Have you ever wondered how this seemingly mysterious process works? Where does the 1600 come from? The SAT might be long, but it’s not 1600 questions… and why not just grade it out of 100%? Why would they grade each section out of 800? As a student, I heard rumors that you got 200 points just for signing your name, can that be right?
Well wonder no more, in this article we will get down to the nitty-gritty of how the Scantron machine, and the attached black box, eats up your answer sheet and spits out a score. To start, there are two components you’ll need to know— the Raw Score and the Scaled Score.
First, the Raw Score— you will have one raw score per topic (Math, Writing, and Reading). Remember, the essay is graded separately and will not count toward your score out of 1600.
The Raw Score is the number of questions you got right per section (in the new SAT, they don’t count off for wrong answers!). Note there are 52 questions in the Reading section, 58 in Math, and 44 in Writing. So if you got 50 questions correct in the Reading section, your Raw Score in Reading would be 50. Seems simple enough so far, right?
Next, per topic (Math, Critical Reading, and Writing), we need to convert the Raw Score into the corresponding Scaled Score. This conversion changes based on the day you take your test. In other words, the SAT is actually curved, or standardized. Raw Scores are translated differently depending on the averages of that particular test.
Put simply, on an SAT that is determined to be hard, a 57 Raw Score in Math may be translated as an 800 Scaled Score, while on an SAT that is determined to be easy, a 57 Raw Score may be translated as a 790 Scaled Score. Per topic, each score in translated a little differently. We’ll go section by section.
Math Scaled Score
For the Math section, the conversion from a Raw Score to Scaled Score is fairly straightforward. Each Raw Score value is assigned a point value between 200 and 800. The conversion between the Raw Score and Scaled Score is the interesting part. Remember, the scaling of each Raw Score is different depending on the specific test taken.
Reading and Writing Scaled Scores
Though you will be tested on both Reading and Writing through the same section, their Raw Scores (and Scaled Scores) are actually calculated separately. The Raw Scores for Reading and Writing will be mapped to values between 10 and 40. Again, the conversion table shifts based on the difficulty of that specific SAT. Below is an example of a score chart (note this is not a real chart, and real charts cannot be predicted ahead of time!).
Calculating Your Total Score
So now we have three Raw Scores and three Scaled Scores, but how do we pull out the proper total score? With this formula! Where M, R, and W are our respective Scaled Scores for Math, Reading, and Writing.
M + (R + W)*10 = Total Score
By using the conversion chart above, let’s take an example. Let’s say Sally Sue just took the SAT and achieved Raw Scores of 48, 50, and 35 in Math, Reading, and Writing respectively. Based on the chart above, that means she has Scaled Scores of 680, 39, and 32. Now let’s put those algebra skills to the test!
680 + (39 + 32)*10 = 680 + (71)*10 = 680 + 710 = 1390
Wow, way to go Sally Sue.
And there you have it, the mystery formula unfurled before your very eyes. The key points to take away— every SAT is scaled differently, also note that there are 58 Math questions, 52 Reading questions, and 44 Writing questions. With a bit of number crunching, we can see that each correct Math answer on the SAT roughly translates to +10 points on your total score, each Reading answer to +6, and each Writing to +7 (again, this is a big time ballpark estimate; the exact values differ from test to test).
Use this knowledge to get a better handle on how they turn your test into a number out of 1600, and also use it to help translate your scores should you choose to receive the in depth report!
That’s all for now! As always, for help on the SAT, or any other subject, check out Chegg Tutors, and if you want to talk to me specifically, just send a message!
Scotty G. is an online ACT and SAT tutor who graduated from Washington and Lee University. He teaches mathematics and music.
One question that often comes up as you begin studying for the SAT is this: how on earth is this thing scored? Or more specifically, how are the raw scores you earn from each section turned into those neat numbers between 200 and 800 you see on the score report?
This article breaks down how the SAT is scored, section by section. You will learn how your raw score becomes a scaled score and how you can use that information to your advantage. After all, a strong understanding of the exam can give you an edge on the SAT.
The SAT has two big sections – Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), and Math. You can earn a scaled score of between 200 and 800 points on each section, for a total of 1600 possible points on the Redesigned SAT. (If you're looking for information about the old SAT, which was last offered in January 2016 and scored out of 2400, you can learn here how to calculate your SAT score and how to interpret your SAT results.)
