You know your SAT score is important for college admissions and even things like scholarships, but how does your SAT score get calculated? I'll show the steps to calculating your final SAT score so you can get an accurate idea of how well you're doing on the exam.
Step 1: Determine Your Raw Scores
Your raw score is simply calculated using the number of questions you answered correctly.
- For every question you answer correctly on the SAT, you receive one point.
- There is no penalty for guessing or skipping.
The maximum possible raw score varies by section (and depends on the total number of questions asked). For example, for the Reading Test, there are 52 questions, so the maximum raw score is 52. If you answered all 52 questions correctly, you would have a raw score of 52. For Math, there are 58 questions. For Writing, there are 44 multiple-choice questions.
There is one essay, which is graded separately on a scale of 2-8 and is not factored into your composite score (your 400-1600 score); therefore, I will not be discussing it further in this article, but for more information, read our articles on the new SAT essay prompts and the SAT essay rubric.
Step 2: Convert the Raw Scores to Scaled Scores
The raw score is converted into the scale score (on the 200 to 800 scale for each section) using a table. This table varies by SAT test date. The table is used as a way to make sure each test is “standardized”. The table is a way of making “easier” SAT tests equal to the “harder” SAT tests. For instance, a raw score of 57 in Math might translate to an 800 on one test date and 790 on another.
For Math, you simply convert your raw score to final section score using the table. For the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score, there is an extra step. You get individual raw scores for the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. These two raw scores are the converted into two scaled test scores using a table. The two test scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to give you your final Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score (from 200 to 800). I'll explain this more in-depth with examples below:
You cannot know what the raw to scale score conversion will be in advance. While the exact raw to scale score conversion will vary by testing date, the College Board supplies this example chart in their new SAT Practice Test:
|Writing and |
Note: this is just an example. The exact conversion chart will vary slightly depending on the individual test.
Why are Reading and Writing and Language listed as separate sections? Why are they graded from 10-40 instead of 200-800? As I mentioned briefly before, you get separate raw scores for the Reading and Writing and Language. You then take these two raw scores and convert them into two scale scores using the above table. For example, if you answered 33 correctly in Reading and 39 correctly in Writing and Language, your scale scores would be 29 and 35, respectively.
These two scaled scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to give you your final Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score (from 200 to 800). Continuing the above example, if your scale scores were 29 for Reading and 35 for Writing and Language, your final Evidence-Based Reading and Writing scaled score would be:
(29 + 35) x 10 = 64 x 10 = 640
Step 3: Take the Scaled Scores and Add Them Together
Once you have your scaled score for both the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections, you just add them together to get your overall SAT composite score.
For example, if you scored a 710 in Math and 640 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, your composite score would be 710+640 = 1350.
How to Understand Your SAT Score Report
The College Board gives you the breakdown of your incorrect, correct, and omitted answers on your SAT score report in addition to your final scaled scores. See below excerpts from a real new SAT score report:
Note that on this test, the raw Math score was out of 57, not 58, points. This sometimes happens when a question on the test is deemed to be unfair or unanswerable and the SAT drops it from everyone's scoring.
For the Reading and Writing and Language sections on this SAT score report, this student’s raw scores were 52 and 42. These raw SAT section scores scaled to section scores of 40 (Reading) and 39 (Writing and Language), which translated to a 790 Evidence-Based Reading & Writing Score:
(40 + 39) x 10 = 790
I'd like to emphasize that you will not be able to determine what the full table of raw to scaled scores conversion was from your score report. Instead, you will only be able to determine what your raw score was and see how it translated to your scaled score.
What This Means for You
Once you have determined your target SAT score in terms of raw score, you can use it to determine your SAT test strategy options. We have plenty of resources to help you out. Once you know what SAT score you're aiming for and how far you are from that goal score, you can begin to develop a study plan, gather study materials, and get to work on raising your score!
If You Need Help Creating a Study Plan
How to Build an SAT Study Plan
How to Cram for the SAT
How Long Should You Study for the SAT?
If You Need More Study Materials
Complete Official SAT Practice Tests
The 11 Best SAT Prep Books
The Best SAT Prep Websites You Should Be Using
If You Want to Raise Your Score
The Best Way to Review Your Mistakes for the SAT
How to Get an 800 on SAT Reading
How to Get an 800 on SAT Math
Want to rock the SAT? Check out our complete SAT study guide!
Want to find free new 2016 SAT practice tests? Check out our massive collection!
Not sure what score to aim for on the new SAT? Read our guide to picking your target score.
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You've gotten back your SAT scores. On your score report, there's information about how you did on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math, compared to students in the previous year's graduating class who took the SAT.
But what about your essay? How does your essay score compare to everyone else? There's no percentile information for that in the score report.
Find out what an average SAT essay score looks like (and how you stack up) in this article!
feature image credit: FLL Small, Medium, & Large Trophies by David Luders, used under CC BY 2.0/Cropped from original.
What’s an Average SAT Essay Score?
First, a quick reminder about how SAT essays are scored: two graders score each SAT essay on a scale of 1-4 across three different dimensions:
Summed together, this means your score can range between 2 and 8 for each area. There is no longer one single "total" SAT essay score, just Reading, Analysis, and Writing essay scores.
Logically, it would seem that the average SAT essay score in each domain should be a 5 (since that's halfway between 2 and 8). The most recent SAT essay score data bears this out except when it comes to the Analysis dimension.
The average SAT essay score for students graduating high school in 2017 was 5 out of 8 for Reading, 4 out of 8 for Analysis, and 5 out of 8 for Writing (source: CollegeBoard 2017 Total Group Report).
To get a better idea of how frequently different essay scores were assigned, I created several different SAT essay score distribution charts that show how many students got each essay score for Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
The data in this first chart shows the distribution of scores across all three dimensions for students who graduated high school in 2017.
Distribution of SAT Essay Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
(data source for all graphs: CollegeBoard)
From this chart, we can see that there's the same general trend for the numbers of students who got various Reading and Writing scores, while there's something quite different going on with Analysis scores. Let's separate these scores out into separate graphs, starting with Reading and Writing essay scores.
Distribution of SAT Essay Reading Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
Distribution of SAT Essay Writing Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
If you compare the graphs for the distribution of Reading and Writing scores, you'll see a striking similarity between them when it comes to how many students got each score on Reading and Writing. There's a huge drop-off from the middle range of scores (4-6) to the upper and lower ends of the scale.
Because so many people score towards the middle on SAT Essay Reading and Writing scores, it's safe to say that if you score a 3 or below, your essay score is definitely lower than average; if you score a 5-6, your score is pretty average; and if you score a 7 or above, your score is significantly higher than average.
Things are a little murkier when it comes to the Analysis essay scores. Let's take a look.
Distribution of SAT Essay Analysis Scores for the 2017 Graduating Class
In contrast to the trend for Reading and Writing scores, Analysis scores are heavily skewed toward the bottom of the scale. Even though the average Analysis score for 2017 was a 4 out of 8 (which is towards the middle), the Analysis score the most students received was 2 out of 8.
Why did so many students score lower on Analysis, while still managing to do okay on Reading and Writing? The most likely answer is that the Analysis dimension is the part of the SAT essay task that is most different from what students have had to do on other standardized test essays.
Instead of giving their opinion on the passage in the SAT essay prompt, students are asked to analyze the author's opinion. While this analysis is pretty straightforward once you manage to wrap your mind around it, it is very different from what students had to do on the old SAT essay (and what students are still asked to do on the ACT essay) and other standardized essays like DBQs.
Because of the different trends for Analysis scores on the SAT essay, an Analysis score of a 6 or above puts you well above average; a score of 3-5 is solidly middle of the pack; and a score of 2 is low. If you did get a 2/8 Analysis score, the good news is that you can most likely boost it to at least a 4 (if not a 6 or higher) by reviewing these 15 SAT essay tips.
When colleges look at your SAT scores, however, they usually won't look at your essay scores all by themselves. Most schools look at your overall SAT score first, your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math scores next, and your essay scores last (if they care about your SAT essay scores at all). This leads into my next point...
How Much Does My Essay Score Matter?
Because your essay score no longer affects your Writing section score on the SAT, the importance of the SAT Essay has decreased significantly. More and more schools are dropping the requirement for students to submit SAT with Essay scores entirely, and schools that do require the SAT Essay often place much less importance on your essay score than on your other SAT scores.
Still, there are highly competitive programs and schools that use SAT scores to place students in the appropriate level classes that require students to submit SAT Essay scores. For these kinds of schools, while your SAT essay score still won't matter as much as almost any other part of your application, you'll still want to aim for a high enough score that you're not immediately disqualified (or so that you don't get bumped down into remedial writing).
So what's the average SAT essay score you should target for more competitive schools?Our advice is to aim for at least a 6 out of 8 on Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
Higher essay scores (particularly on the Analysis dimension) are even better, but a 6 out of 8 shows that you have above-average writing skills on a standardized essay written at the end of a multihour-long test. In cases where admissions offices might wonder if your application's personal statement was a fluke, your SAT essay scores can confirm that you do have a certain level of writing ability. And the SAT essay rubric requirements to get a 6 out of 8 on each section are a pretty reasonable minimum standard for colleges to expect students to meet.
What If My SAT Essay Scores Are Below Average?
If you're struggling to get a 4 or above on each SAT essay section, don't despair—you're not alone, and there is hope.
Start by reading our collection of SAT essay blog articles. I recommend starting with our introduction to the new SAT essay prompts, our SAT essay tips article, and our explanation of the SAT essay rubric. Next, follow along as I write an SAT essay, step-by-step. With these four articles, you'll learn just what is required to excel in each dimension of the SAT essay and how to approach reading the prompt, analyzing the passage, and writing the essay.
For further help, you can take a look at how to create your own SAT essay templates and how to get a perfect 8/8/8 score on the SAT essay. If you're struggling with identifying how the authors of SAT essay prompts build their argument, we also go into the six most common argumentative essay devices.
Finally, if you think you'd benefit from more personalized feedback on your essay writing, you might want to try out PrepScholar SAT. You'll get to write essays on official SAT essay prompts and receive feedback from graders on what you're doing well and how you can improve and boost your score to the next level.
Now that you know what an average SAT essay score is, what should be your target? Learn more with our article on what a good SAT essay score is for you.
Discover what the relationship is between SAT essay length and essay score here!
Do you need to submit an SAT essay score for the schools you're applying to? Find out if your schools are on the list of schools requiring the SAT with essay here.
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