SAT Scoring (Full 2020 Guide)

The SAT is a standardized test that high school students complete in their last year of high school, in preparation for attending college in the next academic year.

High school students need a score from the college SATs to accompany their college application, and their scores will be a contributing factor to being offered a place at that college. Many colleges will expect a high SAT score as part of the reputation and trademark of the college.

When you’re preparing to take the SAT college, it’s important to have a good understanding of how the scoring works, so that you can set a target score and continuously aim towards this throughout your study.

In this article, we’ll break down the SAT scoring system, including section scores and overall scores, and help you to understand more about the SAT exam.

Understanding the SAT

SAT exam scoring

The SAT test is a pen and paper standardized test that is managed by the College Board. The exam is designed to test your knowledge of subjects, including reading writing and math, as well as testing your ability to work quickly and under pressure.

Your test scores will be a numerical demonstration of your intelligence, skills, and determination. The test is taken at an SAT certified center, which is usually your high school, and you can take the test several times if you need to.

Overall, the SAT has five sections, including the optional essay section, and stretches over 3 hours of testing. For each section, there are a series of questions with multiple choice answers. Read the question, choose your answer, and mark this on the answer sheet.

The tricky element of the SAT, which you will need to master through prep, is the speed that you’ll need to work at. For most sections, you will have less than a minute to answer each question, so you’ll need to work quickly and effectively.

The first section of the SAT is Reading, where you’ll need to demonstrate through evidence-based reading that you understand the texts and have good knowledge of grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, and sentence structure.

There will be five text extracts from a range of topics in the reading section, including fiction and non-fiction. You’ll need to read through each text and then respond to 5-8 questions on each text. The questions could ask you to identify the correct definition of a word, why a writer may have used a certain phrase or the meaning of the text.

These types of questions that mean you’ll need to determine the context or meaning from the text are called reading comprehension. If this is not a strong area for you, we recommend reading fiction and non-fiction books to improve your reading comprehension and complete SAT prep.

The next section is Writing and Language. The questions will either ask you to choose the correct vocabulary, grammar, or punctuation. This means you’ll be answering questions as though you are an editor, making small tweaks in someone’s work.

The writing section can be complex to get the correct answers for, and its important to get lots of practice for this section before you take the test. You’ll also have t complete 44 questions in 35 minutes, as well as read the texts, so working quickly is essential for this section.

Once again, if you’re not confident in the reading and writing sections, we recommend increasing your reading, including more fiction and non-fiction, and completing SAT prep for your exam.

The reading and writing scores are brought together to create one section called the evidence-based reading and writing score. Both the reading and writing scores represent an equal weighting of 50% each, together making up your evidence-based reading and writing score.

The SAT test has two Math sections, one with no calculator and one with the use of a calculator. The math section is testing key math topics, with Algebra I and II making up the largest part of the Math question. Also covered are Arithmetic, Probability, Data Analysis, Plane Geometry, Coordinate Geometry, and Trigonometry.

For most students, these are topics that are well covered throughout high school, especially in the later years. Not all students, however, will have a natural talent for Math, and some may struggle to complete this section and get a good overall score. It’s important to complete SAT prep for the Math section, and possibly use a private tutor to increase your learning further.

The math section requires you to complete 58 questions over 1 hour and 20 minutes, which means you’ll have just over one minute to complete each question. For the Math Calculator, you are allowed to use a calculator to assist your answers.

For the Math No-Calculator section, which is shorter, you will not be able to use a calculator, but some formulas may be provided with some questions to assist you. The Math sections are slightly different from other SAT sections, as they are not just multiple-choice questions. In total, there are 13 questions, which are ‘Grid-in’ questions.

This means that instead of selecting from a range of answers, you will be asked to write your answer using a small grid. Like with the multiple-choice, you will color-in the digits that make up the answers, so that the computer can understand your answer when marking. To understand this answering technique, complete practice tests before your SAT to get a great SAT score.

Finally, there is an optional Essay section which you may choose to complete. Suppose you’re taking an English Major or a subject where you will be expected to write a lot of opinion and analysis essays. In that case, it is worthwhile taking the essay section to demonstrate your reading writing skills in this area to the college board.

