This article focuses on the differences between the Scaled Score and the Raw Score of the SAT.
The SAT is a strange, strange beast. Everyone knows it’s important. Everyone will tell you, “It’s a big deal.” Inevitably, someone in your life (an adult, older sibling, etc.) will explain how s/he took the SAT’s years ago and got a score. “When I was in high school, I got a 1420.” “I didn’t do well… I only got a 970.” You will politely nod your head and think, “Huh?” You are used to grades of “A-,” or “87%,” or even the occasional “Meets/Exceeds.” But a 1500? A 1420? What does that score even mean?
To start, you should know that the SAT has two different scoring methods. The most popular and known is the “Scaled Score.” This is the 1500 mentioned earlier. The SAT is made up of three different sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. Each section is scored on a scale between 200-800 points. So, if you got a 1500 combined SAT score, you likely got a 500 in each section. Clear?
I didn’t think so. How do you even earn 500 points?
That is where the second of the scoring methods comes in. This one, and probably the most important one to know when looking at preparing for the test, is called the “Raw Score.” The Raw Score is how you actually did (the number correct vs. the number incorrect), and it is here that you should spend the majority of your focused energy because it is with the Raw Score that you can truly improve. Your overall Raw Score is directly aligned to the scaled score, and if you click here you can see an example of the Raw-Scaled Score alignment, straight from the College Board.
Here’s how the Raw Score works:
–1 Correct Answer = +1 Point
–1 Incorrect Answer = -0.25 Point
–Omitted Answer = no point change (+/-)
You can see from the link that a 200 on a section is really bad, and that an 800 in a section is really good. A 200 means you more likely than not answered more questions incorrectly than you did correctly… ouch. An 800 means you answered almost every question, AND got almost every question correct… hooray. And a 500? You wound up in the middle.
So, is a 500 good?
It all depends on what you want. If this score is below the cut score for the school you want to go to, then clearly it is not a good score. If it is well within the range for your school, then you are one happy camper. It i totally subjective and situationally-dependent. There are national averages, state averages, and even school averages, but what matters most is how YOU did on that day. Do not worry about comparing yourself to others; work on understanding how the scoring system works (particularly the Raw Score) and focus on understanding the rest of the system to maximize the most out your time. Take a practice test and determine your Raw Score. Start unpacking it, and figuring out exactly how you did in each section (an article to come later will specify how to do this). The Scaled Score should be a goal, but the Raw Score is how you reach that goal.
Get to know the Raw Score, and don’t focus on the Scaled Score too much. It is way too easy to get hung up on the Scaled Score because it’s the one thing about the SAT’s that everyone understands…
Or at least they think they do.