Studying for the SAT is a lot of work. But it is important. The SAT is a significant part of your college application process. Most colleges either require or recommend the SAT. The SAT is a good way for colleges to understand your academic capabilities. The tests are designed to show what you have learned in high school. And they also indicate how well-prepared you are for college coursework.
An important part of SAT preparation is having a goal. If you can identify a score you are aiming for, it will help you focus your study. Especially in terms of how much time you need to put into it. But what is the highest SAT score?
The highest SAT score possible is 1600. It is incredibly difficult to score a perfect 1600 on the SAT. It is also very rare. College Board’s most recent statistics show only 7% of test takers scored between 1400 and 1600 in 2018. And the average SAT score is 1068.
This does not mean that achieving a perfect score is impossible. It does mean that it requires a game plan and a lot of hard work.
Even if perfection is not your aim, it’s important to create an SAT scoring goal. The first place to start is with the school you plan applying to. Do a Google search to find out the average SAT scores of students accepted into that college or university. This will help you set your ideal target score range.
From there, you will need to look at how the SAT scores work to help target your weakest areas. I will explain this below.
The SAT is made up of three sections: Math, Reading, and Writing and Language. The Math section has a high score of 800. Reading, Writing, and Language are combined for a possible total 800 score. These two sections are totaled for the highest possible SAT score—1600. This process is pretty straight forward. But figuring your section scores is a bit more complicated.
Each individual section is first given a raw score based on the number of correct answers. Then a formula is used to convert raw scores into the total section score.
The Math Calculator and Math No Calculator scores add together to get the total Math raw score. This number is then converted into a section score between 200 and 800.
Reading, and Writing and Language each use the raw scores to assign a test score between 10 and 40. Below is a sample raw score conversion table published by College Board.
These scores are then plugged into a conversion equation like this one below—also published by College Board.
Note that these are only sample conversion tables. There are many versions of the SAT taken each year to combat the possibility of cheating. There are various levels of difficulty between questions and test versions. To make the final SAT scores fair and equal for all students, these formulas are created. This ensures that students taking different test versions around the world have fair scores.
The highest score you can achieve on the Math section of the SAT is 800. There are two sections in math—calculator allowed and no calculator. These are made up of questions across various math subtopics: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math.
Looking at the above conversion chart, you need to get all 58 questions right for a perfect math section score. Every conversion chart is different to equate the levels of difficulty. So on a difficult test, it may be possible to get 57 questions correct for a perfect score. But this will not always be the case.
A good way to identify your weaknesses in math for targeted study is to use the SAT practice tests or Khan Academy SAT practice. As you practice you will begin to see patterns emerge in the types of questions you are struggling with. Those will be the areas you should begin to target more carefully to improve your scores.
The SAT groups the two sections—Reading, and Language and Writing—together to get the second half of the 1600 high score. This score is the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score—or EBRW. The highest EBRW score is 800. Each section uses the number correct—the raw score—for a test score between 10 and 40. These are then plugged into the conversion formula to determine this total section score.
The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section is made up of questions under the following subtopics: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, and Standard English Conventions. As you take practice tests, identify which of these subtopics you struggle most with. This is where you should focus to improve your scores and reach your goal.
Remember that there are three official sections on the SAT—Math, Reading, and Language and Writing. But there are only two section scores—Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.
Reading is combined with Language and Writing to make up one half, while math makes up the other half alone. This means that math is the more important, weightier score. All three subjects are important. But if math is a struggle for you or if you haven’t taken many upper-level math classes, you will need to make sure to target math heavily in your study.
If you use the full-length paper practice tests provided by College Board, make sure to carefully go through each corresponding “Scoring Your Practice SAT” pdf carefully. These break down each question by number and show you exactly what category of question you miss. This will help you understand the pattern of question you struggle with so you can study accordingly.
If you use the free Khan Academy SAT practice, much of the analysis work is done for you to help target your weaknesses. You can even send your SAT score report to Khan Academy and it will tailor practice based on these scores.
These are the best places to begin. And for many students, this will be adequate to reach their scoring goals. But, if your goal is perfection you will need to go much more in depth in your study—remember how rare a perfect score is. Zoom in on those weaknesses until you have a thorough understanding of that math area.
You’ve probably heard Zig Ziglar’s famous quote—“If you aim at nothing you will hit it every time.” It’s repeated often because it’s so true. You need to make a goal to aim for. Go back to my advice at the beginning of this article. What is your ideal college? Even if you have doubts you can get in—aim for it. Sure, you might not make it into the college of your dreams. But if you don’t try, you definitely won’t.
So Google your dream college and the average SAT score for students admitted. Make that your goal. And start studying, using the best SAT prep books out there. Aim for the target you set. If you miss—it wasn’t in vain. I speak from experience. I aimed for and missed the college I wanted, but in the process, I got into the college I needed. That’s often how life works. Keep positive. And most importantly— work hard.