SAT Scoring and Retakes: The Hows
How is the SAT Scored? 💯
You're probably reading this because of one or two (or more, actually) reasons: you either finished taking the SAT or you're thinking of taking the SAT and looking up how your performance is evaluated. If you're here because of the former, huge congratulations! You just powered through one of the most popular standardized exams in high school. If you're here because of the latter, I applaud your initiative to do some background research and look for ways to maximize your score. I wish you the best of luck!
Decrypting the Score Report 🔨
Before we even get to the nitty-gritty, let's first look at a sample SAT Student Score Report you'll be able to access a month (more or less) after you've taken the SAT (via this website
It may look overwhelming at first but at a closer look, the score report goes from most relevant information (top) to least (bottom). Time to break it down further!
(Quick note: Typically, some reports also include three essay scores on the upper right corner. As of now, however, College Board no longer offers the Essay section
. Yep, that means no more writing and pulverized wrists post-test! 🎉)
Your Total Score ranges from 400 to 1600. This section also shows the percentiles you're in, which compares you to the typical U.S. student ("Nationally Representative Sample Percentile") and the typical SAT taker ("SAT User Percentile").
Section Scores range from 200 to 800. You get two scores here—one from the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) part of the exam (first two parts) and one from the Math part of the exam (last two parts; non-calculator and calculator). Add the two scores and you should get your total SAT score!
Test Scores range from 10 to 40, and they correspond to the three tests you took: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. This section will play a huge role in the later calculations that'll give you your final scores.
Cross-Test Scores range from 10 to 40. According to College Board, they "show how well you analyze texts and solve problems related to science, history, and social studies." In other words, they reflect how well you read, interpret, and mathematically analyze problems in History/Social Studies and Science contexts. For the most part, this is miscellaneous, but this can also help you a LOT when zeroing on aspects to improve if you plan to retake the SAT.
Subscores range from 1 to 15. This is the more straightforward sibling of the Cross-Test Scores section. Each subscore corresponds to one or more parts of the SAT:
"Command of Evidence" (Reading, Writing) ⇒ passage development, connecting evidence to inferences or infographics to information
"Words in Context" (Reading, Writing) ⇒ diction, identifying the meaning of a word
"Expression of Ideas" (Writing) ⇒ changing sentences to be more concise
"Standard English Conventions" (Writing) ⇒ grammar, syntax, punctuation, structure
"Heart of Algebra" (Math) ⇒ linear equations and inequalities, word problems, functions
"Problem Solving and Data Analysis" (Math) ⇒ statistics (interpreting graphs, scatterplots, and tables), rates, percentages, etc.
"Passport to Advanced Math" (Math) ⇒ quadratics, exponential equations, polynomials, geometry, etc.
Again, don't panic if all of these subsections seem too much to handle all at once. We also have articles tackling each part of the SAT from Reading to Writing to Math!
The ACTUAL Score Calculations 📱
Now, you might be wondering: "So how did we get from all the small numbers between 10 and 40 to… 400 to 1600?" Let's take a look again at the example above and focus on the test scores.
To calculate your Total Score:
Add the Reading and Writing and Language test scores.
(37 + 36) = 73
Multiply that sum by 10. That'll be your EBRW Section Score!
73 x 10 = 730
Multiply the Math score by 20. That'll be your Math Section Score!
39.0 x 20 = 780
Add the EBRW Section Score and Math Section Score. That'll be your Total SAT Score!
730 + 780 = 1510.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Here's a better question, though: "How did we get the Test Scores in the first place?" Dun dun dunnn…
The SAT "Curve" (Not Really…) 〰️
You know how sometimes your unit tests, midterms, and/or final exams in your middle and high school classes are "curved" or based on the students' performance as a whole on that day? Well, the SAT uses a quite similar
process called equating
, which you can read more about here!
Here's an overview of the process:
"Equating makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date. It is standard practice for assessments like the SAT®. The College Board uses this process because it’s important that the score a student receives on the SAT means the same regardless of when the student took the test. This ensures that there’s no advantage to taking the SAT during one administration versus another.
A score of 540, for instance, on the Math section of one day’s test means the same thing as a 540 on a test taken on a different day—even though the questions are different. It’s important to note that this can mean that in some cases a single incorrect answer on one SAT could equal two or three incorrect answers on the SAT taken on a different day, or vice versa" (College Board).
