The Comprehensive Guide to SAT Scoring: Everything About SAT Scores

As you register, prepare for, and finally take the SAT, you probably have one goal in mind: to earn the highest score you possibly can. To reach this goal, of course, it helps to have an understanding of SAT scoring. In this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn:

  • How the SAT is scored
  • What’s considered a “good” SAT score
  • How to compare the old SAT to the new SAT
  • Everything you need to know about composite scores, superscoring, and more

To make sure you understand all the helpful SAT scoring info ahead, we’ll start with a basic overview of the big test.

SAT Overview

The SAT has three main sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. Math is divided into two subsections: Calculator and No Calculator.

There’s also an optional essay at the end of the exam. (The decision to complete this section depends on whether you’re applying to schools that require it.)

Most SAT questions are multiple choice, and you’ll be provided with four answer choices. However, there are some gridded-response questions on the Math section.

SAT Scoring Basics

With the current SAT, which debuted in March 2016, you receive one section score for Math and one for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (a combination of your scores on both the Reading and Writing sections). These scores range from 200 to 800.

The combination of these two scores is called your composite score, and it ranges from 400 to 1600. 1600 represents the coveted “perfect score,” so the closer you can get to 1600, the better!

The optional essay section isn’t factored into your overall score. Two readers rate your essay between 2-8 points for three separate categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. A perfect essay score is an 8/8/8.

Your score report will also indicate how you performed in each individual section, plus how well you demonstrated specific skills like Command of Evidence and Words in Context.

Although your score report is full of information, colleges are most interested in your two section scores (Math and Evidence Based Reading and Writing) and your composite score. The rest of the information on the score report can help you create a personalized study plan if you decide to take the SAT again.

The Scoring Process

But how exactly does SAT scoring work? How do the bubbles on your answer sheet become nice, neat numbers on a 400 to 1600 scale?

Let’s take a look!

Scanning

First, your answer sheet is scanned and analyzed. To ensure that your answer sheet is scanned accurately, be sure to:

  • Use a number 2 pencil
  • Fill in the entire circle darkly and completely
  • Erase thoroughly if necessary (with a soft eraser)

Verifying Scan

College Board uses quality assurance checks, alignment checks, and double scanning of documents to ensure that your answers are processed correctly.

Raw Score

When your answer sheet is scanned, the system uses the circles you’ve filled in to calculate your raw score.

Simply put, your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly.

Scaled Score

The raw score is not your final score. Instead, the raw score is converted into a scaled score that accounts for slight variations between SAT tests.

For instance, it’s possible that the Reading section on the March SAT will be slightly more difficult for students than the Reading section on the May SAT. But a 600 in March should represent the same ability level as a 600 in May.

This is the reason scaled scores exist. For your section scores, the scaled score is the number ranging from 200 to 800, while the scaled composite score ranges from 400 to 1600.

Typically, one question equates to 10-20 points on your scaled score.

No Guessing Penalty

And here’s some good news:

The SAT has no guessing penalty, meaning points are not subtracted for incorrect answers. You simply get one point for each correct answer and no points for blank or wrong answers.

This means that you should fill in a bubble for every question on the SAT. Even if you must guess, you have a 25 percent chance of answering correctly, and you won’t be penalized if you’re wrong.

How to Compare the Old SAT to the New SAT

The “new SAT” refers to the latest version of the exam, introduced in March 2016. Along with several other changes, scoring transitioned from a 2400-point scale to a 1600-point scale.

If you want to compare a score on the new scale to one on the old scale, you can use the concordance tables released by the College Board, the administrators of the SAT.

However, you most likely don’t need to worry about this information (unless you’re feeling curious). Most colleges continued to accept the old SAT for the class of 2017, but many didn’t for the class of 2018, meaning the old SAT is nearly phased out at this point.

But if you are feeling curious, here’s a quick summary:

The College Board’s concordance tables suggest that the new SAT offers a slight scoring advantage over the old SAT. For the same performance on Reading, for example, you’ll receive a higher score on the new SAT than you would have on the old SAT.

How Do Colleges Evaluate SAT Scores?

Most colleges require you to send test scores, but there are some variations in the way schools evaluate these scores.

For instance, some schools allow you to send only your best test score, while others require your entire testing history.

Some schools consider only your highest composite score, while others use a method called “superscoring.” When a college superscores your SAT score, they combine your highest Math score and your highest Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score, even if you earned these scores on different dates.

Here’s an example:

Let’s say you take the SAT twice. The first time you score a 610 on Reading and a 720 on Math, giving you a composite score of 1330. The second time your Reading score goes up to 640, but your Math score drops down to 690, giving you a composite score of 1330 once again.

If you send these scores to a college that utilizes superscoring, the school will consider your 640 on Reading and your 720 on Math, and you’ll earn a new composite score of 1360.

To determine how a specific university handles SAT scores, visit the school’s website and review their testing policy. If you can’t find the information or have additional questions, call the school to learn more.

What’s A Good SAT Score?

The definition of a “good” SAT score depends on what colleges you’re interested in attending. The more selective the schools you want to attend, the higher your SAT score will need to be. A “good” SAT score is one that makes you a competitive applicant at the school(s) of your choice.

Typically, you can find information online about the average admitted student at any given school. This generally includes data on the 25th and 75th percentile composite scores for admitted students on the SAT.

At Boston College (acceptance rate 32 percent), the 25th percentile composite score is 1350, and the 75th percentile composite score is 1510. If you scored at least a 1510, your SAT score would fall in the top quarter of all applicants, making it extremely competitive.

Try to find this type of information about every school you’re interested in applying to, then aim for an SAT score that’s high enough to make you a competitive applicant at each one.

Keep in mind that high SAT scores can also qualify you for various scholarships, which can also be worth looking into as you set your score goal.

How to Get Your SAT Scores

When your scores are ready, you’ll receive an email from the College Board telling you that you can view your scores online. This usually occurs less than 30 days after you’ve taken the SAT.

You can also request a paper score report if you’d like. Students who register by mail and don’t have a College Board account receive paper scores as well. A third option is to receive your scores via phone for an additional fee.

How to Send Scores to Colleges

Each time you register for the SAT, you can send four free score reports to colleges. It’s a good idea to take advantage of this opportunity, since most colleges do require official score reports sent directly from the College Board.

Scores are sent to colleges about ten days after you receive them. Up to nine days after you take the SAT, you can still send reports to four schools for free. After this deadline, you’ll have to pay to send reports.

Conclusion: SAT Scores

Your SAT score is determined by tallying the number of questions you answered correctly (your raw score) and converting it to a scaled score that accounts for slight variations in SAT exams.

There’s no penalty for wrong answers, so be sure to at least make an educated guess for every question!

Although Reading, Writing and Language, and Math are separate on the test, your Reading and Writing scores are combined to form a section score called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. You receive a score ranging from 200-800 for both Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. These scores are added together to form your composite score, which ranges from 400-1600.

Different schools have varying policies regarding the SAT. Some colleges superscore the SAT, some consider only your highest-scoring attempt, and others review your full testing history. Do your research to determine how the schools on your list evaluate SAT scores.

Keep in mind that a “good” SAT score for you is one that makes you a competitive applicant to all the schools you’re interested in.

With this information in mind, you’ll have a strategic advantage as you prepare to take the SAT.

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