You know your SAT score is important for college admissions and even things like scholarships, but how does your SAT score get calculated? I'll show the steps to calculating your final SAT score so you can get an accurate idea of how well you're doing on the exam.
Step 1: Determine Your Raw Scores
Your raw score is simply calculated using the number of questions you answered correctly.
- For every question you answer correctly on the SAT, you receive one point.
- There is no penalty for guessing or skipping.
The maximum possible raw score varies by section (and depends on the total number of questions asked). For example, for the Reading Test, there are 52 questions, so the maximum raw score is 52. If you answered all 52 questions correctly, you would have a raw score of 52. For Math, there are 58 questions. For Writing, there are 44 multiple-choice questions.
There is one essay, which is graded separately on a scale of 2-8 and is not factored into your composite score (your 400-1600 score); therefore, I will not be discussing it further in this article, but for more information, read our articles on the new SAT essay prompts and the SAT essay rubric.
Step 2: Convert the Raw Scores to Scaled Scores
The raw score is converted into the scale score (on the 200 to 800 scale for each section) using a table. This table varies by SAT test date. The table is used as a way to make sure each test is “standardized”. The table is a way of making “easier” SAT tests equal to the “harder” SAT tests. For instance, a raw score of 57 in Math might translate to an 800 on one test date and 790 on another.
For Math, you simply convert your raw score to final section score using the table. For the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score, there is an extra step. You get individual raw scores for the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. These two raw scores are the converted into two scaled test scores using a table. The two test scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to give you your final Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score (from 200 to 800). I'll explain this more in-depth with examples below:
You cannot know what the raw to scale score conversion will be in advance. While the exact raw to scale score conversion will vary by testing date, the College Board supplies this example chart in their new SAT Practice Test:
|Writing and |
Note: this is just an example. The exact conversion chart will vary slightly depending on the individual test.
Why are Reading and Writing and Language listed as separate sections? Why are they graded from 10-40 instead of 200-800? As I mentioned briefly before, you get separate raw scores for the Reading and Writing and Language. You then take these two raw scores and convert them into two scale scores using the above table. For example, if you answered 33 correctly in Reading and 39 correctly in Writing and Language, your scale scores would be 29 and 35, respectively.
These two scaled scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to give you your final Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score (from 200 to 800). Continuing the above example, if your scale scores were 29 for Reading and 35 for Writing and Language, your final Evidence-Based Reading and Writing scaled score would be:
(29 + 35) x 10 = 64 x 10 = 640
Step 3: Take the Scaled Scores and Add Them Together
Once you have your scaled score for both the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections, you just add them together to get your overall SAT composite score.
For example, if you scored a 710 in Math and 640 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, your composite score would be 710+640 = 1350.
How to Understand Your SAT Score Report
The College Board gives you the breakdown of your incorrect, correct, and omitted answers on your SAT score report in addition to your final scaled scores. See below excerpts from a real new SAT score report:
Note that on this test, the raw Math score was out of 57, not 58, points. This sometimes happens when a question on the test is deemed to be unfair or unanswerable and the SAT drops it from everyone's scoring.
For the Reading and Writing and Language sections on this SAT score report, this student’s raw scores were 52 and 42. These raw SAT section scores scaled to section scores of 40 (Reading) and 39 (Writing and Language), which translated to a 790 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Score:
(40 + 39) x 10 = 790
I'd like to emphasize that you will not be able to determine what the full table of raw to scaled scores conversion was from your score report. Instead, you will only be able to determine what your raw score was and see how it translated to your scaled score.
What This Means for You
Once you have determined your target SAT score in terms of raw score, you can use it to determine your SAT test strategy options. We have plenty of resources to help you out. Once you know what SAT score you're aiming for and how far you are from that goal score, you can begin to develop a study plan, gather study materials, and get to work on raising your score!
If You Need Help Creating a Study Plan
How to Build an SAT Study Plan
How to Cram for the SAT
How Long Should You Study for the SAT?
If You Need More Study Materials
Complete Official SAT Practice Tests
The 11 Best SAT Prep Books
The Best SAT Prep Websites You Should Be Using
If You Want to Raise Your Score
The Best Way to Review Your Mistakes for the SAT
How to Get an 800 on SAT Reading
How to Get an 800 on SAT Math
Want to rock the SAT? Check out our complete SAT study guide!
Want to find free new 2016 SAT practice tests? Check out our massive collection!
Not sure what score to aim for on the new SAT? Read our guide to picking your target score.
Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it: the new SAT scoring system is extremely confusing. There are subscores, cross-test scores, an optional essay score and much more. Because I don’t want you to be uncertain about something as important as your SAT scores, I’m here to dispel any confusion and answer your questions.
I’ll talk about all of the different scores: what they mean, SAT score ranges, what SAT scores you need for top colleges, and how everything ties together.
Now let’s get into anything and everything relating to SAT scores and the SAT score range.
Table of Contents
SAT Scoring Basics
- You’ll receive two scores, one math and one verbal (combined from the reading and writing sections).
- Each of these scores is on a scale between 200 and 800 points.
- The total maximum, composite (combined) score you can earn on the new SAT is 1600 points.
- The lowest sectional score you can get on either the reading/writing or the math section is 200 and the highest is 800.
This makes the overall SAT score range (combining Reading/Writing and Math) 400-1600.
Understanding Your SAT Scores
If you’re with me so far, it’s time to talk about average SAT scores: the average score on each section is 500 points. The average overall SAT score is 1000. These are theoretical averages but the real averages tend to be within about 20 points, plus or minus, of 500 points.
Now, this is where things are going to get a little more complicated. On the new SAT there are at least three different types of scores. So hold onto your seats.
1. Test Scores
Okay, so the new SAT lumps the separate reading and writing sections into one 800 score. But the College Board still wants to give colleges a better idea of how to understand your SAT scores: how you did on the reading section and how you did on the writing section.
That makes sense, but for good measure, they figured they’d throw math in as a test score. So the three “test scores” are as follows:
Each one of these tests will be scored on a range of 10 to 40. This score will correspond to how many questions you missed on each section and is adapted to fit the score range.
The two scores, one from the reading test and one from the writing test, will be combined to give you a verbal score on the 200-800 range. The math score on the 10-40 scale will be converted to a final score from 200-800. Add these together and you’ll have your overall SAT score.
How important are these “test scores”? Honestly, they just give people looking at your score report a way to compare your scores to students who took different versions of the SAT. This relates to an idea called equating, which allows the SAT to compare scores between different tests. But it’s pretty technical and the statistics folks over at College Board take care of this–you just have to look at your score.
What is important for you–and what colleges will likely look at if they want to get a better sense of your performance–is how you did on the reading section and how you did on the writing sections. After all, you could do very poorly on reading yet thrive in writing and can get the same verbal score as somebody who was average on both sections.
2. Cross-Test Scores
So the new SAT doesn’t have a science section like the ACT does, but it does have “cross-test scores.” Essentially, there are questions that are science related, whether they are in the math section, the reading section, or the writing section (hence the name “cross-test”).
There are also cross-test scores related to history/social studies.
Here’s how the College Board terms the cross-test sections:
- Analysis in History/Social Studies
- Analysis in Science
Each score will be on a scale of 10-40.
The College Board wants to give college admissions officers as much information as possible. That gives us (I promise) our final set of scores for the required sections of the SAT. There are seven of these scores, the first two relate to reading comprehension, the next two relate to writing and the last three relate to math.
- Command of Evidence
- Words in Context
- Expression of Ideas
- Standard English Conventions
- Heart of Algebra
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis
- Passport to Advanced Math
Each of these subscores is on a scale of 1 to 15.
4. Optional Essay Scores
Last, and perhaps least (for those not taking the essay), you’ll have three scores based on the 55-minute writing sample you’ll have to cough up after working on the test for three hours.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Two graders will be scoring your essay.
- Each grader will give your essay a score (1-4) for each of three different criteria.
- The three criteria are:
- reading (how well do you understand the passage)
- analysis (how well do you describe how the writer is persuading his/her audience)
- writing (how well do you write)
In theory, this gives us a total of 24 possible points. However, the scores from each grader will NOT be added up into a composite score, but will instead be added to the other grader’s scores in each area. Thus, you’ll be presented with three scores, on the following scales:
- a 2-8 range for reading
- a 2-8 range for analysis
- a 2-8 range for writing
So a possible SAT essay score might look something like this: 7 reading/5 analysis/6 writing.
What’s the Deal With All These Different SAT Scores?
Why oh why is the SAT even coming up with such a complex scoring system in the first place? The SAT wants to give schools a lot better breakdown of your skill set. On the old, pre-2016 SAT, there were just three section scores. Now, colleges that want to know the difference between two very similar candidates in terms of SAT scores can learn a lot more with the subscores and cross-test scores.
At the same time, colleges don’t want to be inundated with all this information for each of the thousands of candidates they look at. That way they can start with the general score and if they want to dig deeper, they can look at these other scores.
