The SAT Scoring Scale

Each administered SAT contains approximately 170 questions (plus the Essay), and each SAT section score is based on the total number of questions a test taker correctly answers, a total known as the section raw score. After arriving at the raw score, a unique Conversion Table is used for each section of the SAT to convert the raw score into a scaled SAT score. Currently, all three sections of the SAT are scored on the 200 to 800 scale, with 200 being the lowest possible score and 800 being the highest possible score.

Because the Conversion Tables used for each test are slightly different, many students ask, “What does it take to get a good score?” The answer to this question varies depending on the type of college you want to attend, but you do not need to answer every question correctly to do well on the test. Consider the following raw score conversions from the practice test you will take today:

 
Raw Score 
Scaled Score 
Math
(out of 54)
Critical Reading
(out of 67)

Writing*
(out of 49)

800
54
67
49
750
51
63
44
700
48 
59
38
650
43
53
32
600
38 
46 
26
550
31
37
19
500
25
29
14
*Assumes an overall Essay score of 5 out of 6.

You can also use the Conversion Tables that accompany each test to help determine the performance level required in each individual section to achieve a particular score. For example, to achieve a 600 in the Math section of this test you must achieve a raw score of at least 38.

While examining the SAT scale it is important not to lose sight of what the scores actually represent. The 200 to 800 test scale contains 61 different possible scores. Each score places a student in a certain relative position compared to other test takers. These relative positions are represented through a percentile that correlates to each score. The percentile indicates where the test taker falls in the overall pool of test takers for that year. For example, a score of 1800 represents the 81st percentile, meaning a student with a score of 1800 scored better than 81 percent of the people who took the SAT that year. The percentile is critical since it is a true indicator of your positioning relative to other test takers, and thus college applicants. Click on the following link to view general percentiles for your total score and each subject area score:

Using data from all seven tests in a given year provides College Board with a stable and accurate percentile for each score. Otherwise percentiles could vary significantly from test to test as different groups of test takers performed better or worse. Historical analysis shows that percentiles do change from year to year, but only by minute amounts. Since percentiles are not calculated on a per test basis, each test taker does not compete against the other students taking the same SAT. Instead, each test taker competes against the students from the entire year. In fact, because of question pre-testing through the use of experimental sections, the conversion chart for each SAT is supposedly set before the test is administered. Only minor adjustments are then made to normalize the test.

The normalization yields a rough bell curve. The number of test takers in the 200s and 700s is very low, and most test takers are bunched in the middle, comprising the "top" of the bell. In fact, approximately 40% of all test takers score between 1350 and 1680 inclusive, and about 70% of all test takers score between 1200 and 1850 inclusive. To learn more about the SAT scoring scale, visit the counselor's web page of the College Board (http://www.collegeboard.com/prof/counselors/tests/sat/scores/data_tables.html).

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