In March of 2016, the College Board rolled out the new SAT. At the time, these changes to the SAT were the most significant since 2005, when the College Board introduced a writing section and increased the scoring range from 1600 points to 2400 points.
Initially, many students, teachers, tutors, and guidance counselors were anxious to see what the changes would mean. In fact, changes to the scoring structure and format of the new test were of particular concern, as many students did not know exactly how their performance would be assessed.
Now, almost a whole year later, we have a much better understanding of the new SAT and how it is scored. Specifically, we now know the new scoring scale and we know that the actual scoring process is not much different than it was for the older version of the SAT.
To learn more about the format, scoring scale, and scoring process for the new SAT, read on.
What is the format of the New SAT?
At first glance, the new SAT appears significantly different from the SAT administered prior to March 2016. It contains two primary test sections, and one additional optional test section, as opposed to the three required sections on the previous version of the test.
One of the primary tests is the Math Test. This is actually comprised of two smaller test sections: the Math Test With Calculator and the Math Test – No Calculator.
The other primary test is the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test. This is also comprised of two smaller test sections: the Critical Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test.
The final component of the new exam, the SAT Essay, is now optional.
How are tests scored?
When you are finished taking the SAT, the test supervisor will collect and count the test books to make sure all materials have been turned in before dismissing you from the testing room. This is to help ensure the security of testing materials.
All test materials are then put into a sealed envelope and sent to a scoring center. At the scoring center, SAT Essays are removed for separate scoring, while the remaining answer sheets are scanned by a machine that counts the number of correct answers bubbled in on each answer sheet.
Tests are scored based on the number of answers that you got correct. With the exception of the SAT Essay, all tests have multiple-choice or grid-in answers. This means that answer sheets can be quickly scanned to tally raw scores. Because there is no scoring penalty for wrong answers, your raw score is simply the number of correct answers that you achieved on each section.
Once your raw scores have been tallied, they are converted to scaled scores through a process called equating. Equating accounts for very slight differences in test difficulty and ensures that scores are consistent across different forms of the SAT.
The exact equation used to equate your raw SAT score to a scaled score varies slightly from one test to another, and is adjusted in small increments to reflect the difficulty of the test.
You can get a better idea of the exact process by reviewing the scoring procedure for official SAT practice tests prepared by the College Board. Check out the Raw Score Conversion Tables beginning on page seven of the packet Scoring Your SAT Practice Test #1.
What is the score range for the new SAT?
Scaled scores for each required SAT test range from 200-800. You receive one score from 200-800 for the Math test, which takes into account your performance on both the Math Test With Calculator and Math Test – No Calculator sections. You receive another score from 200-800 for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing test, which takes into account your performance on both the Writing and Language Test and the Critical Reading Test.
Your total SAT score will always range from 400-1600 and is calculated simply by adding together the scores from your Math test and your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test.
The new, optional SAT Essay is scored differently, using a different scale, and it bears no weight on your total SAT score.
To learn more about SAT scores, read CollegeVine’s What Is a Good SAT Score?
How is the new SAT essay scored?
The optional essay cannot be scored by computer since its answers are not multiple-choice or grid-in. Instead, each SAT essay is read by two qualified readers. The readers each assign a score from one to four in three different dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
If the scores assigned by the readers to any single dimension vary by more than one point, a scoring director will read the essay to resolve the discrepancy.
The points assigned in each dimension are then totaled, resulting in a score range for each dimension between two and eight. The dimension scores are added together to result in a total score ranging from 6-24.
You can read more about the SAT Essay scoring process and preview the scoring rubric on CollegeBoard’s SAT Essay Scoring site.
The scoring model on the new SAT differs significantly from the scoring model that was used on the old version of the test. It's important to be aware of these changes so that you can plan your studying and test-taking strategies accordingly.
In this article, I'll go through all the scoring differences that have taken place for the new SAT and what they mean for you as a student.
