Understanding SAT Scores

SAT scores are reported on a scale from 200-800.  Additional subscores are reported for the essay (ranging from 2-12) and for multiple-choice writing questions (on a 20-80 scale).

Your scores tell college admissions staff how you did compared with other students who took the test. For example, the mean or average is about 500 on SAT critical reading and 500 on SAT mathematics. If this were your score, the college admissions staff would know that you scored as well as about half of the students who took the test nationally.


Your test score is like a snapshot in time.  If you take the SAT multiple times, your score will likely increase or decrease on each test. Some believe a score range better represents your true ability; it considers multiple snapshots of your score instead of just one. Usually, your scores fall in a range of roughly 30 to 40 points above or below your true ability. Colleges know this, and they receive the score ranges along with your scores to consider that single snapshot in context.


Average (or mean) scores are based upon the most recent SAT scores of all students of a particular graduating class.


Percentiles compare your scores to those of other students who took the test. If your reading score is 500 and the state percentile for a score of 500 is 47, it means you did better than 47 percent of the state’s college-bound seniors.

Percentiles are based on scores earned by students in the previous year’s graduating class who took the SAT during high school. For the SAT, you will see percentiles both for the total group of test-takers and for your state. Your percentile changes depending on the group with which your scores are compared. Because the total group is larger and more diverse than the state group, your total and state percentiles may differ.



The raw scores for the multiple-choice writing section are converted to “scaled scores” that are reported on a 20-80 scale. Every SAT contains a 25-minute essay. The essay subscore is reported on a 2-12 scale. Be aware that essays that are not written on the essay assignment, or which are considered illegible after several attempts at reading, receive a score of 0. Each essay is independently given a score of 1 to 6 by two readers. The scores of each of these two readers are combined to produce the 2-12 scale. If the scores of the two readers differ by more than one point, a third reader scores the essay.

The multiple-choice writing section counts for approximately 70 percent, and the essay counts for approximately 30 percent of your total raw score, which is used to calculate your 200-800 score.