While it might seem silly, the quality of your handwriting can have an impact on your SAT score. If you don’t have the neatest handwriting, there’s no need to panic—your handwriting doesn’t have to be the most beautiful thing in the world. That said, the grader does need to be able to read what you’ve written in order to score your essay. Here are some tips for ensuring that your handwriting is legible:
Tip #1: Write more slowly
It’s hard to write neatly when you’re trying to write as quickly as possible, but if you slow down and take the time to really process your thoughts, you should be able to keep your handwriting nice and tidy.
Tip #2: Change your grip
Try tightening up or loosening up your grip if you find your handwriting really illegible. Perhaps the way you’re holding the pencil is preventing you from writing as neatly as you can. Another suggestion: try holding the pencil further down or further up if your writing is still not neat enough.
Tip #3: Write bigger
This might seem silly, but it can be easier to write neatly if you use larger print. Don’t worry about running space in your testing booklet and just increase the size of your handwriting. There’s a reason they make easier to read books in larger font!
Tip #4: Space out your letters
Instead of cramping your letters next to one another, try spacing them out. Your writing doesn’t need to look pretty, but it will be easier to read if you create more space between your letters, even if it’s chicken scratch.
Tip #5: Don’t write in cursive
Even if you usually write in cursive, try to write in print for the exam. Many people have difficulty recognizing cursive lettering—even if someone has textbook-perfect cursive writing—so you might be better off to stick to regular old print.
Tip #6: Practice if you need to
If your handwriting is especially atrocious, you might want to practice writing neatly prior to your exam date. It might seem like a weird thing to practice, but it could pay off in the long run!
Ella is a student at Washington University in St. Louis. She is currently accepting students via chegg.com.
The SAT is not a calligraphy test, clearly. So if you’re reading this at all, I’ll assume that you don’t have the neatest handwriting in the world, and you’re concerned it might affect your score.
Officially, the answer to the question is no—the SAT does not reward or punish students based off their handwriting. Again, that’s officially. The truth is not always “official,” though.
Undecipherable essays lose points
SAT essay graders are really well practiced at reading all kinds of handwriting. Going through as many essays as they do means they have to be able to read almost anything. Having done plenty of that myself, I can tell you that yes, it does get easier to read even the strangest handwriting with practice.
The grader will never just give up on reading something that’s hard to decipher. No matter how bad your handwriting is, as long as it really is English, they’ll be able to get the idea
That being said, I wouldn’t hesitate even a moment to say that difficult to read essays lose points. The reason is as simple as you’d think; not being able to read even just a word or two takes away meaning from a sentence, and that takes away from the strength and fluency of the surrounding argument. Even if the case made in the essay is eloquent and well-supported, it ends up feeling fragmented when individual words are lost.
Essays that graders can read at a natural pace, on the other hand, tend to feel more lucid. It’s a lot easier to hear the writer’s voice when you don’t have to put any effort into understanding the handwriting.
How can I write more clearly?
Have you ever had to read the writing of your classmates? There’s the girl that dots every i with a heart, for one. Every o on her page looks like it could win a circle-drawing contest. Take that and compare it to what the quiet guy in the corner is writing. Is that Sanskrit? Elfish?
What makes the easy-to-read writing so digestible? There are a few things that definitely help.
1) Larger print
2) Round, open letters
3) Even spacing between letters
This isn’t about staying on the line, slanting your writing gracefully, or printing in block letters. It’s about making space: space within letters and space between letters.
Legible writing can be ugly. If you have chicken scratch for handwriting, don’t worry about making it into elegant cursive. Instead, just be sure you make the letters individually distinguishable. Make them bigger and more separate.
If you like your tiny, cramped writing how it is, that’s fine. Just not on the SAT, please. You get lots of space to write your essay, so use it.
About Lucas Fink
Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.
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