While you may know that your SAT total score will lie between 400 and 1600, there's more that goes into scoring your SAT than you may realize.
If you’ve already taken the SAT or a practice SAT, you know that there are not 1600 total questions to answer on the test…
(By the by, if you haven’t done a practice SAT test yet, here is a free one for you to try out!)
So where does your SAT total score come from? How is the SAT scored? How does College Board come up with it and what are you meant to see when you look at it?
The quick answer: it’s complicated. But it’s still worth looking at.
Have you ever heard the woodworking expression, “He who makes without knowing how, makes a mistake”?
Yeah. Neither have I. I just made it up. But that doesn’t mean the maxim isn't true.
It would be so nice if your score report said “Hey Joe, you got a B+!” or “Hiya Susan, you earned three gold stars.”
But since it doesn’t, every piece of information you can get about how the test makers (College Board) designed and score the SAT, can help you improve your score by understanding what to focus on.
In order to polish up your admissions applications and score scholarship money, you’ll need to get the highest SAT score possible. And in order to get the highest SAT score possible, you’ll want to understand what you’re getting into with the test and how to set yourself up for success.
Here are two quick ways to do that starting right now:
1. Download the completely free Insider’s Guide to To The ACT & SAT to score some invaluable, immediately usable SAT strategies for higher scores.
2. Read onward to learn how your SAT score is created, so you can create a plan to achieve your highest possible SAT score.
How Is The SAT Score Calculated?
The SAT is composed of two main sections that are separated into two tests each.
Here are the four different tests:
1. The Reading Test
2. The Writing and Language Test
3. The Math No-Calculator Test
4. The Math Calculator Test
The first two tests are known as the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section. (I will often refer to this as the “Verbal Section.” Otherwise, a person would be able to practically grow a beard in the time it takes to keep writing out that whole, long title!)
The last two tests are the Math Section.
Those two main Sections (Verbal and Math) are calculated differently than one another, but they are each scored on a scale between 200 and 800 and then your total score is the sum of your two section scores which makes your total SAT score a sum between 400 and 1600.
How Are The Two Main Sections Of The SAT Each Scored?
Even though we have some information now, it looks like we still need a little more because the earlier question still applies: there aren’t 800 questions in each of the two SAT Sections.
So where does your SAT section score come from?
Brace yourself for a little SAT-specific vocabulary that you may or may not have faced before: your SAT Score is a scaled score that is determined by your raw score.
In short, your raw score is your total number of correct answers in a given section.
College Board then turns the raw score into a standardized scaled score using a conversion table which they have developed to control for variations in difficulty from test version to test version.
This standardization is a process that strives to ensure that no one has an unfair advantage based on where or when he or she happens to take the SAT. The goal is to make sure that you are measured fairly against the other SAT test-takers.
Here’s an example of what the SAT conversion chart looks like:
Here's how this works.
Let's say you answered 29 questions right on the Reading test. Your raw score in Reading would be 29 as your raw score is simply the total number of questions you answered correctly.
Looking at the raw score of 29 on the chart (the column of blue numbers), you can find the correlating Reading scaled score (the middle column of black numbers). In this version of the conversion chart, your Reading scaled score would be a 26.
Again, the conversion table is slightly different each time the test is offered since it is always adjusted to the particular test given. The above example is just one possibility.
Notice, though, that the scaled score looks different for the Verbal sections and the Math test. Because the conversion process is different for the two main sections of the test, let’s peek a little more closely at the Verbal and Math Sections to understand why they are scored differently.
SAT Math Section Scoring vs. SAT Verbal Section Scoring
Warning: this is a bit of a complicated process.
Yes, having more information can better your chances of raising your score. However, it is fair to mention that for some people there is a tipping point where more information is just confusing. If you have no interest in the individual mechanics of the section scores or this is stressing you out a lot, please feel free to skip to the FAQs at the end of the article.
Otherwise, jump into your emotional submarine with me, and let’s dive down deeper together.
We’ve looked at raw scores and scaled scores, but that’s not the complete story.
To determine your SAT Math Section score, you take your total correct answers from your Math No-Calculator Test and add those to your total correct answers from your Math with Calculator Test.
This sum is your Math Section raw score.
As per the SAT conversion chart above, you use that raw score to determine your Math Section score.
For example, let's say you answered 15 questions from your Math No-Calculator Test correctly and another 24 questions from your Math with Calculator Test correctly.
Your math raw score would be a 39. This converts to an SAT Math Section score of 590.
Straightforward enough for SAT Math but, when it comes to the SAT Verbal Section, College Board is trying to separate out your different communication skills.
Sure they are all verbal questions, but they are not all the same types of questions, nor are they testing the same areas of competence and ability.
College Board treats reading comprehension and writing/editing as two different skill sets that are equally important for success in college and beyond. If they simply combined the two scores, then they wouldn’t be able to see if you were proficient in one area and struggling in another.
So they have a very involved equation for figuring out a way for your score to reflect your competence in both areas.
Instead of doing a straight raw to scale conversion of the whole Verbal section as they do with the Math section, for Verbal they do a raw to scale conversion of each of the two separate Verbal tests.
Then they add the two scaled Verbal test scores together and multiply that by 10.
The number you’re left with is your scaled Verbal Section score.
Can we please take a second to appreciate the irony of how simple the math section scoring is vs how the verbal section actually requires math in order to figure out its score?!
Once you have these two scores, you can add your Verbal Sections score to your Math Section score in order to determine your total SAT score.
If you are still confused, let’s go through an example together.
Here is the conversion chart from above and an equation chart provided by College Board on one of their practice SAT tests:
Let's assume that the math example we used above holds. (You answered 15 questions from the No-Calculator Test correctly and another 24 questions from the Calculator Test correctly.
You can see using the bottom left quadrant of the equation box that your math raw score would be a 39 and, using the chart, this converts to an SAT scaled score in Math of a 590.
Verbal is where it gets tricky.
Let's say you answered 42 Reading questions correctly. That number goes in the box at the top left. Using the conversion chart, you can see that this generates a Reading Test Score of 33.
Let's then assume you answered 30 Writing questions correctly. That number goes in the second box down on the left. You can then use the conversion chart to see that this generates a Writing and Language Test Score of a 29.
You would then add these two Verbal Test Scores together (33+29 = 62) and multiply that sum by 10 to generate your SAT Verbal Score of a 620.
So, what's your SAT total score in this hypothetical?
Your 620 Verbal score plus your 590 in Math gives you a 1210 on the SAT, which is in the 76th percentile. (For more on percentiles, check out this article on College Board's site.)
Frequently Asked Questions About SAT Scoring
Q: Is there a penalty for guessing on the SAT?
A: What a wonderful question! Nope. There is no penalty for guessing on the SAT. Nothing is deducted for a wrong answer or an answer left blank. So if you start to run out of time at the end of the test, make like a 5-year-old on a summer day with a bubble machine and pop all the bubbles you can.
Q: Is my SAT score good enough for me to stop testing?
A: I'm so glad you asked! If you are seeking more information on how your score measures up against other scores or what SAT score schools might be expecting you to have, here is what a “good” SAT score looks like.
Q: How else can I improve my SAT score?
A: Love your go-getter attitude! I have specially designed online SAT prep courses just for you!
Q: Where can I find out more about the SAT?
A: You can find upcoming SAT test dates listed here and information regarding when to expect your SAT scores back here.
Also, feel free to reach out to me with any of your questions! I’m always happy to speak to students and support you in any way that I can as you’re working so hard to do your best. Click here to email me your questions about the SAT. I'm happy to help!