How to Interpret Your SAT Scores

Understanding how to read your score report is an essential component of the college admissions process. The information provided on your report will allow you to gauge your competitiveness and help you prep for the SAT.

[ RELATED: What’s a good SAT score? ]

SAT score by numbers

The SAT is scored on a 1600-point scale. This composite score is often referred to as your “SAT score” and is the sum of 2 section scores: Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing. Each of your section scores will fall between 200 and 800 points.

Your Evidence Based Reading & Writing score is calculated based on your performance on the Reading and Writing & Language tests, which are the first 2 tests on the SAT. Your Math score is calculated off your performance on the calculator and non-calculator portions of the Math section, which comprise the second half of the SAT.

In addition to your section scores, you’ll also receive a score for each of these tests—Reading, Writing & Language, and Math—on a scale from 10 – 40. If you take the optional SAT essay, you’ll receive 3 separate scores—each out of 8 points—for reading, analysis, and writing, which do not impact your overall SAT score out of 1600.

Understanding how you rank

Your percentile measures your rank relative to other students who took the exam. For instance, if you scored in the 90th percentile, it means you scored higher than 90% of students. College and university admissions officers also focus on these percentiles. A “good” SAT score is the score that helps you achieve your college admissions and scholarship goals.

Cross-Test and Subscores

The SAT score report also contains cross-test and subscores detailing how well you performed on particular question types and in certain subject areas.

You’ll receive 2 cross-test scores for Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science, each on a scale of 10 – 40. Cross-test scores describe how well you performed on certain questions across the entire SAT. Your History/Social Studies score, for example, will be drawn from relevant questions in from History/Social Studies passages in both Reading and Writing & Language, as well as in certain questions on the Math test that require you to analyze historical or socio-cultural information.

Finally, your score report provides 7 subscores that break down your performance within each test. These scores range from 1 – 15.

The SAT will give you 4 subscores on the Reading and Writing & Language sections. These include Command of Evidence and Words in Context questions. Command of Evidence subscores are derived from your performance on questions that ask you to cite evidence for an answer choice. The Command of Evidence subscore also includes infographic questions and questions that ask you to identify how an author used evidence or asked you to revise a passage to clarify the author’s main idea.

The Words in Context subscore assesses vocab-in-context questions on the Reading Test as well as word-choice questions on the Writing & Language test. The Writing & Language test also includes 2 additional subscores: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions.

Additionally, you’ll receive 3 subscores for the Math test: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving, and Data Analysis (including multi-step problems, scatter-plots, tables, and unit conversions), and Passport to Advanced Math (measuring performance on questions from quadratics and polynomials to functions).

What are SAT test scores vs cross-test scores?

While test scores represent performance across subsections of the exam (Reading, Writing & Language, and Math), cross-test scores represent performance on specific questions. For example, Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science scores will reflect how you perform on certain questions in Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing that are tied to History/Social Studies and Science.

How will these scores affect college admissions, if at all?

Little is known about how, or even if, colleges admissions officers use the test and cross-test scores. It is possible that specialized college programs are more interested in some test scores than others.
An engineering program, for example, might care more about your Math and Analysis in Science scores than your Reading, Writing, and Analysis in History/Social Studies scores. Some schools might use your test and cross-test scores to determine placement in your first year college classes.

The SAT focuses on your analysis skills across Science, History, and Social Studies, regardless of the test section or subject. So it’s in your best interest to prepare for these types of questions.

What your SAT score tells you

Now that you’ve seen your score, you’re likely to have one major question: is it a “good” SAT score? Remember that a good SAT score for you should help you achieve your personal college and university goals, so it’s not always useful to compare your score with the SAT scores of others. That said, a competitive SAT score will generally be on the upper end of 25th – 75th college admissions percentile for the schools you’re considering.

Colleges and universities publish these ranges indicating what percentage of their entering class had score ranges above and below the 25 – 75 range. This means that 50% of their admitted freshmen had scores that fell between those 2 numbers, 25% of their admitted freshmen scored above the top number, and 25% of them scored below the bottom number.

So how do your SAT scores measure up? Just because your score is in the 25 – 75 range doesn’t mean you have a 50/50 shot at being admitted. On the other hand, SAT scores near the 75% and above range will give you confidence that you are a competitive applicant at that institution.

Score Reminder

A good SAT score is one that helps you achieve your admission and scholarship goals.

SAT/ACT Score Conversion Calculator

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Should I take the SAT over again?

The SAT does not have to be a one-and-done deal. There is no penalty for taking the SAT more than once. In fact, many schools encourage students to take the SAT multiple times by offering Super Score and Score Choice options. Score Choice allows you to send your highest score from a single administration of the test, and Superscoring is taking the sum of your highest section scores across multiple test dates.

Therefore, you can continue to boost your skills, confidence, and performance in time for college admissions deadlines, using your scores to guide your prep.

Next Steps

Now that you’ve interpreted your scores, you’re probably either super excited about how you’ve done or are thinking of ways to do better. No matter what test score you received, congratulate yourself for taking the exam and doing the work necessary to see it through. Now that you know your test score, what are the next steps you should take?
  • Acknowledge the strengths that led to your test score

    Regardless of the composite score you received, there are parts of the exam in which you performed at or above average. Recognize and mark those as your strong points. To stay on top of your progress, you need to keep practicing those areas of strength.

  • Examine where you could have done better

    Unless you got a perfect score, there were undoubtedly certain sections you struggled with more than others. Play close attention to those parts, write them down, and note why you got those questions wrong; then, let these reasons why be your guiding principles when you go back to study again. Don’t be concerned with just getting the right answer. Instead, fight to understand why you got it wrong so that you will not make the same mistake twice.

  • If you‘re not happy with your score, there’s still hope

    An average or lower score does not mean that you should give up. Instead, it should motivate to prove your original score wrong. This time, study harder and use the knowledge you gained from the first exam to do even better on the second. If it’s too late to take it again, find alternative ways to showcase your abilities. Improving your GPA, becoming more involved in school, and volunteering are all great ways to show potential schools that you are a great student and that a test score does not define you. You should also consider searching for schools that match your score range.

  • If you are happy with your score, there’s still room to improve

    If you got a good score on your first go-around, that’s an amazing feeling. However, do not let a good score make you complacent and underestimate your full potential. Always aim to improve—just a small increase in your percentile could help you get into your dream school. Remain focused in school and continue to push yourself.