Know the Score
1.1 Just the Facts
1.2 Know the Score
1.3 The PSAT
1.4 The SAT FAQs
Know the Score
This heading sounds like the title of a lame test-prep book. But you do need to know how the questions you get right and wrong impact your overall SAT score. Let’s say you take the new SAT. You get some questions right and some questions wrong, and then you end up with some odd-looking score like 2150. How did you get from there to here? Through a two-step process. First, the SAT calculates what’s called the raw score. Then, based on everyone’s results, the scorers work out a curve, feed your raw score into a computer, and out pops your scaled score. Here’s some more detail on what each score means and how the raw and scaled scores relate to each other.
The Raw Score
There are only three ways to answer every multiple-choice question on the SAT. Your raw score is affected differently depending on which of the following three things you do on each question:
  • Get it right: You get 1 raw point.
  • Get it wrong: You lose .25 of a point.
  • Leave it blank: You get 0 points.
That means your raw score for each section of the test equals the number of questions you answer correctly minus the one quarter of the questions you answer incorrectly.
These are the fundamentals of the raw score. There are, however, a few quirks and exceptions to the raw score calculation for each of the three major sections on the SAT. We cover those quirks in the chapters dedicated to each major section: Writing, Critical Reading, and Math.
The Scaled Score
The scaled score takes your raw score and converts it into 200 to 800 points for each section. Since the SAT has three sections of equal weight, 2400 is the perfect scaled score on the SAT.
The scaled score follows a curve like the standard bell curve, but it is shifted a little so that more students get 800s than get 200s. The average score on the three sections of the test is a little over 500. So the average score on the SAT is about 1520.
The practice tests at the end of this book come with a chart that shows you how to translate your raw score into a scaled score.
SAT Scores and College Admissions
Time for a little perspective. Your SAT scores are important, but they’re not the only part of your application that a college considers. Colleges also look at high school grades, course load, extracurricular activities, application essays, letters of recommendation, SAT II tests, and Advanced Placement tests. If you’ve got stellar grades, excellent extracurriculars, and letters of recommendation that compare your leadership abilities to George Washington’s, mediocre SAT scores won’t destroy your chances of acceptance. Similarly, excellent SAT scores won’t secure you a spot in a top-ranked school if you took easy classes, wrote lame application essays, and didn’t participate in any extracurricular activities. A college is more likely to admit an exciting, vibrant, well-rounded student with lots of extracurriculars than a kid who scored 50 points higher on the SAT but did no extracurriculars and shows no leadership skills.
To sum up, there’s no question that an SAT score above a college’s average will help your chances, while below-average scores will hurt. This is especially true at larger schools, where admissions committees have less time to devote to each individual application. Big schools are more likely to use SAT scores as a cutoff to whittle down their applicant pool before taking a good hard look at entire applications.
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