How the SAT is Scored

How the SAT is Scored

SAT_scoring_scaleAs a standardized test, the SAT has many limitations, but one useful aspect of the test is clarity. It is difficult to compare students (especially from different areas, schools, and backgrounds), but it’s easy to compare SAT scores.

Understanding the scoring scale doesn’t do much to help anyone perform better on the SAT. Rather, the primary relevance of the information on the page is in interpreting your score, when you have one (and maybe to satisfy your curiosity). Here’s what you need to know…

The Primary Scoring Scale

The primary scoring scale of the SAT is:

  • 600-2400 for the current SAT; and
  • 400-1600 for the new SAT.

For both the current SAT and the new one, the scores are made up of sections that are each out of 800 points – the key difference is that the current SAT has three 800-point sections, and the new SAT has two 800-point sections (although the material of the third section isn’t going away; it’s being combined into the other section).

There are two main ways to interpret a score. First, you can compare your score to the average score at a college you’re interested in – we’ll do that in a moment, on an upcoming page. Second, you can see the percentile of your score. Before we talk about percentiles, let’s debunk a myth.

There is no “Passing” on the SAT

In school, typically you get a grade on an exam, and some of the grades are passing, whereas other grades are failing. For example, a B+ is a passing grade and an F is a failing grade. There are no “passing” or failing scores on the SAT – there are only scores. The score is objective, but the judgment of the score is relative. A particular score might be above average at one school and below average at another score, for example.

So, to repeat ourselves: to evaluate your SAT score, look at averages at schools and also percentiles.

What are Score Percentiles?

The score percentiles serve as the basis for comparison among test takers in a given batch. It tells you how much better (or worse) you did against others who took the test. It is important to familiarize yourself with the scale and percentiles so that you could get a better picture of where you stand relative to the students in your batch. For instance, a critical reading score of 600 means that you scored higher than 81% of test takers.

Percentiles are also useful in comparing the current SAT and the new SAT. For example, if you take the current SAT and take the new SAT later, and you’re not sure how to compare your scores, you can look at the percentiles.

Below is a table showing the SAT percentile ranks for 2012.

Score

Critical Reading Percentile

Mathematics Percentile

Writing Percentile
800 99+ 99+ 99+
790 99 99 99
780 99 98 99
770 99 98 99
760 99 97 99
750 98 97 98
740 98 96 98
730 97 96 98
720 97 95 97
710 96 94 96
700 95 93 96
690 94 92 95
680 93 90 94
670 92 89 93
660 91 87 92
650 90 85 90
640 88 83 89
630 87 82 88
620 84 80 86
610 83 78 84
600 81 74 82
590 78 72 80
580 76 70 78
570 73 67 75
560 71 64 73
550 67 62 70
540 64 58 67
530 61 55 64
520 58 52 61
510 55 49 58
500 51 45 55
490 48 42 52
480 44 39 48
470 41 35 44
460 37 32 41
450 34 29 38
440 31 26 34
430 27 23 31
420 25 21 27
410 21 18 24
400 19 16 21
390 16 13 18
380 14 11 16
370 12 10 13
360 10 8 11
350 9 7 9
340 7 6 8
330 6 5 6
320 5 4 5
310 4 3 4
300 3 2 3
290 3 2 3
280 2 2 2
270 2 1 2
260 2 1 1
250 1 1 1
240 1 1 1
230 1 1 1
220 1 1- 1
210 1 1- 1
200
Average (Arithmetic Mean) 496 514 488
Standard Deviation
114 117 114

How does the SAT scoring system work?

There are numerous things that are factored into your score. The simple answer to this question is that the scoring process involves three steps.

Computing the Raw Score

Your raw score is obtained based on the number of correct answers as opposed to incorrect or blank answers. In SAT scoring, 1 point is added to your raw score for every correct answer, 1/4 of a point is deducted for every wrong answer, and no point is subtracted for a blank answer. In Subject Test scoring, 1 point is added for every correct answer and 1/4 of a point is deducted for every wrong answer to a five-choice question, 1/3 of a point for a wrong answer to a four-choice question, and 1/2 of a point for every wrong answer to a three-choice question. No point is deducted for unanswered questions. This is why in the current SAT, you wouldn’t want to make any blind guesses (educated guesses are fine!). This will change in the new SAT, where it would be best for you to answer all questions. The change will take effect in the Spring of 2016, so if you are taking the SAT earlier, there is no need to worry about it.

Equating

Equating refers to the statistical analysis conducted to ensure that the test result is a fair representation of your aptitude. I will not go into the details here, but the main point of equating is that College Board does a lot to try to make the SAT as fair as possible.

Determining the Final Score

The raw score from the first step is then converted into a final score that is given on a scale of 200 to 800. Subscores are also given for the essay component on a scale of 2 to 12 and for the multiple-choice questions on a scale of 20 to 80. The final score is derived such that a fair comparison can be made among all takers of the SAT, regardless of test date or test edition.

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