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How Is the SAT Scored?

Though the SAT is no longer required at some universities, it is still an important tool that helps students make their applications stand out from the rest. But if you really want to make the most of your SAT scores, you should take some time to understand how the scores are calculated.

What is a section score? What are subscores? How do the different sections of the exam factor into your total score? What do colleges look for in SAT score reports? Read on to find the answers to these questions and many more in our guide to SAT scoring.

How Are SAT Scores Calculated?

Your total or composite score on the SAT is the sum of the scores you earned on the two different sections of the exam: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. The composite score will be a number between 400 and 1600.

Your two section scores are originally based on the total number of questions you answered correctly. That number is known as your raw score. The raw scores will then be converted to scale scores, which range between 200 and 800. The goal of this conversion is to account for any minor changes in difficulty between different versions of the test.

Breaking Down Your SAT Score Report

You will receive your SAT scores in the form of a score report. The score report includes your total score, section scores, percentiles, individual test scores, subscores, cross scores, score ranges, and more. Let’s briefly explore what each of these values means.

Total Score

As we mentioned above, your total score is the same as your composite score. It will fall in the range of 400 to 1600 and is the sum of your section scores. The total score is what most scholarships and schools look for, but some programs will also pay attention to your section scores or score ranges.

Section Scores

Each section score will fall between 200 and 800. Your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score includes the results from your Reading Test and your Writing and Language Test. Your Math section score includes the results from the calculator and no-calculator portions of your Math Test.


Your percentile rank indicates what percentage of students scored the same or lower than your score. For example, if you scored in the 80th percentile, then you performed better than 80% of other test takers.

There are two types of percentile ranks:

  • The Nationally Representative Sample Percentile compares your performance on the test to a study that determined the average performance of students in the US from grades 11 and 12. 
  • The SAT User Percentile compares your score to the real scores of the past three graduating classes who took the SAT.

Both percentiles can give you an idea of where you might rank in the applicant pool for your top scholarships and universities.

Test Scores

You can view your results for each individual test inside the larger SAT exam on your score report. The tests include Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. Each test score ranges from 10 to 40.


Subscores provide information about your performance in specific skill areas measured by the different sections of the SAT. These scores range from1 to 15 and include the following content areas:

  • Command of Evidence: Reading, Writing and Language Tests.
  • Words in Context: Reading, Writing and Language Tests.
  • Expression of Ideas: Writing and Language Test.
  • Standard English Conventions: Writing and Language Test.
  • Heart of Algebra: Math Test.
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis: Math Test.
  • Passport to Advanced Math: Math Test.

If you plan to take the SAT again in the future, your subscores are a great source of information to help focus your studying. Look for skill areas with lower results than you wanted. During your next round of studying, be sure to drill those areas to improve your future scores.

Cross Scores

Cross scores indicate your skills in two subjects that do not have a dedicated section of the SAT: History or Social Studies and Science. Certain questions spaced throughout the three tests (Reading, Writing and Language, and Math) will be used to determine your cross test scores. The range of these scores is also between 10 and 40.

Score Ranges

Score ranges will appear for each section of your SAT results as well as your composite score. The score range is designed to indicate your overall ability in that section or the overall test by showing how much your scores would vary on different versions of the SAT.

The score ranges for each area of the test are as follows:

  • Composite score: Add or subtract 40 points.
  • Section scores: Add or subtract 30 points.
  • Test scores and cross scores: Add or subtract 2 points.

And the Essay?

The Essay portion of the SAT is entirely optional, so not all test-takers will receive a score. For that reason, your Essay score will not be included in your composite score. However, some schools and scholarships prefer or even require that you take the SAT with the Essay section. It may be a good idea to include the essay just in case you end up wanting to apply to a program that requires it.

You will receive three scores for the SAT Essay. Each of these scores ranges between 2 and 8. The categories for the scores are Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Two graders will read your essay and provide a score between 1 and 4 for each category. The scores from the graders will then be added together to determine your overall score (between 2 and 8) in that category.

What Is the Average SAT Score?

The average composite SAT score in 2022 was 1050. If you want to guarantee your spot in competitive programs, schools, and scholarships, you will most likely need to aim higher than the national average.

We recommend setting a target score that will make you a competitive applicant at all the schools on your list. To do this, research the SAT scores for accepted students in your top programs. Select a score that ranks you in the 75th percentile of accepted students, meaning you would score better than 75% of others in the program. Once you have compiled your list, choose the highest score among them. That will be your target SAT score.

If your SAT score results were lower than you expected, don’t fret! You can improve your score by learning test-taking strategies and following a well-rounded study plan. Check out our guide to planning your SAT schedule to learn tips and tricks for improving your score. To get test prep help from SAT experts, enroll in one of our 6 to 8 Week Prep Courses, an upcoming Weekend Review, or the Self-Paced SAT Prep Course.

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

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