Old SAT Scores vs. New SAT Scores
How do we compare new SAT scores to old SAT scores? The two tests are very different; a student who scored in the 95% on the old math section might not even crack 80% on the new one, or vice versa.
But we have to be able to compare scores. Otherwise, we can’t know how students who took only the old test did in comparison to those who took the new test.
With a table to show which score on the old SAT corresponds to which score on the new SAT, colleges can get a real sense of how the new test stacks up to the old one.
Though the tests are pretty different, another way to compare the two is by using SAT score percentiles. If a score of 800 used to correspond to the top 1%, then the same should apply to the new test. (Of course, I’m just using a vague answer here. It’s actually a lot more complicated than this—some of the statistics involved is Ph.D level stuff!)
If you’re confused about SAT percentiles on top of everything else, I definitely don’t blame you! The College Board’s most recently released SAT percentiles are in a confusing format. So let’s break down what their terms mean, and then take a look at the percentile tables.
Terms to Know
First of all, if you look at the College Board’s document, you’ll see that they give you two percentiles: the “Nationally Representative Sample” and the “SAT User.” You want to focus on the SAT User percentiles, which are what we’ve provided below.
- The Nationally Representative Sample scores are actually based on research the College Board did about how 11th and 12th graders would score on the new SAT…including those students who aren’t actually taking it. (Confusing, right?) But because students who are actually taking the SAT are more likely to be applying to college, they are also those who would generally score higher on the test anyway. In short, this sample lowballs the percentile.
- SAT User percentiles aren’t perfect—after all, the College Board only has data from March 2016 to present to base their percentiles on—but they are based on the actual scores of actual users (those graduating in 2017). And they’re going to be the percentiles colleges are more interested in.
Whew! With no further ado…your new SAT percentile tables.
SAT Percentiles (Composite)
|Total (Composite) Score||Percentile|
SAT Percentiles (Math)
|Total Score (Section)||Percentile (Math)|
SAT Percentiles (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing)
|Total Score (Section)||Percentile (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing)|
Good SAT Score Ranges by Grade Level
A question I get a lot is from parents wondering whether their child should take the SAT as a junior, or wait until senior year.
Their thinking is that if the student does well enough on the SAT for a junior, then they don’t have to worry about taking the SAT as a senior. The thing is, colleges don’t give preferential treatment to those who take the SAT at a younger age. You can take the SAT in 6th grade, get a 1200, and then never take the SAT again. That 1200 actually isn’t any different from a senior’s 1200.
Yet it might not be quite so simple. Given that, at least on average, students become more intellectually mature in an extra year of schooling—vocabularies enlarge, a sense of proper grammar becomes more fine-tuned, the ability to concentrate increases slightly—a senior might expect to see a 50-point increase in an SAT score. That might not seem like much, but going from a 1450 to a 1500 does look like a big deal on paper.
What Is a Good SAT Score in Senior Year?
A good SAT score for a senior really depends on the schools you are applying to, your current GPA, and a host of other factors, such as your essay or extracurricular activities. 1200 is a pretty good score; 1300 is clearly a good score and 1400+ is a great score.
What Is a Good SAT Score in Junior Year?
Provided that you continue to pay attention in school and you continue to do some SAT prep in your spare time, you will probably do a little bit better as a senior, but not by too much.
A good SAT score for a junior, therefore, is about 50 points less than what a good SAT score is for a senior.
If you are a junior and you have enough time to study, then getting close to 1400 is a good score.
What Is a Good SAT Score for Sophomores and Freshmen?
We highly recommend that you take the PSAT rather than the SAT if you are a sophomore or a freshman. You don’t have to include the score on your college apps, and it puts you in the running for National Merit Scholarships!
With that said, if you take a (good) SAT practice test before your junior year…1300+ is a great score for a sophomore, while 1200+ is a fantastic score for a freshman. But that’s only if you’re willing to continue to put in work on the SAT as you progress through your coursework! Otherwise, you’re more than likely to see your score stagnate pretty seriously.
SAT Score Ranges for College Admissions
Now that you know the general SAT score range to aim for, what is a good SAT score for your dream school, or to earn some scholarship dollars? Let’s take a closer look.
What SAT Score Range Do I Need for the Top 100 US Universities?
Just to make things a little easier on you, we’ve put together this table of SAT score ranges for the top 100 universities in the United States. The numbers are from the middle 50% score range (meaning 25% of admitted students had lower scores and 25% had higher scores).
Expand the table by choosing a number of entries from the drop-down menu, or type the name of your chosen school in the search box to find its the middle 50% score range!