The scaled score of between 200 and 800 is converted from the raw score you earn on each section. Your raw score is simply the number of questions you answered correctly. Skipped or wrong questions do not add or subtract from your raw score.
So how do those raw scores become scaled scores? It happens through a process that College Board calls equating: “Equating ensures that the different forms of the test or the level of ability of the students with whom you are tested do not affect your score. Equating makes it possible to make comparisons among test takers who take different editions of the test across different administrations.”
In other words, equating is not curving your score relative to other test takers on the day you take the test. Equating controls for slight variations in different SAT dates to ensure that scaled scores represent the same level of ability across different test dates. For example, a 600 on SAT Math in March has to represent the same ability level as a 600 on SAT Math in May. So if the May test turns out to be more difficult for students, the raw-score to scaled-score calculation will be adjusted so that a slightly lower raw score still nets a 600 scaled score.
Since the equating formula changes from test to test to keep the scores equal, there is no way to know for sure how a certain raw score will translate to a scaled score. However, the College Board releases raw score to scaled score ranges to give you an idea of what level of raw score you need to get to certain scaled score numbers.
While there are not confirmed score range tables available yet, we can use the raw to scaled score tables included in College Board’s free SAT practice tests for a sense of how raw scores become scaled scores on the Redesigned SAT.
You'll notice as you look at the tables that they differ slightly: for example, a raw score of 57 gets you a perfect 800 on Test 4 but not Test 1. This is because, as we discussed above, each test is equated so that despite slight differences in difficulty, an 800 on one test means the same as an 800 on another test. In this case, the Math section on Test 4 is slightly harder, so you can only miss one point and still get an 800.
And don’t worry – we will explain scoring for each section in depth so you’ll know exactly how to use these tables.
Test 1 Score Conversion Table
Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 1.
Test 4 Score Conversion Table
Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 4.
Next, we will break down the mechanics of scoring section-to-section, to help you best prepare for each part of the test.
Calculating Your Math Section Score
Finding your score on SAT Math is relatively straightforward. I'll walk you step-by-step through finding your raw score to calculating your final scaled score between 200 and 800.
- Figure out your raw score on each of the two math sections (No Calculator and Calculator). This is just the total amount of questions you answered correctly. The No Calculator section has 20 possible points, while the Calculator section has 38 possible points. Blank or wrong questions do not count for or against you. For the Grid-In answers, where you fill in the answer rather than choosing A, B, C, or D, remember that there can be a few different ways to write the same answer (for example, 3/5 could also be written as 0.6).
As an example, let's say I take Practice Test 1. After checking my answers, I count 15 correct answers on the No Calculator Section, and 25 correct answers on the Calculator section. I ignore wrong or blank answers as I count, since there is no longer a deduction for wrong answers.
- Add your No-Calculator raw score to your Calculator raw score. This is your final Math raw score. The highest possible raw score is 58.
To continue my example, I would add 15 (my raw score on the No Calculator section) to 25 (my raw score on the Calculator section) for a final Math raw score of 40.
- Using the table for your practice test, find the scaled score of 200-800 your raw score matches to.
Since I took Practice Test 1, I use Table 1 and find that a raw score of 40 translates to a scaled score of 610.
Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 1.
- What if you're not using one of College Board's practice tests? If you’re scoring questions from a practice test without a raw score to scaled score table, or you just want to know how many raw points you would need for a certain score, look at both tables to come up with an estimate. For example, when I look at Table 4, I see that a raw score of 40 on that test would have gotten me a 670! Based on that, I know if I get a raw score of 40 on Math, I can bet on a final score in the low- to mid-600s. We'll talk more about how to come up with raw score goals later in the post!
Calculating Your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score Finding your EBRW scaled score is a bit trickier than finding your Math score, since you have to combine your performance on the Reading and Writing sections. Let's take a look.
- Find your raw score on the Reading section. This is just the total amount of questions you answered correctly. Blank or wrong questions do not count for or against you. The highest raw score possible is 52.
To continue with my example, let's stay with Practice Test 1. Let's say I correct the Reading section and find that I got 39 questions right. That gives me a Reading raw score of 39.
- Find your raw score on the Writing section. This is just the total amount of questions you answered correctly. Blank or wrong questions do not count for or against you. The highest raw score possible is 44.
Let's say I correct the Writing section and see that I got 35 questions correct. My Writing raw score is 35.
- Find your Reading “scaled score” on the table. This is a number between 10 and 40.
