Update: This post has been updated by for the redesigned New SAT (beginning in March 2016). Co-authored by Rachel Kapelke-Dale.
The SAT has a kind of weird number system for its scoring—but if you’ve taken the SAT before and are worried about learning an entirely new system for scoring the revised SAT (March 2016 forwards), don’t worry! The test content has changed, but within each section, scoring remains largely the same.
While most of the tests you take in school classes are scored from 0% to 100%, SAT points go from 200 to 800 per section (totaling 1600), representing how well you did in a more abstract way.
(This post will explain how SAT scores are calculated, but if you’d also like help decoding your SAT score report, check out our useful infographic: Interpreting Your SAT Scores.)
The biggest thing that has changed on the new SAT is the essay scoring. We provide the nitty-gritty details here, but the main thing to know is that the minimum score you can receive is 2 and the maximum score you can earn is 8. That’s because two different graders will be scoring your essay on a scale of 1-4. However, you’ll be getting these scores in three different categories: reading, analysis, and writing. Remember, though, the essay’s optional! (Though some schools may require it, so be on the lookout for this.)
Calculating SAT Scores – Your raw SAT score
In any given section (other than the essay), your raw score is simply the count of the number of questions you answered correctly.
But if there are seventy math questions altogether and you get thirty-five points, that doesn’t mean that you’re going to score a 500 on math (halfway between 200 and 800). You have to look at the raw to scaled score conversion chart in order to calculate this, and this will vary slightly on each test. However, you can take a look at the ones in the new SAT practice tests for examples.
Calculating SAT Scores – Score percentiles
If you just want to know how good your score is, then, it’s not so easy to just think about it in terms of number of correct answers or in terms of percent answered correctly. If the score “1440” means nothing to you on its own, then how do you know how good it really is?
The easiest way is by percentiles. Using the College Board’s table of SAT score percentiles, you can see how well you did in comparison to other SAT takers. If you’re in the 50th percentile, that means you scored better than 50 percent of people. If you picked a hundred people at random and lined them up in order of highest to lowest SAT scores, your 50th percentile ranking would put you right around the middle of the line. If you’re in the 60th percentile, you’d be ten people closer to the high scorers in that same line.
That table definitely helps put some perspective on your scores and what they look like to colleges.
How scaled SAT scores are calculated
Unfortunately, it’s not so easy to explain why and how scores are translated into the 200-800 scale for each section. Why not? First of all, it’s not possible to make two different SATs (with different questions) be on the exact same difficulty level. They work to make it as close as possible, but question creation isn’t an exact science. And since the College Board has to make lots of tests, making sure that every one is fairly scored is tricky.
In order to make different versions of the test equivalent, they relate your scores to the scores of other test takers (the percentile of your raw score) and to scores of past tests. If you score the exact average raw score (which may be different from test version to test version), then you’ll get the average score in the 200-800 scale (which is constant between test versions). But there’s an even trickier part—they need to make sure your score isn’t dragged down if a whole lot of people just happen to be having really good days. If that happened, then the average would go up, and your scaled score would suddenly be lower than it should be.
These problems are taken care of together by equating, which is, thankfully, not something you need to do on your SAT. The old SAT used to have an experimental section that the College Board used to test questions. It’s not entirely clear yet how norms will be evaluated for the new SAT, but right now students who take the first March 2016 test will be compared against students who take the second May 2016 test in order to keep things in check (at least we hope).
To put it simply, if you get a 1100 on your first SAT and a 1200 on your second SAT, it’s not because the second one was easier, and it’s not because of anything anybody else did. That’s all taken into account.
It’s only about how ready you are to take the test.
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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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