Last year more than 2 million students took the SAT. As you prepare to take the test, you might be wondering about the way it’s scored. Most simply, what is the SAT out of?
The test has gone through some scoring changes over the years. And your report can be a little complicated. So in this article, I will help you understand your SAT scores.
The SAT is out of a total score of 1600. The SAT has undergone some big changes over the last decade. Prior to 2005, the SAT score was out of 1600. In 2005 the SAT was redesigned so the top score became 2400. But this change was somewhat short-lived. In March of 2016, the SAT was overhauled again and the top score was adjusted back to 1600.
Even though today’s SAT scores share the same number as the pre-2005 test, the scores have a much different breakdown. Scores are now much more detailed. The goal is to give colleges a clear understanding of your academic capabilities. But it can also be a bit overwhelming.
When you receive your score report you will see total scores, section scores, test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores. As complicated as it seems, this detailed information can actually help you.
Most students take the SAT more than once. So this breakdown helps you focus your practice to improve the next time around. But first, you need to understand what each of these scores means.
Your score report begins with your total score. This is what the SAT is out of—your sum total—in other words, how you performed on the test overall. This is the number everyone likes to throw around. Your scores from each section add together for your total score number. It will fall between 400—if you show up and fill in some random bubbles, and 1600—if you get every single answer correct.
It is important to note that the optional essay, if you take it, is not included in this score.
The next part of your score report is the section breakdown. This is where you can begin to see where you may need more targeted study. The exam is divided into two main sections—Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math. Your scores from these two sections are what determine your total score. Each section has a score range of 200-800—200 being the random bubbler, and 800 the super-achiever.
The SAT has three main sections: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. But for the section scores, Reading and Writing & Language are grouped into one score, and Math into the other.
Your test scores are the more specific breakdown of each of the sections. Each of the three branches of the SAT—Reading, Writing and Language, and Math—have an individually applied score. These are each given a score ranging between 10-40 points. This is a good chance for you to analyze which specific content you need to target your study for in the next go-around.
This score is a little more complicated. The SAT does not specifically target science, history, or social studies. But these content questions feature across the test within the tested subjects. The Cross-Test Scores give you a break-down of how you scored on science and history related questions across the entire test.
The scores break down into Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. Both range between 10-40 points. If you scored low here, you can focus your SAT practice on questions that include science or history.
This is where your scores are really broken down for you and can be the most helpful section for targeted study. Here the SAT Score Report details the most frequently appearing types of skills across the test.
The first four subscores relate to Reading, and Writing and Language. They are Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, and Standard English Conventions. Each is assigned a single-point score within the range of 1-15.
The final three subscores all make up the most common types of questions in the Math section—Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. These also have a single-point score range of 1-15.
If you take the optional essay, this score is not added to the total score. You receive a separate score for this section. Two individual scorers read and assign scores to your essay in reading, analysis, and writing. These individual scores range from 1-4. Your results from the two scorers are then added together, now ranging between 2-8. This means a perfect score is 8|8|8.
At first glance, the math on these scores doesn’t quite seem to add up. Hang with me. The section scores are simple—each has a top score of 800. 800 times two sections and voilà—1600.
But when you begin looking at the break-down with top scores of 40 and 15—this math doesn’t add up to 1600. So what’s going on here?
This is how College Board accounts for inequities in various tests. To combat cheating there are several different SAT versions taken each year. Not all tests are created equal—some are more difficult than others. So scoring experts have come up with a process to level the scoring playing field.
Your section scores—ranging from 400-800—are made up of all those smaller breakdown scores—ranging from 1-15 and 10-40. The section scores are figured in 10-point increments. The test scores, subscores and cross-test scores are one-point increments. If we could do things simply, we’d add up all those smaller scores, multiply by 10 and BAM—1600.
Bu-ut…there is still the problem of unequal tests. So, for each test, College Board analyzes and compares test question difficulty. Then they come up with a nifty formula to weight these test scores, subscores, and cross-test scores.
This means that Sally taking the test in Newark, NJ, and Sammy taking a completely different test in Boise, ID wind up with fair test scores that can be accurately compared. No one knows exactly what this formula looks like since it ranges from test to test. But College Board does provide this sample Raw Score Conversion Table in this “Scoring the SAT Practice Test” PDF.
Your most important takeaway is that this scoring breakdown is an important way for you to improve your scores. Look at your subscores in particular to target your biggest academic struggles. Then get back in there and practice.