Using Table 1, I look up my Reading raw score of 40, and see that it translates to a scaled score of 32.
- Find your Writing “scaled score” on the table. This is a number between 10 and 40.
Using Table 1, I look up my Writing raw score of 35 and see that it also translates to 32.
Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 1.
- Add your Reading and Writing scaled scores together. You’ll get a number between 20 and 80.
Since I got a 32 scaled score on both Reading and Writing, I add them together: 32 + 32 = 64.
- Multiply your scaled score by 10. This is your final scaled score between 200 and 800.
I multiply 64 by 10 to get 640. This is my final Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score.
Finally, I can calculate my total SAT composite score, since I know my Math score (610) and my EBRW score (640). I simply add them together to get the composite: 610 + 640 = 1250. Not too shabby!
But wait, there's more! The Redesigned SAT also gives you a number of subscores: two that rate your ability in different subjects (History/Social Studies and Science), and seven that break down the Math, Reading, and Writing sections into more specific (and creatively-named!) skills, for example, "Heart of Algebra." You can read in-depth about the Subscores on the Redesigned SAT website.
We’ll explain here how to calculate these various subscores – and also talk a bit about why they’re not as important as your main section scores.
Cross-Tess Scores: Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science
To calculate your cross-test scores, you need to have access to a detailed answer key that marks which questions fall under which cross-score categories, since they will come from all different sections of the test. If you take the College Board's free practice tests (linked above), then you can use their answer keys, which are quite detailed.
Find the questions marked as History/Social Studies and Science in the answer key. Next, find your raw score for each category – simply total up how many questions you got right. This can be a bit tedious, since you have to count up questions from different sections. College Board's answer keys come with a table to help you do this.
Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 1.
Finally, use their table to calculate your final scaled score, between 10 and 40, for each subject area, History/Social Science and Science, based on the raw scores you found. Unlike EBRW, you do not combine these two scores and multiply them for a final scaled score between 200 and 800. They simply stand alone as indicators of your Science and Social Science skills.
Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 1.
You can also calculate subscores for seven other areas: Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Math, Words in Context, and Command of Evidence. These subscores give you more fine-grained information about your performance within Math and EBRW.
You find these subscores using the same process: find the questions marked as belonging to those categories, total up your raw score for each category, and then use the conversion table to find your scaled scores. It can definitely be tedious to calculate all of these on your own, since there are seven categories, but it can be worth it to learn more about your strengths and weaknesses as a test-taker, as we will discuss below.
An example of how to find the relevant questions to calculate a subscore. Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 1.
The final conversion table for finding your subscores. Via College Board's Scoring Your Practice Test 1.
How Much Do My Subscores Matter?
In terms of how your SAT score is perceived, the subscores aren’t very important. Colleges are looking most closely at your composite score, and then at the two main section scores (EBRW and Math). They may look at your subscores for more info or context about your performance, but they’re not nearly as important.
Especially since these subscore categories are new with the Redesigned SAT, and colleges aren’t really used to taking all of these different subscores into account, they are more likely to rely on just the basic composite (1600) and main section scores (out of 800) to compare your scores with other applicants.
However, these subscores can be very helpful for you. Why? They can give you major clues as to where to focus your prep. For example, say that when you calculate your math subscores and notice that you missed over half of the “Passport to Advanced Math” questions, despite getting the other questions mostly correct. That’s a big hint that you are struggling with some higher-level math concepts, and you should study them carefully before retaking the test.
So even though it's tedious, if you're not getting the scores you want on practice exams, take the time to calculate your subscores -- both the cross-subject scores and the section subscores -- to figure out where you're going wrong and to focus your studying more carefully.
What About the Essay?
Unlike the old SAT, on the new SAT, your essay score is totally separate and not combined with your final composite score in any way. (You could technically score a perfect 1600 even with a subpar essay – not that we recommend blowing the essay off, as we will discuss below!).
As for how your essay is graded, it will receive three scores between 2 and 8: one score for Reading, one for Analysis, and one for Writing. A 2 is the lowest score for any category, while 8 is the highest.
- Reading will judge how well you read through and understood the passage the essay is about and how well you demonstrate that understanding in your essay.
- Analysis will judge how well you analyze the passage in relation to the prompt and how solid (or not) your argument is.
- Writing will judge how strong your essay is from a construction standpoint: in other words, is it logical? Does it flow well? Do you use good grammar and spelling?
