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Understanding Your SAT Scores

Aug 17, 2007
You took your SATs and your scores are ready. You can tell from the basic numbers that you were smart enough to do well, but you think that your intelligence might be failing you because you aren't quite sure what all of the numbers in front of you mean. That's because there are multiple different ways to look at your SAT test scores. Here is the basic information that you need in order to fully understand what your SAT scores mean.

First, as you'll recall from taking the test, there are two different main sections of the SAT. Each section is scored out of a possible 800 points, with the minimum score in each section being 200. This means that the highest you could get on your SATs would be 1600, if you scored a perfect score in each section. On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you managed to score the worst score possible on both sections, the lowest possible SAT score would be 400. Therefore, your SAT score is somewhere between 400 and 1600. This flat score is what matters in terms of the answer you will give when someone asks you, "what did you score on your SATs?"

However, it is more than just this simple number which matters about your SAT scores. One of the other numbers that you will see when you look at your SAT scores is a percentile rank. This number is indicative of how you fared in comparison with other students who took the SAT exam. For example, if your percentile rank is 92, then you scored higher than 92% of the people taking the exam. Because the percentile rank is related only to those students who have taken the SAT exam recently (students in the graduating class of the year prior to your year of exam), you may not have to get a perfect score in order to have a high percentile ranking. In other words, you may do better than 99% of students but not have a perfect 1600 SAT score. This difference is part of the importance of your percentile rank in comparison with your flat SAT scores.

So, what happens if you've reviewed your SAT scores and your percentile rank in light of this new information and you don't like your SAT scores? Well, first of all, you can remember that you may re-take your SAT exams. However, before you do this, you might want to remember that there is more to your SAT scores than just your flat score and your percentile ranking. You may have opted to take SAT subject tests, such as higher level math SAT tests which examine your skills beyond the basic math and reasoning of the plain SAT. These scores will also be on your SAT score sheet and will be indicative of you overall advanced skill to the colleges looking at your application.

Even if you did not take a separate SAT subject test, you did take the writing portion of the SAT exam. This is important because colleges use this to enhance their understanding of your overall SAT scores. You may have gotten mediocre scores on your SAT in comparison to others who took the same exam but if your writing sample is particularly good, your college admissions boards may see that you have what it takes to communicate effectively during your college career. A quality writing portion on the SAT can make the difference between two students with similar scores in terms of which one gets in to the college of his or her choice. Your SAT score for the writing portion of the exam will be a low number, with two being the lowest writing score and twelve being a perfect writing score. So don't fret when you see a low number on this portion of the SAT scores that you're looking at!

That said, you probably have a basic understanding of how your SAT scores look now, especially when you take into consideration your percentile rank, but if you're looking for some good hard numbers, here's what you should know. An average score on each section of the exam is around 500, so a total flat SAT score of 1000 is average. This is good for getting in to most colleges. If you want to get into one of the "better" colleges, you will want to strive to get your SAT scores up higher, in the 1300 - 1400 range (or higher, of course). But bear in mind that your SAT scores are only going to be one part of your application so if you bombed them, you can re-take them and put together a great application package to offset the initial low SAT scores.
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