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How To Calculate an Overall SAT Score

Updated on December 20, 2012
It's important to understand what the SAT scores mean and how they are calculated.
It's important to understand what the SAT scores mean and how they are calculated. | Source

How to Calculate SAT Score

It's important to understand how your overall SAT score is calculated. Why? Who cares? You should! The colleges that you apply to cares too!

By knowing how your SAT test is scored and what the scores mean, you can identify your areas of improvement. If you want to retake the test, you can study and focus mainly on the sections that you want to improve on. Most colleges will accept your best score from different tests.

In this article, you will learn how the SAT Administration calculates the overall score of the SAT Test and SAT Subject Test.

The old SAT that I took in the 90's used to range from 400 to 1600. The most updated SAT for this year also has an essay writing section. So the total score for all three sections of the SAT Exam is 2400. Read further to understand the break down of the scores.

Have you considered signing up for an SAT Prep Course? Find out if they're worth the extra cost.

Are SAT Prep courses worth it?

The Math and Critical Reading Sub Score

Each subject receives a score (multiple of 10) on the scale of 200-800. So the lowest score that you can get on each section is 200 and the highest is 800. Total scores are calculated by adding up the scores of the three individual subject areas, Critical Reading, Math, and Writing.

You can earn 1 point for each correct answer. However you lose 1/4 point for each incorrect answer. The only exception is the grid-in math section, where you will nether lose or earn points if you don't answer the question correctly. If a question is left unanswered, you will get 0 points.

The Essay Sub Score

The writing section is scored differently. You will get a score on a scale of 1 to 6. Your essay is scored by two readers, so that means you will get two separate scores, with a total possible score from 2 to 12. If the score is different by 1 point, a 3rd reader will also score the essay.

Note that the essay counts for 30 percent of your overall raw score.

SAT Test Format and Scores

Maximum Score
20 Questions 18 Questions 16 Questions
Numbers, operations, geometry, statistics, and algebra
Essay Section 35 Questions 14 Questions
Grammar, usage, diction, vocabulary, and paragraph-level reading
Critical Reading
24 Questions 24 Questions 19 Questions
Critical reading, sentence-level reading, and vocabulary

Perfect SAT Score?

By the way, I knew somebody from high school that had a perfect SAT score. They named a day after him, the Ern Loh Day. Statistics also say that 20 students receive a perfect score every year, out of millions of students. So don't fret about having the perfect score. Just do your best and aim for the highest score possible. And if you do score perfectly, maybe the principal will name a day after you too!

What is the SAT Raw Score?
What is the SAT Raw Score? | Source

SAT Raw Scores are "Equated"

The first step in calculating your SAT score is to determine the raw score for EACH section. Your raw score is converted to a scaled score by a "statistical" process called equating. Remember, the maximum scaled score for each section is 800, which is the score that you report to the colleges!

The conversion of raw scores to scaled score is to correct for minor variations in the test administrations. They want to make sure that the same ability level of each test taker is the same scaled score on every single test. This process makes it possible to compare students who take different editions of the test and account the different test administers who proctor the test.

In other words, they want to make sure that the 500 that you scored on your edition of the test reflects the same ability of your friend's same score of 450 on a different edition of the test.

The scaled score is based on a bell curve that you may be familiar with. The majority of scores fall in the 400-600 range of the bell curve.

For a more detailed explanation of what the scores mean, visit the CollegeBoard.

The SAT Subject Test Scoring System

The SAT Subjects (History, Spanish, etc) are scored slightly different. The sub scores are reported on a scale of 20-80.

  • You get 1 point for each question that you answer correctly.
  • 1/4 point penalty for each 5-choice question answered wrong.
  • 1/3 point penalty for each 4-choice question answered wrong.
  • 1/2 point penalty for each 4-choice question answered wrong.
  • 0 point subtracted for each question that is left blank.

Understanding SAT Scores
Understanding SAT Scores | Source

Understanding SAT Percentiles

When you look at the percentile score, think of it as a comparison of your score to other student's scores across the states. Let me give you an example.

  • Your math score is 550. If the state percentile for a score of 550 is 62, you did better than 62% of the state's test takers.

You can check the percentile score for SAT and Subject Test.

I hope that I've cleared up some questions regarding how the overall SAT score is calculated. Good luck!

More references on SAT Test:

How to Prepare for SAT English

How to Request Your SAT Score

Comments on How to Calculate SAT Scores

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    • Exam Masters profile image

      Vishal Mody 2 years ago from Toronto

      Great hub! I'm an SAT tutor in Toronto and it always surprises me how little of the scoring system my students and parents actually understand. Often times, they're shocked when I tell them that they get penalized 1/4 point for getting a question wrong!

    • profile image

      LisaKeating 3 years ago

      I used to teach an SAT prep class. Interesting article.

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 3 years ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      I took my SAT's on the old scale as well. I didn't really freak out about them too much, but it something that I'm glad I don't have to relive. I wish I'd been able to take the new test, though. The essay section sounds so much better than all of those analogy questions.

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 4 years ago from California

      The breakdown for raw score is for subject tests only. Depending on how many choices the questions have (some are 4 and some are 3), they subtract a fraction of 1/3 or 1/4. The raw score is then converted to scaled score. For regular SAT math and critical reading, they all subtract 1/4. Just a minor detail. Sorry for the confusion! :-)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Very helpful hub. It's been so long so I took the SATs, GMATs, etc. that the tests have all changed. I appreciate this primer on scoring. One question. Is this a minor typo or can you elucidate? The point is about scoring: "1/3 point penalty for each 4-choice question answered wrong

      1/2 point penalty for each 4-choice question answered wrong." Are some 4 choicers 1/2 point while others are only 1/3 point off? How do you know which is which? Thanks for the explanation. Voted up and more!

    • Blawger profile image

      Bahin Ameri 5 years ago from California

      Great overview of the SAT's. I used to teach SAT critical reading and essay writing and I spent the first week just going over the scoring process and testing strategies. It is crucially important that students understand how the test is scored and what the scores actually mean. Your overview will surely help test-takers with that. Voted up!

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 5 years ago from California

      You're welcome, Crea8tor...the important thing to tell him is to not to stress too much. Early preparation is key...and there's a lot of resources available. ;-)

    • Cre8tor profile image

      Dan Robbins 5 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks for sharing. I never took these tests and now my son is trying to prepare and I'm not sure how to help. Thanks for stepping in!