Two readers (as in, two flesh and blood people!) will read your essay, and give the Reading, Analysis, and Writing parts of your essay a score from 1 to 4. Those scores will then be added together for the three final scores of between 2 and 8. You can read a complete SAT essay rubric in case you’re curious about how exactly the essay will be graded.
How To Use This Information
So, now that you’re an expert on how the SAT is scored, how can you use this information to your advantage? We have identified four key ways in which understanding SAT scores can help you make a smart study plan and improve your score.
#1: Develop Targeted Raw Scores
You can use College Board’s raw-to-scaled score tables to help develop a target raw score for each section. For example, if you want to crack 700 on Math, you should aim for at least a 45, though 50 is the safest bet.
If you want to get to at least a 700 on EBRW, since it combines Reading and Writing, you can play around a bit with your raw score goals. For example, you could aim to get a scaled score of 35 on each section, for a total of 70. In this case, you would go for 45 raw points on Reading and 39 raw points on Writing.
But say you are really confident about the Writing section but less confident on Reading. You could go for a perfect 40 on Writing and aim for 30 on Reading and still get a 70, a.k.a. 700, overall. In that case, you would aim for all 44 raw points on Writing and 36 raw points on reading.
So no matter what your score goals are, using the tables to find the raw scores you need helps make your studying more concrete and manageable. Knowing how many raw points you need gives you a much better sense of how to approach each section.
(By the way, if you're wondering what SAT score you should aim for you should read our guide to what a good SAT score is.)
#2: Guess Aggressively
Since the Redesigned SAT doesn’t have a guessing penalty, make sure to answer every single question on every single section – even if it means filling in random bubbles if you run out of time at the end of the test. At best, you’ll pick up an extra raw point or two, at worst, you won’t gain any. But you will not be hurt at all by guessing, so it’s worth the shot!
Remember: if you're leaving blank bubbles on your SAT answer sheet, you're basically throwing away free raw points.
#3: Don't Sweat the Essay... But Don't Brush It Off, Either
Since the essay doesn’t factor into your final composite score, don’t devote too much of your SAT study time on it. Having the highest composite score possible is important both for admission to selective schools and for getting merit scholarships.
However, you shouldn’t swing the other way and completely bomb the essay. Colleges will be able to read your essay when your SAT scores are sent, so you want it to represent your sincerest effort. Especially since colleges have the essay as an example of your writing, you want it to be good quality so that your carefully edited essays don't look like they were written by someone else.
Bottom line: your overall composite score is much more important than the essay, and as long as your essay score isn’t drastically different than your composite, you’ll be fine.
#4: Do Sweat the Math Section
Since Math is exactly half of your composite score, it’s more important than ever to study hard for it. Unlike the old SAT, on which Math was just 1/3 of your total composite, on the Redesigned SAT, it can absolutely make or break your score.
To take an example, let's look at two hypothetical students. Student A does perfectly on Reading and Writing, scoring a perfect 40 on each section for a composite of 800. However, he stumbles a bit on Math, getting a composite of 600. Student A's final composite is 1400.
Student B, meanwhile, does perfectly on Math, with a score of 800, and Reading, with a scaled score of 40. However, she stumbles a bit on writing and only gets a scaled score of 30. Her final EBRW scaled score is a 70 (40 + 30), meaning that she ends up with an EBRW composite of 700. So Student B's final composite score is a 1500, significantly higher!
The message here isn't to neglect studying for Reading and Writing. It is still important to do very well on both sections for a strong EBRW score. However, you can see that out of the three sections, Math carries the most weight, so it's very important to do well on Math for a strong final composite score.
Did the last section freak you out? If you don't consider yourself a math person, don't panic! We have the ultimate guide for SAT Math including practice problems and key strategies to help you do well.
By the way, we believe anyone can be a math person! To find out how, check out this article on getting perfect grades in high school from our resident Harvard alum. Not only does this guide have great advice for improving your grades, it also explains the concept of a "growth mindset" and why having this mindset is key to doing well, even in subjects you think you're not good at.
Get the complete lowdown on the Redesigned SAT with our complete guide to the New SAT. In this post we break down new question types, new strategies, and new challenges that you may face on the SAT beginning in March 2016.
What SAT score should you aim for? We take you step by step through figuring out your SAT target score. This is a crucial step to be able to figure out the raw scores you need for each section and to make a comprehensive study plan.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? Click below to download our free guide to the top 5 strategies you need to keep in mind to have a shot: