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Unit 1: Lesson 2

Scoring on the sat.

SAT score components

SAT score breakdown

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, what's the highest new sat score possible.

SAT Logistics , New SAT


Understanding how the SAT scoring system works is an important part of preparing for the test. After all, how else are you supposed to measure your progress and set goals?

The SAT underwent some big format changes in 2016 , which means that the scoring system most people were familiar with was radically overhauled. Here, I’ll cover how the scoring system has changed on the SAT, how this has affected the highest possible SAT score, and what this means for test takers.

How Has the SAT Changed in Recent Years?

Before 2005, the SAT had just two sections (Math and Critical Reading), and each was scored on a scale of 200-800, giving you a maximum possible SAT score of 1600.

In 2005, the College Board instituted a newer version of the SAT with three sections; this changed the maximum possible score to 2400. The new version of the SAT also came with updates to test content and question types.

But in the beginning of 2016, the College Board updated the SAT a second time both in terms of its scoring system and content.  There are still three parts of the test but these are now scored as two sections:  Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing  (which is a combination of Reading and Writing). Each of these sections is scored on a scale of 200-800.  In addition, there’s an optional Essay section  (whose score is separate from your overall SAT score).

You might notice that the structure of the current SAT is  fairly similar to that of the ACT .  

Another important change is the switch to rights-only scoring, which means that points are no longer deducted for wrong answers. Simply put, there’s no guessing penalty on the SAT!

Now, let's take a closer look at what these changes mean for the highest possible SAT score and the SAT Essay.

The Highest Possible SAT Score

As I mentioned, the current SAT is scored as two sections (Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, or EBRW). Each has a maximum of 800. This means that the new highest possible SAT score is 1600.

Basically, the SAT shifted from a maximum score of 1600 (before 2005), to a maximum score of 2400 (2005-2015), to back down to a maximum of 1600 (2016-present). Note, though, that even though the SAT returned to the 1600 scale, the current SAT format differs a lot from its very old (pre-2005) format.

You can learn more about what counts as a good, bad, or average SAT score  by reading our guide.

The Highest Possible SAT Essay Score

The essay used to be a mandatory part of the SAT Writing section. Now, though, it's an optional separate section with an independent scoring system .  This means that your Essay score is not included in the total maximum SAT score of 1600.

Two graders will read your SAT essay and score your work on three different dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. Each grader will give you between 1 and 4 points for each dimension. In sum, each dimension is being scored out of 8 possible points.

Three separate scores (out of 8 points each) means that the highest possible SAT Essay score is 8|8|8, or 24 total points.


Because the essay is now scored on three separate dimensions, it may make it easier for you to hone in on (and improve) your writing weaknesses.

What These SAT Scoring Changes Mean for You

These structural and scoring changes to the SAT might not sound like a huge deal, but they could change the way you approach the test. Here are the major features of the new SAT to keep in mind as you prepare for the test:

#1: There's a Greater Emphasis on Math

On the old SAT, the Reading and Writing sections accounted for two-thirds of your total SAT score, whereas Math accounted for just one-third (remember that each of the three sections was scored on a separate scale of 200-800 points, adding up to a maximum of 2400 points).

Now, the Math section accounts for half your total SAT score. If Math isn’t your strong subject, you'll need to dedicate more time to preparing for this section than you would have had to do had you taken the old version of the SAT. Since Math now counts for a far bigger fraction of your score, you don't want to do poorly on it!

To get started on your SAT Math prep, check out our ultimate guide to the SAT Math section .

#2: Know the Expectations for the SAT Essay

The current SAT Essay gives you three scores for three different dimensions, with each being out of 8 points.  Check out the SAT Essay rubric to see exactly what graders are looking for from test takers. I also recommend   reading  our guide to getting a perfect 8 on each of the three SAT Essay dimensions .

#3: Don't Be Scared to Guess on Questions

With the 2016 switch to rights-only scoring (meaning that there are no point deductions for wrong answers), there’s no reason to leave any questions blank.  You have nothing to lose if you guess on a question that you’re otherwise unable to answer, so go ahead and put down an answer!

Take a look at our article on  how and when to guess on SAT questions  to learn more about how to increase your chances of getting a question right on test day.


Guessing obviously isn’t ideal, but these changes to the SAT mean you don’t have to stress about whether to guess if you’re super stuck on a question!

What’s Next?

How many people actually score a 1600 on the SAT ?  Read our expert guide to learn what the answer is!

Knowing how the SAT is scored can be useful—but it’s even more helpful if you have a context for understanding these scores. Start off by learning about the SAT score range . Afterward, read up on what counts as good, bad, or excellent SAT score .

Intrigued by the idea of a perfect SAT score? Check out our famous guide on how to get a 1600 , written by an actual perfect scorer!

Ready to go beyond just reading about the SAT? Then you'll love the free five-day trial for our SAT Complete Prep program . Designed and written by PrepScholar SAT experts , our SAT program customizes to your skill level in over 40 subskills so that you can focus your studying on what will get you the biggest score gains.

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Francesca graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and scored in the 99th percentile on the SATs. She's worked with many students on SAT prep and college counseling, and loves helping students capitalize on their strengths.

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Are Your SAT Scores Good Enough?

