Understanding SAT Scores

Students studying on laptop
December 6, 2022
About SAT ScoresSAT Score Release DatesHow the SAT Is ScoredSAT Score Report AnalysisWho Will See Your SAT Score?Average SAT ScoresWhat Is a Good Score on the SAT?How To Improve Your SAT Score: TipsSending SAT Scores To Colleges

”Rohan

Reviewed by:

Rohan Jotwani

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 5/4/22

Are you thinking of college and hearing more and more about the infamous “SATs”? This article covers everything you need to know about the ever-important SAT scores and how they affect your college application process.

Scribbling on a paper in an empty, half-lit room where the ticking of the clock is the only sound to be heard from a mile away is what may come to mind when thinking about the SAT. It can be pressure-inducing, but this is more than just some exam. SAT scores influence college admission, and it is essential and beneficial to learn all about them.

Book a Free 30 min Call

About SAT Scores

The SATs are standardized tests that are widely used for college admissions in the United States. The SAT is owned by a private, not-for-profit organization called College Board. The purpose of this test is to assess a student’s readiness for college. Both national and international students have to be admitted into US colleges via SAT evaluation.

The SATs were adjusted in recent years to reflect high school curricula more accurately. Around the same time, College Board began working with Khan Academy to provide students with free SAT preparation. In 2021, the optional essay section and the SAT Subjects Test were both discontinued from the SAT.

The actual SAT score ranging from 400 to 1600 is made up of the sums of two section scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math, each of which can range from 200 to 800. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score is derived from the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test, while the Math score is derived from only the Math Test.

SAT Score Release Dates

Score release dates are the important dates that College Board uses to distribute SAT scores for all students every year. SAT Score release dates vary from year to year. Educators can download data files and run reports in the K-12 reporting portal within a week of each score release.

SAT Test and release dates

Before scheduling your exam, be sure to keep a close eye on these SAT test dates and deadlines.

How the SAT Is Scored

It can be difficult to understand how SAT Exams are scored; two people can get two different total correct answers, but end up with the same score. 

The SAT score is a combination of the section scores, each of which is based on the total questions answered correctly. The Reading Test is composed of 52 questions, the Writing and Language Test is composed of 44 questions, and the Math Test is always composed of 58 questions.

The raw scores of each of these tests are then converted into scaled scores that range from 10 to 40. The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score is taken by multiplying the Reading Test and Writing and Language Test by ten and then adding those totals together. The Math score is taken by multiplying the Math Test score by 20. 

Your raw score will determine what your final score and percentile will look like.

SAT Subscores

Subscores are more specific breakdowns of an overall SAT score. They show how a student performed in certain categories of both the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test, as well as the Math Test. In the latest version of SAT, seven subscores can be derived from the seven subsections found within the two sections:

EBRW subsections

Math subsections

The subscores of these subsections are scaled from 1 to 15. The subscores are intended to help students identify weak areas to improve on. Depending on the college or program, certain subscores might be given more importance than others. The amount of space a college has left might also affect the weight of subscores when determining admissions.

Cross-Test Scores

Cross-test scores are derived from more than one of the three tests. There are two cross-test scores: Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. 

Cross-test scores are composed of 21 questions from the Reading test, six from the Writing and Language Test, and eight on the Math Test. The raw total from these tests is then converted to a scaled score ranging from 1 to 40.

SAT Score Report Analysis

SAT scores are considered one of the most significant factors in determining successful college admission. Comparability of your scores using score ranges, mean scores, benchmarks, and percentile ranks can help determine if you are ready to apply to college. Take a look at this example of a score report provided by College Board:

SAT Score report data
Source: College Board

This report shows the student’s score and where it ranks amongst other scores nationally, what it is composed of, and how its breakdown looks within each section and subsection. This example report shows an SAT score of 1010 that a student achieved on March 13, 2021.

This example is a breakdown of the SAT score report in a chart form that separates the elements of SAT Summary of Scores and SAT Subject Test Scores in two different categories. Full SAT Score Reports can be obtained online.

Score Ranges

Score ranges show how repeated testing can change your score, assuming the same skill level. Section scores for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math typically fall in a range of 30 to 40 points above or below your actual ability, providing colleges with more context about your scores. 

These score ranges might be used in situations where two or more students have the same score, and colleges must determine which students they would like to admit with limited space left.

Mean Scores

Mean scores allow colleges to comparatively evaluate your performance. This means that a score that you get on the SAT can be filtered out or into a list that an admissions officer could potentially make while looking for the highest scores. 

Mean scores can be used, on the other hand, by students to compare their scores to a mean score and see how they are doing compared to other students.

Benchmarks

Benchmark scores represent college readiness. Scores above the benchmark are the ones that indicate readiness. 

An admissions officer can use benchmark scores to organize all scores to find certain information, such as filtering for scores that meet scholarship requirements. Knowing what benchmarks your school of choice may be using will be helpful to know what kind of score you need to achieve on your SAT in order to stand out.

Percentile Ranks

Percentile ranks are based on two different reference populations, each representing the percentage of students whose scores fall at or below your score. Percentile ranks measure your rank compared to other students also taking SAT exams. 

For example, if a student scored in the 90th percentile, it means they have scored higher than 90% of students in total. College and university admission officers take these percentiles into account.

