permitted to use their expertise to some degree. Some graders are extremely picky on spelling and punctuation errors while others will find that, if the content and flow are excellent, a spelling error here or there is not the end of the world.

So how can a student fix that? It’s safe to assume that any particular grader will be picky about spelling, which means that a student who received a score of 9 should be absolutely sure that their punctuation and spelling are up to par. They can review this on their own or with a tutor (READ: “Cracking the ACT Science Section“).

2. The essay may have contained clichés

Some graders are not concerned with reading about the same content over and over again while others get bored very quickly. Students who are using common historical examples such as the Civil War, World War II, or the Civil Rights Movement may consider finding additional things to write about on the SAT. If the grader is reading about the Civil War in 300 essays in one day, they may grade an essay down for lack of originality.

The solution for SAT students is to make a list of multiple yet lesser-known historical events that they can write about when they take their test again.

3. The student didn’t use enough varied vocabulary

Many students do not use as much varied vocabulary as they should, especially on the ACT. ACT students are given a more “real life” (often easier to write about) prompt, but they still have to use impressive vocabulary to break a 10 (READ: “5 Reasons Students Should Blog“). One grader may find that two or three impressive words and varied structure is enough while another grader may not be impressed.

Students can cope with this issue by spending a couple of hours on Thesaurus.com. Knowing the correct synonyms for many basic words can help them develop more impressive yet appropriate vocabulary on their next essay. It is recommended that students make a list of about 10 words, 3 positive words (such as “happy”), 3 negative words (such a “sad”), and 3 additional adjectives that are used in everyday language (such as “interesting”). They can then find multiple synonyms and antonyms for all of these words and memorize them to use on their next essay.

Students who have an odd score on their essay, especially if it’s a 9, should work diligently on their own or consult their tutor to see if there’s any way they can get that score up to 10. As far as many colleges and universities are concerned, the biggest, and most impressive, jump is between a 9 and 10.

Don’t hesitate to book your private Orange County ACT or SAT tutor this winter!

tutor logo Extracurricular Activities For Your College ResumeAll blog entries, with the exception of guest bloggers, are written by TutorNerds. Are you an education professional? If so, email us at [email protected] for guest blogging and collaborations. We want to make this the best free education resource in SoCal, so feel free to suggest what you would like to see us post about.

Call Us at (949) 510-9361 To Get Started Immediately

…or fill out the form and we will get back to you.

    100% Satisfaction Guarantee
    You’ll love your tutor, or you don’t pay.

    Great Job!
    We applied to St. Margaret’s, Sage Hills, Santa Margret’s, and JSerra/ Engineer magnet program. We were pleased to get acceptance from all of them.