How important are SAT scores? Why do they matter?
SAT scores can be an important factor in college admissions. Most US colleges, and all Ivy League schools, require you to take the SAT, or a popular alternative test, the ACT. Such tests scores are valuable to universities as they provide an unbiased way of ranking a student¡¯s performance compared to other applicants. Unlike your GPA, which may depend on the difficulty of your course load or the standards of your high school, SAT scores are directly comparable across students from different parts of the country. Given this, it¡¯s good to keep in mind that SAT scores have the power to set a strong impression and set you apart from the crowd. In particular, exceptionally strong SAT stores can help compensate in part for a less than stellar GPA.
However, SAT scores will not necessarily make or break your application. They are always considered in a package with other elements, such as your extra-curricular involvements, letters of recommendation, essays, and grades. Besides their use for admission purposes, SAT scores are also often taken into account when students are being considered for academic scholarships.
How do US colleges use my SAT scores?
SAT scores are particularly useful to admissions officers because they provide an unbiased way of comparing you to other applicants. It is hard to compare grades and GPAs among schools across the country or different countries, as they can be affected by the difficulty of the classes taken and the grading standards of your school. SAT scores provide a level playing field, as a score of 750 indicates the same level of ability regardless or where and when the test was taken. Colleges can also look at the percentiles to directly compare your performance to other applicants to the school. If you have a percentile of 95, that means you outperformed 95% of other students, an impressive achievement.
Keep in mind, though, that test scores are always considered in light of other information. Your transcript-xs, recommendation letters, application essays, and extra-curricular activities can help make up for less-than-stellar test scores. Similarly, very high test scores, can compensate somewhat for other weaknesses in your application.
Can the SAT show how well I'll do in my first year of university?
Many factors affect university performance, including personal motivation and work habits. However, one of the best predictors of performance in the first year of university is a combination of high school GPA and SAT scores, so knowing these helps universities make decisions about whether you¡¯d do well at their school. Of the three sections of the SAT, recent research indicates the writing section is the most predictive of students¡¯ first year grade point average (see http://professionals.collegeboard.com/data-reports-research/sat/validity-studies).
What's considered a "good" score?
Every school generally has its own range of scores that it considers acceptable for their applicants. Schools may take into account your overall score out of 2400, your relative performance on the 3 subsections, and your percentiles. Generally speaking, the higher the score the better. A score of about 500 on a subsection indicates average performance. Highly selective schools such as Harvard and Yale might have a large proportion of their freshman class scoring over 700 on the 3 subsections. However, most schools do not have strict SAT score cut-offs and take into account a student¡¯s background and whether they have had more limited educational opportunities when considering their test scores.
I have the same critical reading and mathematics scores but the percentiles are different. Is something wrong?
Most likely not. The scaled scores for each section stand alone, but percentiles reflect how your performance compares to those who took the test in the previous year. So if everyone who took the test last year found the critical reading slightly harder than the math section (or vice versa) the same scaled score can correspond to different percentiles.
For example, say you got a scaled score of 700 on both the Critical Reading and Math sections of the SAT I. Your score of 700 on Math corresponds to a percentile of 92, meaning you scored better than 92% of the entire group of test-takers. But if everyone who took the test found the Critical Reading section harder than the Math section, there would be even fewer people getting high scores on Critical Reading. So your score of Critical Reading score of 700 would stand out even more, and might be better than 95% of your peers, which is a percentile of 95.
I checked my scores online and the percentile is different from when I took the test. Is this a mistake?
Most likely not. Percentiles reflect how your performance compares to other college-bound students who took the same test. As time passes from the day you took the test, more and more students will take it, so your percentile can change slightly depending on how well they do.
Question: Do Colleges Have to See All of my SAT Scores?
Currently, colleges are sent scores from each of your attempts at the SAT. Although most schools have a policy of only officially looking at your highest SAT scores, admissions counselors often admit that it sends a bad signal if they can see you have tried taking the SAT many times to improve your score.
After March 2009
Starting in March 2009, however, students will be able to send only the scores they feel best represent their ability to universities. Students will just have to indicate online which test date they want to use the scores from. This means that a student can take the SAT as many times as they want, and then only send in their best scores to a school, without worrying that the admissions office will see the other lower scores.
Unfortunately, you cannot mix and match scores from different test dates, you can¡¯t send your Critical Reading score from your SAT test in March and your Math score from your test in May. Instead, scores from the entire SAT taken on one date can be selected and sent.
This new score reporting policy also applies to SAT Subject tests. For example, a student who took three subject tests can choose which ones to report to a college. Once it comes into effect, this new score-reporting feature will be available free to all test-takers. Even if you have taken the SAT before March 2009, you will still be able to report your scores this way.
Also note that this new policy is an optional feature. If a student doesn¡¯t select a particular test date, scores from all test attempts will still be sent.
How is the SAT scored?
To get your SAT scores, the first thing that¡¯s calculated is your ¡°raw score¡± for the multiple-choice questions in each of the 3 main sections: Math, Critical Reading, and Writing Skills. The raw score is calculated by:
¡¤ Adding 1 point for each question that was answered correctly
¡¤ Subtracting ¨ù of a point for each question that was wrong (except for math grid-in questions, where no points are deducted for a wrong answer)
For example, in total there are 70 multiple-choice Critical Reading question spread across three sections of the SAT. If a student got:
¡¤ 55 right
¡¤ 12 wrong
¡¤ left 3 blank
They would have a raw score of 55 – (¨ù)(12) = 51. Note that no points are lost for questions that are left blank.
Raw scores for each section are then translated to ¡®scaled scores¡¯ from 200 to 800. A statistical process called equating is used to ensure that a scaled score always represents the same level of ability, even across people who took different versions of the SAT at different times and so might have slightly different raw scores. A scaled score near 500 generally means that a student is performing at average level compared to their peers. The scaled scores for each of the 3 major sections are then added together to give a total SAT score out of 2400.
The Writing Section
Unlike the other sections, your scaled score for the writing section takes into account both your performance on the multiple choice Writing Skills questions and your Essay score. The multiple choice questions are mathematically weighted 70%, while the essay is weighted 30%, but you can see your ¡®subscores¡¯ for both of these elements on the SAT score report as well.
As well as giving you a scaled score for each section, your SAT score report will also list your percentile for each section, which is a number between 1 and 99. The percentile indicates what percentage of students earned a score lower than you. If you get a percentile of 95 for math, this means you did exceptionally well compared to your peers, as 95% of them scored less than you on that section.
How is my essay scored?
Unlike multiple-choice questions, the essay is marked on a scale from 0 to 12. Two different readers (trained high school and college teachers) each independently read your essay and assign it a score from 1 to 6. A score of 0 is rare and only given if the essay is blank, illegible, or completely off-topic. These two scores are added together to give a final essay score out of 12, which will be listed on the SAT Score Report. The essay score is mathematically combined with your raw score on the multiple choice Writing Skills questions to create your final Writing score on a scale from 200 to 800.