Who Will See Your SAT Score?

SAT scores can be viewed by any student who has an account on the College Board website. After a year, SAT scores are archived in College Board, but will still be viewable. Admissions officers (and even college professors) can also view your SAT scores if they ask to see them as part of the recruiting process.

Average SAT Scores

Average SAT scores are the calculated average of SAT scores of a group of students. Average SAT scores can be organized by country, state, city, and other denominations. 

According to most recent data, the national average SAT score was 1050, with an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing scoring of 529 and a Math scoring of 521. You can take a look at a more in-depth breakdown of how students scored on the various SAT sections on College Board's website. These scores may not be the benchmarks that colleges use to filter for specific percentile ranks, but they are a baseline indicator that can help college admissions officers estimate where the next pool of students might rank.

What Is a Good Score on the SAT?

A good SAT score can vary from state to state and from college to college, so it is good to be clear on which college and program you are readily pursuing. Reach as high as you can - being in the 90th percentile of any program is generally a comfortable place for any student to be in. 

Students above the 50th percentile have scored better than the majority of test-takers. Using the average SAT score in each state found in the previous chart, or finding a similar average score for a specific college, can help with determining for yourself a barometer for success.

How To Improve Your SAT Score: Tips

SAT exams can be stressful to prepare for because there is an expectation that comes with them, so it can be hard to find a path to success. 

Although there are no shortcuts to getting a great SAT score (no matter what others may suggest), there are simple things that any student can do consistently to have the best chance at achieving their SAT goals. 

Here are some tips that can help you prepare the right way for your SAT:

Don’t Forget to Eat and Sleep

This may look like the easiest of all of the tips to do, but it can also be the easiest of all of the tips to forget. If you are finding yourself struggling to manage your time during this stressful process, foregoing basic nourishment can quickly lead to a decrease in performance effectiveness. 

Hence, it is important to make sure that eating and sleeping the right amount at the right time is part of your SAT prep routine.

Manage Your Time Well

This tip is not just about making sure you have a structured routine that you stick to, but it is also to give your days and actions purpose. If you fill your days without organizing them, you run the risk of overworking yourself. 

Managing your time can help you reinforce your understanding of the process you are taking to become successful. When you organize your time, you visualize the success you want to see - this is what greatness looks like.

It Takes A Village

Part of preparing for such a lengthy exam is about finding a community that can support you in what you are trying to do - whether it is a study group, some trustworthy friends, or surrounding yourself with like-minded people. All of these are great ingredients for success. Speaking of friends, it is also important to make time for the people we care about. 

Practice

Do the practice exams! There are tools now that can help you prepare for the experience of taking the actual SAT exam, so there is simply no excuse. Getting familiar with everything - from the allotted time of the exams to the style of questions - is the foundation to building your road to a good SAT score. 

College Board has also partnered with Khan Academy to provide potential test-takers with tools to practice for the SAT.

Understand Your Goal

Knowing your enemy in war gives you the best chance of winning against it. SAT exams are no different - knowing the college you are applying for and what kind of scores they might be expecting can help ease some of your stresses during SAT preparation. 

The more room you give yourself to take a breath by doing the research on anxiety-inducing unknowns like what your college of choice wants to see from your SAT, the better chance you have of performing at your highest level and entering your SAT exam with confidence and productive energy.

What’s Next?

It can be very easy to get fixated on SATs and forget everything else in your life - after all, this matters a lot regarding your future. Seeing the bigger picture can help you prepare your time on a micromanaging level, but it can also help relieve you of the pressure that the weight of the SAT exam brings. 

These exams are significant, but they are not the end of the world, and understanding that will help you to move on regardless of what happens with those exams. This can help you reign in any anxiety that could arise towards SAT exams and control your emotions so that you can perform better.

Sending SAT Scores To Colleges

Sending SAT scores to colleges is a process that is completed through the College Board website. By signing in to your College Board account, you can use the “Send scores” option, search for your desired college, and then add them to your list of recipients. 

Once you send your score, you will be given notice by the colleges that you applied for as to the status of your application. If you are admitted - congratulations! You will be able to accept your invitation through College Board as well.

Final Thoughts

If there is one thing most people understand about SAT scores, it is that they are important. Students can understandably feel a significant amount of pressure from having to do well in SAT exams. 

Since there is a possibility that certain career choices cannot have students avoiding taking the SAT exam, it is best to go into them with understanding and preparation. The SAT score will put a number on your college readiness, but the real indicator of how ready you are for your next phase in life is how you lead up to your next move.

Get A Free Consultation

Speak to a former college admissions officer about how we can help you get into your dream school
Schedule a Call

You May Also Like

Before you go, here are a few facts about us!
The Quad Factor: Working with us can increase your chances of admission by 7x!

The Best of the Best: Our team comprises of only 99th percentile tutors and admissions counselors from top-ranking universities, meaning you work with only the most experienced, talented experts.

The Free Consultation: Our experts would love to get to know you, your background, goals, and needs. From there, they match you with a best-fit consultant who will create a detailed project plan and application strategy focused on your success.
Exclusive Guide - Receive your FREE college admissions guide today to demystify the process and get accepted at your dream school!
Get the Free GuideClose