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How is the SAT scored?

April 2019
Photo credit: The New Yorker

Just a few years ago, the College Board deducted one-fourth of a point for each incorrect answer on the SAT, in order to discourage guessing. This led to a lot of anxiety for test takers. Should they leave a question blank if they weren’t 100% sure of their answer? Thankfully, in 2016, the College Board decided to no longer deduct points for incorrect responses.

So, how does scoring work now?

Raw Score: For each correct response, the test taker receives one-point, and for each incorrect or blank response, they receives no points. The sum of their points on each section constitutes their raw score. The Reading section score and the Writing and Language section scores are added to create a single Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score.

Score Adjustments: After scoring all the exams for a particular test date, the College Board analyzes how well a particular SAT matches up to past exams in terms of difficulty. Then, they make slight score adjustments to account for differences between test versions.

Bonus Section: Each SAT exam includes a “bonus” section, which is an overly positive word for an additional section of work that does not count toward a student’s score. This section helps the College Board to calibrate the difficulty of new test questions and ensure that different versions of the SAT accurately reflect students’ skills. The bonus section can be on Reading, Writing and Language, or Math, and students are not informed which section is the bonus one.

Final Score: The raw score is turned into a scale score for each section, which ranges from 200 to 800 points. In this process, the College Board employs a statistical method called equating. The caliber of the test taking groups and the test difficulty can vary between different versions of the exam, and equating seeks to account for these differences. Ultimately, the College Board wants every student to have a fair shot to show off their skills, no matter when they take the exam.