In 2016, the SAT underwent a redesign, and as a result the essay section is now optional. Taking the essay section increases the cost of the test and also the length of time it takes to complete. It’s also fairly subjective in its scoring, because it has to be scored by individual readers. This leaves many students wondering if they should opt for this additional work. Is it best to skip the essay section, and avoid any potential damage to your overall score from it, or would you be better off taking the full test? Here’s a close look at how you can decide.

Is It Required or Recommended?

First, consider whether the college you are applying to requires or recommends the essay exam. Only about 10 percent of the colleges around the country currently want students to take the essay section. Currently, none of the Ivy League schools require it, neither do many of the big-names like Caltech, MIT, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, or Duke. A few of these schools recommend it, but the list is shrinking. Most liberal arts colleges and most state schools do not require it either, though some do.

How can you determine if the schools you are considering require it? The list of schools constantly changes, so the best way is to call the schools directly or check their websites to get information directly from the source.

Consider Scholarship Options

Another place where the essay may play a role is in your scholarship applications, as some require the full test. For example, the National Merit scholarship requires the essay section for all applicants. Check the requirements of each scholarship you are considering before you make the decision.

Additional Considerations Before Deciding About the SAT Essay Section

If your college does not recommend or require the essay section, and it is not needed for your scholarship applications, you are probably safe skipping it. However, you may find it beneficial in some scenarios. For example, if English is not your first language, you may want to prove your English writing skills to potential colleges. Scoring well on the essay section can do that.

On the other hand, for those who struggle with writing, particularly under time restraints, the SAT essay section can actually hurt their composite score. In these cases, skipping the section is the right choice, because it will protect the student’s score.

So what is the bottom line? If you know your school or scholarship requires the essay section, or if you think you are a strong writer and will benefit from the bump in your score that the essay section would provide, then move forward with taking it. Otherwise, you are safe to skip it, save some money and time, and still get in to even highly competitive schools. Regardless of your choice, spend some time properly preparing for the test in order to increase your final score and set yourself up for success.