In this SAT essay section, you will be given a text extract where a social, economic, or philosophical issue is being discussed. You will need to read the text and then break it down and evaluate the quality and strength of the arguments presented. You will need to analyze and assess the extract, as well as the merit and strength of the debate.

You will not be asked to give your own opinion on the topic, and will simply be analyzing the arguments in the text. This is an essential skill that many students will need to use at college in a range of majors.

A great way to prep for this section is to write practice essays and ask your tutor, teacher, the parent, or fellow student to help mark your answers. Also, be sure to complete the SAT prep where you learn the best techniques for quickly reading and assessing the text and responding in your essay.

Understanding SAT scoring

SAT scores

Scoring for the SAT is overseen by the College Board, who regulates the exam. The College Board is responsible for marking the exam and distributing score reports to colleges. SAT scoring is quite complex as each SAT section is given a raw score, a scaled section score, and then combined into a total scaled score.

The total score is out of 1600 points, and this is the number that the college admissions will look at when considering your application. Let’s look at the scoring elements that will make up your raw score, scaled score, and overall SAT score.

SAT section scores and scaled scores

Firstly, each section has a different time limit, and a different number of questions, making it difficult to compare raw scores:

  • Reading – 65 minutes – 52 questions
  • Writing and Language – 35 minutes – 44 questions
  • Math No Calculator – 25 minutes – 20 questions
  • Math Calculator – 55 minutes – 38 questions
  • Essay Writing – 50 minutes – 1 essay

By answering each question, you will get a raw score for each section.

Furthermore, the SAT scoring system has two main sections – Reading and Writing, and Math. Within these sections, your raw score from each section is combined and given a scaled score of between 200 and 800 points.

The raw score to scaled score conversion is quite complex to figure out, but there are online calculators to use when you’re completing your test prep so that you can get a sense of what your raw score actually means. Scaled scores are used to compare each section equally, and compare students against each other.

For example, you could get a scaled score of 675 in the Math section, and 720 in the Reading and Writing section, giving you a total score of 1395 out of 1600 points. This is the simplest way to look at your SAT score and easily understand it. The 7 sub-section scores identify strengths and weaknesses in different areas, and these will be included in your score report.

What is a good SAT score?

Student thumbs up

When you’re working towards attending college, you need to prove that you are capable, determined, and a good student for that college. Your SAT score is a small but important part of your application, so it’s important that you work hard and prepare for the exam.

But what makes a good SAT score? With SATs, the score range is so wide (400 – 1600 points) that some colleges are more flexible in the scores they accept.

The average SAT score is around 1060 points out of the total 1600. However, to score in the top 10 percent of the test takes, you’ll need a score of at least 1300 points. Ivy League colleges will expect scores to be in the top 1 percentile, which is 1500 and above, and this is often a trademark of the college and their students.

To set your target SAT score, first look at the expectations of the college, they may list on their website the SAT scores that they expect from prospective students. Also, you can research alumni or current students and enquire about their SAT scores.

This will help to give you a benchmark or general score bracket to work towards. Furthermore, as you complete practice tests as part of your prep, you’ll get an idea of your average score, and how high you can push your score to set a personal target.

What is the percentile score?

When you take the SAT, as well as your overall score out of 1600, you’ll also receive a percentile score. This can be in two formats and can be flipped either way. It may show that you are in the top 5 percent of test-takers, so your performance is very high compared to all other students that have taken the SAT. This number can be flipped to be in the 95th percentile of test-takers, which means the same thing but represented in a different way.

The purpose of a percentile score is to be used as a comparison tool for comparing students alongside each other. For example, colleges can assess the test scores for one class, for Science Majors or school districts. The percentile scores are also used by other education organizations to rate the quality of education in that city or school. They are also a good way for you to represent your scores on a resume for future employers.

Should I complete SAT prep?

Pretty student thinking

The short answer is yes! When you’re getting ready to take any test, you should prepare, but especially with the SAT test! The SAT test requires you to think quickly and rapidly answer multiple-choice questions. You’ll need to be confident in your reading writing and math skills and know your strengths and weaknesses.

SAT prep usually includes knowledge, answering strategies and techniques, and practice questions and papers. These resources together will help you to get a great raw score in each section and overall great high school scores that you’ve been aiming for.

Take a look at our best SAT Prep Article to find the program that is right for you and will help your learning.

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