Main Scoring Differences
The biggest change in the new SAT scoring structure is that it uses a 1600 point scale instead of a 2400 point scale. The Math section is still worth 800 points. The Reading and Writing sections together are called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” and account for the other 800 points. The essay is optional and scored separately from the multiple choice portions of the test (your essay score doesn't affect your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score).
Another difference in the scoring methodology is the elimination of point deductions for wrong answers. On the old SAT, you were docked a quarter of a point for every question you answered incorrectly. The SAT is now more like the ACT in that incorrect answers are treated the same as questions that were left blank (no points added or subtracted). There are also four answer choices for each question now rather than five.
What Does This Mean for You?
Since there’s no guessing penalty, you don’t have to worry about whether you should guess or leave a question blank on the test. Guessing is always the right choice! This doesn’t necessarily mean that it's easier to get a higher score since the test is curved to account for these changes. However, it does take some of the stress out of the testing process.
The switch to a 1600 scale shouldn’t impact you unless you’re trying to compare your scores out of 2400 on the old SAT to scores on the new version. This may be a concern if you want to know how much you’ll need to improve to get a score on the new SAT that’s equivalent to your goal score on the old SAT. Here's a chart that will help you convert your current or older scores to their equivalent numbers on the new SAT.
However, keep in mind that the latest scoring model gives more weight to Math score. On the old SAT, Math only made up one-third of your total score. On the new SAT, it makes up half. This could mean that students who are especially strong in Math will do better on the new SAT by 50 or so points.
If you scored an 800 on Math and a 650 on both Reading and Writing on the old SAT, you would have a composite score of 2100. Assuming you continued to stay at the same level upon taking the new SAT, an 800 in Math and a 650 on the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section would give you a 1450. This score is 50 points higher than the 1400 you would predict for yourself if you multiplied 2100 by two-thirds for a direct conversion to the new scale.
Most colleges will accept scores from both the current SAT and the new SAT for at least a couple of years. The College Board will provide colleges with concordance tables to help them judge and compare scores across the two different tests. Also, score choice is still an option, so you don’t have to worry about that changing with the updated test.
Lock up your bad SAT score in a safe hidden behind a nondescript painting in your rich old uncle's mansion. No one will ever know about it unless he dies and you and your cousins have to spend a spooky night locked in his house (and his will stipulates that you have to disclose your deepest, darkest secrets to each other in order to get a piece of the inheritance).
New SAT Subscores
The new SAT also includes a complex scoring structure beyond the main section scores. There are test scores for Math, Reading, and Writing, each on a scale of 10-40. Also, the new SAT has two special categories of questions, Analysis in History/Social Sciences and Analysis in Science. These are also scored on a scale of 10-40. These scores are called “cross-test scores” because each of the categories cover questions in all three sections of the test.
Additionally, there are seven subscores, each on a scale of 1-15, for the following categories:
- Command of Evidence (Reading and Writing)
- Words in Context (Reading and Writing)
- Expression of Ideas (Writing)
- Standard English Conventions (Writing)
- Heart of Algebra (Math)
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis (Math)
- Passport to Advanced Math (Math)
Here's a breakdown of the different subscores in this graphic taken from the Khan Academy website:
This means that each question on the test fits into multiple subscore categories. Take, for example, this question from the Reading section of one of the new SAT practice tests:
The graph following the passage offers evidence that gift-givers base their predictions of how much a gift will be appreciated on
A) the appreciation level of the gift-recipients.
B) the monetary value of the gift.
C) their own desires for the gifts they purchase.
D) their relationship with the gift-recipients.
This question would naturally be included in the subscore for the Reading test. It would also be included in the Analysis in History/Social Sciences cross-test score: since it deals with the interpretation of a graph that contains data about a sociological phenomenon, it requires you to think analytically in a social sciences context.
It would not be a part of the Command of Evidence or Words in Context Reading subscores because it doesn't ask you to provide evidence for your answer to a previous question or demonstrate your understanding of the meaning of a word in the passage.
What a thoughtful gift! I definitely won't throw these away in the next trash can I happen to see!
What Does This Mean for You?
