How Scoring Works on the New SAT

By Geraldine Woods, Ron Woldoff

The new SAT has a completely different scoring system. The goal is to give colleges an in-depth look at your performance. Scared? Don’t be. If you take the exam more than once, as most people do, you can use the detailed information from your score reports to craft a personalized study program, zeroing in on the skills you need to hone (sharpen).

The redesigned SAT gives you many, many more scores than the older exam. Here’s the deal:

  • Composite score. This is the sum of Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics (400 to 1600 points). The maximum SAT score is 1600 (with a top score of 800 on Reading and Writing and Language and 800 on Mathematics). The minimum is 400, which you get for little more than showing up and bubbling in a few ovals randomly (without a plan or reason).

  • Area scores. These are the scores for Reading and Writing and Language (200 to 800 points) and Mathematics (200 to 800 points). The optional essay receives a separate score, still being fine-tuned but probably 3 to 12 points.

  • Test scores. This name, bestowed (given) by the College Board, is a little surprising, because where else would your scores come from, other than the test? This is the term applied to the three branches of the exam. You get a score for Reading (10 to 40 points), Writing and Language (10 to 40 points), and Mathematics (10 to 40 points).

  • Cross-test. These scores are determined by questions of a particular type in all three areas of the SAT (Reading, Writing and Language, and Mathematics). You get a score for analysis in history/social studies (10 to 40 points) and another for analysis in science (10 to 40 points).

  • Subscores. A few skills on the new SAT are so important and ubiquitous (appearing everywhere) that the College Board provides separate scores for them. On the Reading and Writing and Language sections, you get a score for command of evidence (1 to 15 points) and understanding words in context (1 to 15 points). On the Writing and Language section, you get a score for expression of ideas (1 to 15 points) and Standard English conventions (1 to 15 points).

    The scoring of the essay will evolve as results from the first few new SATs come in. The current plan is to provide three subscores (reading, analysis, writing), each 2 to 8 points, based on adding the scores of two readers who grade your essay from 1 to 4 in those categories. The Mathematics section gives you three scores: 1 to 15 points each for algebra, advanced math, and problem solving/data analysis.

One happy, wonderful development is that the new SAT has no penalty for wrong answers! You get one point for each correct answer you supply, and no deduction for incorrect answers. This system does away with a “trick” of the old SAT — gaming the system by guessing when the odds favored you and skipping a question when they didn’t. Now you can answer every question, even if you’re clueless, unless you run out of time.