How the New SAT Is Scored
In March of 2016, the College Board rolled out the new SAT. At the time, these changes to the SAT were the most significant since 2005, when the College Board introduced a writing section and increased the scoring range from 1600 points to 2400 points.
Initially, many students, teachers, tutors, and guidance counselors were anxious to see what the changes would mean. In fact, changes to the scoring structure and format of the new test were of particular concern, as many students did not know exactly how their performance would be assessed.
Now, almost a whole year later, we have a much better understanding of the new SAT and how it is scored. Specifically, we now know the new scoring scale and we know that the actual scoring process is not much different than it was for the older version of the SAT.
To learn more about the format, scoring scale, and scoring process for the new SAT, read on.
What is the format of the New SAT?
At first glance, the new SAT appears significantly different from the SAT administered prior to March 2016. It contains two primary test sections, and one additional optional test section, as opposed to the three required sections on the previous version of the test.
One of the primary tests is the Math Test. This is actually comprised of two smaller test sections: the Math Test With Calculator and the Math Test – No Calculator.
The other primary test is the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test. This is also comprised of two smaller test sections: the Critical Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test.
The final component of the new exam, the SAT Essay, is now optional.
How are tests scored?
When you are finished taking the SAT, the test supervisor will collect and count the test books to make sure all materials have been turned in before dismissing you from the testing room. This is to help ensure the security of testing materials.
All test materials are then put into a sealed envelope and sent to a scoring center. At the scoring center, SAT Essays are removed for separate scoring, while the remaining answer sheets are scanned by a machine that counts the number of correct answers bubbled in on each answer sheet.
Tests are scored based on the number of answers that you got correct. With the exception of the SAT Essay, all tests have multiple-choice or grid-in answers. This means that answer sheets can be quickly scanned to tally raw scores. Because there is no scoring penalty for wrong answers, your raw score is simply the number of correct answers that you achieved on each section.
Once your raw scores have been tallied, they are converted to scaled scores through a process called equating. Equating accounts for very slight differences in test difficulty and ensures that scores are consistent across different forms of the SAT.
The exact equation used to equate your raw SAT score to a scaled score varies slightly from one test to another, and is adjusted in small increments to reflect the difficulty of the test.
You can get a better idea of the exact process by reviewing the scoring procedure for official SAT practice tests prepared by the College Board. Check out the Raw Score Conversion Tables beginning on page seven of the packet Scoring Your SAT Practice Test #1.
What is the score range for the new SAT?
Scaled scores for each required SAT test range from 200-800. You receive one score from 200-800 for the Math test, which takes into account your performance on both the Math Test With Calculator and Math Test – No Calculator sections. You receive another score from 200-800 for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing test, which takes into account your performance on both the Writing and Language Test and the Critical Reading Test.
Your total SAT score will always range from 400-1600 and is calculated simply by adding together the scores from your Math test and your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test.
The new, optional SAT Essay is scored differently, using a different scale, and it bears no weight on your total SAT score.
To learn more about SAT scores, read CollegeVine’s What Is a Good SAT Score?
How is the new SAT essay scored?
The optional essay cannot be scored by computer since its answers are not multiple-choice or grid-in. Instead, each SAT essay is read by two qualified readers. The readers each assign a score from one to four in three different dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
If the scores assigned by the readers to any single dimension vary by more than one point, a scoring director will read the essay to resolve the discrepancy.
The points assigned in each dimension are then totaled, resulting in a score range for each dimension between two and eight. The dimension scores are added together to result in a total score ranging from 6-24.
You can read more about the SAT Essay scoring process and preview the scoring rubric on CollegeBoard’s SAT Essay Scoring site.
Is there a scoring curve on the SAT?
There is no scoring curve on the SAT in the traditional sense. Most often, the term scoring curve refers to slight changes in your final score to account for the performance of your peers. Your resulting score on a curved test shows your performance as it compares to the performance of others on the same test, usually with curved scores distributed evenly along a bell curve.
This is not the case for the SAT. While scores are equated from raw scores to scaled scores, this process accounts only for slight differences in the difficulty of the test, not for differences in peer performance on the test. Instead, detailed content and statistical specifications are used to assemble each new form of the SAT, and this data contributes to how raw scores from that specific version of the test are equated to scaled scores.
This way, there is no advantage to taking a slightly easier version of the SAT and no disadvantage to taking a slightly more difficult version of the SAT, since your raw scores will be equated to account for these very slight variations.
To learn more about how equating affects your SAT score, read CollegeVine’s How Does the Curve Work for the SAT?
What does my score report for the new SAT mean?
The most important numbers on your score report are your total score and your individual test scores. Your total score will range from 400-1600, while your test scores will range from 200-800. The total score is simply the test scores added together.
While these numbers are certainly the most important on your score report and will be the first (and sometimes only) numbers that college admissions committees review, there are other important elements of your score report that will help to guide your understanding of your performance.
Your percentile ranking shows how your performance compares to other students who took the test. If you score in the 75th percentile, that means that your score is likely higher than 75% of your peers. However, due to slight differences in test difficulty and in the testing population from one test to another, percentiles are not calculated based on actual peer performance on each test, but instead have been derived from extensive research studies.
Another set of numbers you will see on your score report is your subscores, which range from 1-15. These scores give you feedback on your performance in various skill areas. Subscores are available for the following skill categories: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, Standard English Conventions, Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math.
While your subscores don’t bear much (if any) weight on college admissions decisions, they are great tools to help guide your studying for future SATs if you choose to take the test again. Be sure to review them carefully and take them into account when creating a study plan.
To learn more about how to interpret your score report, read The CollegeVine Guide to SAT Scores: All Your Questions Answered.
What are college readiness benchmarks?
Benchmark scores are set for each test on the new SAT. These benchmarks are designed to predict readiness for college and can be used by teachers to identify students who are on track for success along with students that may need extra support while there’s still time to prepare.
The college and career readiness benchmarks for the new SAT are designed to predict a 75% likelihood of achieving at least a C in a set of first-semester, credit-bearing college courses. The benchmarks are set at the section level, so there is a benchmark for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and a benchmark for Math.
The current college readiness benchmark for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing test is 480, while the current college readiness benchmark for the Math test is 530.
It’s important to understand the scoring process for the new SAT as you prepare for the exam. Understanding the range of raw scores needed to result in the scaled score you hope to achieve will help to shape your studying. If you know that you can only miss three questions to score the 780 that you’re hoping for, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you need to achieve while you’re tackling the test.
To get started with your studying, check out these free CollegeVine SAT study resources:
Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
To learn more about the SAT, check out these CollegeVine posts:
Want more SAT tips sent to you?
Sign up below and we'll send you expert SAT tips and guides.