In other words, the scoring scale from the April 2019, August 2020, January 2021, and May 2021 administrations are all different. Based on recent trends, exams with "easier" Math or EBRW sections have harsher "curves" (again, not an actual curve) as you lose more points every time you get a question wrong (denoted colloquially as "-1," "-2," etc). Check out this
(April 27, 2021) and this
(May 8, 2021) for sample Reddit threads of SAT takers attempting to reconstruct the "curves" for their specific administration day! 🚧
Wait, Why Does This Matter? 😲
Finding trends in your SAT scores will also help in making exam prep more efficient if you're considering a retake! If you got a significantly lower score in Math than EBRW, then you should spend more time working with word problems, graphs, algebra, and the like to score higher points on that section. Your subscores also do you a huuuuge favor by telling you which specific aspects of Math or EBRW you might want to focus on. Remember, more points = ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐❗
Once you're a senior in high school, colleges ask for your Total Score and/or Section Scores
either by sending your scores to them via College Board
or by reporting them on the Common App and/or the individual college application portal. Keep your score report handy in case they also ask for Test Scores, Cross-Test Scores, and/or Subscores, though! 📞
Being aware of how the SAT is scored also puts your goals into perspective. Did you perform better in or enjoy doing one section more than another? That might be an indicator of a hobby you haven't picked up or even your future career! If you're shooting for a certain score range (1300s, 1400s, 1500s, etc.) before you submit your college and scholarship application, your score report offers insight on where you're at right now and how close you are in reaching that threshold 😉
How Do I Retake the SAT? 🎠
Thinking of retaking the SAT and going for round 2 (or 3, 4, onwards)? No problem! The registration process is actually pretty straightforward and similar to when you first registered for the exam.
a list of upcoming SAT dates for the 2021-22 school year. Click "Register" underneath the date you're interested in! Note that each session has a registration deadline, a late registration deadline (you might have to pay extra $$$), and a deadline to make changes to your test date and/or center.
2. You'll be redirected to a different website (mysat.collegeboard.org/login
) where you'll have to log in.
3. For Step 1: Enter Your Information, verify that you have the correct name, high school, grade, and address. You'll also be asked to fill out information regarding demographics, GPA and class rank, courses you've taken, high school activities, and future plans.
4. For Step 2: Select Date and Test Center, you'll select your test date and center. Pick a date and place that works the best for you! Some students, for example, pick the January date since they have time to prepare over winter break. Because of the high volume of students registering for the exam, you'll have 20 minutes to finish registering to reserve your seat at a test center you're interested in.
5. For Step 3: Upload Your Photo, review and/or edit the photo you used on the first time you registered for the SAT. Make sure that it follows the photo guidelines (visible face, has head and shoulders in full view, and with proper lighting and focus) and you are identifiable on test day.
6. For Step 4: Check Out, you'll input your billing info. If you want, you can add the Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) or the Student Answer Service (SAS) as part of your score report for $16. Either service provides valuable insights (areas of strength/improvement, etc.) to help you practice and prepare if you plan to retake the SAT and will be available online. If you have a fee waiver, no need to worry as you'll be billed $0 . . . which is amazing!
7. Once you're done with all four steps, give yourself a pat on the back. You just registered for a retake of the SAT! 👍
Still on the fence on whether you should do a retake or not? Here are some things you can consider!
Grade Level 📈
Are you a high school freshman, sophomore, or junior? Go for it! You have spare time to invest in SAT prep to get as high of a score as possible by the time senior year comes.
If you're a high school senior applying for college, you can still do a retake by October (most Early Action/Decision schools) or December (most Regular Decision schools). At that point, however, I recommend spending that hypothetical SAT prep time on refining the other parts of your application: essays, extracurricular activities, and all that.
Level of Competitiveness 🏆
When building your college list, you'll most likely have schools that will be (1) very likely to admit you, (2) challenging to be admitted into, and (3) among the most selective in the nation. Every year, most colleges release a range that shows the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile of the standardized test scores of its applicants. You can find this under a school's Common Data Set. In fact, you can look up "[college/university]
common data set" or "[college/university]
Let's look at Purdue University's 2020-21 CDS
as an example:
In this case, Purdue's middle 50% of SAT scores lie between 1190 and 1430. If possible, you should strive to be within (or even above) that range! However, not making it to that range at the end of your college application won't make or break your application, either. Remember that SAT scores are just one piece of the holistic admissions puzzle!
As of writing this article
, the SAT costs $55 a pop. If you're also a prospective AP, IB, and/or ACT exam taker, you know that costs can quickly add up.
If you qualify for a fee waiver, you can get all these benefits
including 2 free SAT registrations, 2 free Answer Services, and no late fees! If you do NOT, consider the budget you're working with. Some schools also often have PTA or administration-wide programs that help shoulder these costs. Be sure to ask your school's counselors and officials!
Closing Remarks 🎭
I want to wrap this overview up by dropping a timeless meme a Redditor (u/Relevant-Ad-1193) posted on the SAT subreddit while waiting for their score on the SAT:
THAT'S RIGHT. Just because you got a score that doesn't line up with your expectations doesn't mean that you're not prepared for the real world out there or you're not capable of doing complex tasks and projects ten years from now! Remember that the score you get comes from a three hour-long session under intense pressure and time constraints.
With that in mind, be sure to get well-rested the night before, don't skip breakfast on exam morning, and stay hydrated! Best of luck to 'ya, pardner. 🤠