The new subscores mean more information about your strengths and weaknesses on the test. These scores help highlight your specific strengths for colleges and also provide guidance on where you can improve your skills. College Board has partnered up with Khan Academy to offer a free prep program for the newSAT that personalizes your prep plan based on your subscore distribution to help you focus on improving your specific weak areas.
The subscores also point to new question types on the current SAT. Notice that “Command of Evidence” is a subscore category for Reading questions. Questions that ask you to cite evidence for your answers are now a major component of the Reading section. These questions ask which lines of the passage provide the best evidence for the answer to the previous question, pushing you to understand the reasoning behind your response. This can be a plus in that it might eliminate silly mistakes on some reading questions, but it also adds a challenging new layer of analysis.
“Words in Context” is also a telling category; understanding vocabulary in context is now a bigger part of the Reading section. The elimination of sentence completion questions means that there are more vocabulary in context questions. These focus less on obscure vocabulary and more on understanding nuances in the meanings of more commonly used words.
The existence of “Problem Solving and Data Analysis”, along with the two cross-test analytical scores, means that there are questions that ask you to interpret data and apply mathematical and logical reasoning to real-life scenarios.
On the current SAT, the essay is optional, and its format has also been updated. Rather than asking you to write about your opinion on a general question, the essay prompt asks you to read a passage and analyze the argument that is presented. The College Board says that the new essay is “a lot like a typical college writing assignment in which you’re asked to analyze a text.”
The essay is scored from 2-8 across three different dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The essays are still read by two graders, but now each grader scores the essay on a scale of 1-4 in Reading, Analysis, and Writing. These scores are then added together for a score from 2-8 in each category. This means the maximum essay score is a 24, and the minimum is a 6.
Here's a rubric that explains exactly how these scores are determined. Essentially, the difference between an "advanced" essay and a merely "proficient" essay is the level of understanding of the source text that the student demonstrates. An advanced essay shows a thorough comprehension of how details in the text interrelate to support the author's argument. It goes beyond a basic summary of the author's points to give an insightful, focused analysis of the argument.
You really should be able to use a magnifying glass on the essay. From what I've seen on Google images, analysis can't happen without one.
What Does This Mean for You?
The College Board has created a new essay format in which students must demonstrate analytical skills that are critical for success in college. On the new essay, you’re asked to explain how the author builds his or her argument in the passage and support your points with relevant evidence and details. Asking students to write an essay about another person’s argument is a better way of judging reading and writing skills than asking them to write an opinion piece.
Whether or not you end up in a humanities discipline in college, you’ll probably write a research paper or at least analyze other people’s scientific or historical findings at some point. An ability to understand and synthesize key points in an argument made by someone else is crucial for intellectual discourse. The text for the prompt on the new SAT is always taken from a published work, so it is high quality, advanced material similar to what you might see in a college course.
You now have 50 minutes to write the essay instead of 25, so you might not be as concerned about time pressure. Remember that you have the option of taking the SAT without the essay, which can eliminate a lot of stress from the testing process. However, many schools, especially the most selective ones, still require applicants to submit essay scores. Check the requirements for schools that interest you!
The SAT now has an updated scoring model to account for changes in question types and testing methodology. The main difference between the old scoring format and the current format is the switch back to a 1600 point scale. You can no longer lose points for incorrect answers, and there are four answer choices for each question rather than five.
The SAT has also added subscores that give you a more detailed picture of your strengths and weaknesses on the test along with a greater degree of personalized support and prep advice through a partnership with Khan Academy.
The essay is optional. It also has a more complex scoring system that judges a student’s ability to read an advanced text effectively, analyze the author’s argument, and write coherently about the author's main points.
There have been some major changes to the format the SAT, but if you start preparing now, you'll be ready to take on these new challenges in no time!
Now that you know how the new SAT is scored, you might be wondering if it's the best standardized test option for you. Read this article on whether you should take the new SAT or the ACT.
Take a look at this article for some tips on how to study for the updated version of the SAT. You should also read our complete guide to the new SAT.
Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now: