How to Read an SAT Score Report

Approximately three weeks after each SAT testing date the College Board releases the scores to the students. This can be a time of great joy or consternation, based on the results a student receives and the expectations a student has set.  Either way, many students and parents express confusion regarding the information presented in the official score report.  Even though the College Board released a sample score report in 2017, many parents and students still have more questions than answers.

            The first thing most students and parents notice is the Total Score.  The College Board provides the scale of the test, 400-1600, in small italics to the right of the Total Score.  Based on that scale, a score of 1000 is the median, or exact middle score.  Generally, a student should score above 1000 if she is interested in applying to competitive schools.  The closer a student scores to 1600, the more options that student will have in deciding to which schools to apply.

            Immediately below the Total Score the percentiles are listed.  These are actually not that important.  While they do provide information on what percent of students achieved scores below your own, no college uses this information for admissions purposes.  The percentiles are calculated based on a complex formula based on the results of the students who have taken the SAT both on the same date as you did and the several testings over the previous two years. While interesting, percentiles are not important.

            Far more important are the Section Scores.  The SAT score is comprised of two individual scores on a 200-800 scale, the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score, more commonly called the English or Verbal score by teachers and students, and the Math score.  In some ways, these two scores are more important than the Total Score.  The vast majority of colleges and universities in the US will consider individual Section Scores from different testings during the admissions process.  For example, let’s pretend that a student named Hope took the SAT both during the March and May test dates.  In March, she scores a 550 in the English and a 620 in Math.  That would be a Total Score of 1170.  In May, she scores a 600 in English, a nice improvement. Unfortunately, her Math score dips down to 610.  This would be a Total Score of 1210.  That would seem to be an improvement of only 40 points.  Colleges, however, would take the 620 in Math from the March test date and the 600 in English from the May test date, and would calculate that Hope earned a 1220 on the SAT overall.  This is known as “superscoring”.

            The Section Scores and the Total Score are the most important data points on the SAT score report.  The College Board provides a great deal more information, some of which is useful for self-evaluation.  Beneath the Sections Scores, you will find the Test Scores.  The Test Scores are a breakdown of the two different aspects of the English section: Reading and Writing & Language.  While colleges do not use these scores for admissions, students can use this information to help them evaluate their past performance and prepare for future testings.  In the sample score report provided by the College Board, for example, the student scored 22 in Reading and 27 in Writing & Language.  In order to improve the 490 scored by the sample student, a focus on improving performance on the Reading would be wise.

            The rest of the report is comprised of Cross-Test Scores and Subscores.  Once again, colleges do not consider this information during the admissions process. Nor is this information generally useful to students, parents, or teachers.  The College Board, although a non-profit organization, earns large sums of money by providing reports and academic papers to colleges, school districts, and local and state governments – as well as the federal government – which are built from the data collected by administering millions of tests per year. The Cross-Test Scores and Subscores are the raw data that feeds into those reports and papers.  This information may not be useful to students or admissions officers, but it is important to the College Board.  They provide your specific scores to you in the spirit of full disclosure.

            On the back of the score report, you will find a summary of test scores, including any previous SAT or SAT Subject Test scores. These are the scores that will be shared with schools when you send them your scores.  Many students and parents are nervous about sharing “bad” scores with colleges, but colleges tend to only consider the best scores you submit. Regardless of whether you have taken two, three, or six SATs, colleges will only consider your best scores, and will not hold lower scores against you.  It is not in their interest to do so.  The same is true for Subject Test scores.  If a score requires two Subject Tests, and a student has taken three, admission officers will only consider the two best scores