How the SAT is Scored
As 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.
|Critical Reading Percentile||
|Average (Arithmetic Mean)||496||514||488|
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 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.