Learn what selective colleges consider good sat scores for admission, average sat scores.

Sample SAT Data for Selective Colleges and Universities

Private universities — sat score comparison (mid 50%), liberal arts colleges — sat score comparison (mid 50%), more about sat scores, the sat writing section, more sat data for selective colleges, sat subject test data, what if your sat scores are low.

What is a good SAT score on the SAT exam? For the 2020 admissions year, the exam consists of two required sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Mathematics. There is also an optional essay section. The scores from each required section can range from 200 to 800, so the best possible total score without the essay is 1600.

There are different ways to calculate what an "average" score is for the SAT. For the Evidence-Based Reading section, the College Board predicts that if all high school students took the exam, the average score would be a little over 500. For college-bound students who typically take the SAT, that average goes up to about 540. This latter number is probably the more meaningful one since it is the average among the students you are competing with on the college admissions front.

For the Math section of the exam, the average score for all high school students is very similar to the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section—a little over 500. For college-bound students who are likely to take the SAT, the average Math score is a little over 530. Here again that latter number is probably the more meaningful one since you would want to compare your score to other college-bound students.

Note that the exam changed significantly in March of 2016 , and the average scores are a little higher today than they had been before 2016.

What's Considered a Good SAT Score?

Averages, however, don't really tell you what kind of score you're going to need for selective colleges and universities. After all, every student who gets into a school like Stanford or Amherst is going to be well above average. The table below can give you a sense of the typical score ranges for students who were admitted to different types of highly selective colleges and universities. Keep in mind that the table shows the middle 50% of matriculated students. 25% of students got  below the lower number , and 25% scored higher than the upper number.

You're obviously in a stronger position if your scores are in the upper ranges in the tables below. Students in the lower 25% of the score range are going to need other strengths to make their applications stand out. Also keep in mind that being in the top 25% does not guarantee admission. Highly selective colleges and universities reject students with near perfect SAT scores when other parts of the application fail to impress the admissions folks.

In general, a combined SAT score of roughly 1400 will make you competitive at nearly any college or university in the country. The definition of a "good" score, however, is entirely dependent upon what schools you're applying to. There are hundreds of test-optional colleges where SAT scores don't matter, and hundreds of other schools where average scores (roughly 1050 Reading + Math) will be perfectly adequate for receiving an acceptance letter.

The table below will give you a sense of the types of scores you'll need for a wide range of selective public and private colleges and universities.

Public Universities — SAT Score Comparison (mid 50%)

View the ACT version of this article

SAT scores aren't the most important part of a college application (your academic record is), but aside from colleges that are test-optional, they can play a big role in a school's admissions decision. Mediocre scores aren't going to cut it at the country's most selective colleges and universities, and some public universities have concrete cut-off numbers. If you score below the required minimum, you won't be admitted.

If you aren't happy with your performance on the SAT, keep in mind that all colleges are happy to accept either ACT or SAT scores regardless of where in the country you live. If the ACT is your better exam, you can almost always use that exam. This ACT version of this article can help guide you.

You'll find that most schools report critical reading and math scores, but not the writing scores. This is because the writing part of the exam never fully caught on when it was introduced in 2005, and many schools still do not use it in their admissions decisions. And when the redesigned SAT rolled out in 2016, the writing section became an optional part of the exam. There are some colleges that require the writing section, but the number of schools with that requirement has been rapidly declining in recent years.

The table above is just a sampling of admissions data. If you look at the SAT data for all of the Ivy League schools , you'll see that all require scores that are well above average. The SAT data for other top private universities , top liberal arts colleges , and top public universities is similar. In general, you're going to want math and reading scores that are at least in the high 600s to be competitive.

You'll notice that the bar for top public universities tends to be a little lower than for private universities. It's generally easier to get into UNC Chapel Hill or UCLA than it is to get into Stanford or Harvard. That said, realize that the public university data can be a little misleading. The admissions bar for in-state and out-of-state applicants can be quite different. Many states require that the majority of admitted students come from in-state, and in some cases this means that admissions standards are significantly higher for out-of-state applicants. A combined score of 1200 might suffice for in-state students, but out-of-state applicants might need a 1400.

Many of the country's top colleges require applicants to take at least a couple SAT Subject Tests. Average scores on the subject tests are significantly higher than on the general exam, for the subject tests are taken primarily by strong students who are applying to top colleges. For most schools that require subject tests, you're going to be most competitive if those scores are up in the 700 range. You can learn more by reading about score information for different subjects: Biology | Chemistry | Literature | Math | Physics .

The SAT can create a lot of anxiety for students whose scores aren't in line with their college aspirations. Realize, however, that there are plenty of  ways to compensate for low SAT scores . There are many excellent colleges for students with not-so-great scores  as well as hundreds of test-optional colleges . You can also work to improve your scores with approaches that range from buying an SAT prep book to enrolling in a Kaplan SAT prep course . 

Whether you work hard to raise your SAT score, or you look for colleges that don't require high scores, you'll find that you have plenty of college options whatever your SAT scores are.

Watch Now: How to Convert ACT Scores to SAT

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  1. Scoring on the SAT (article)

    The highest composite score for the SAT is 800+800, or 1600. The average score is 1000. Your section scores are the individual scores for the two main sections of the SAT: reading/writing and math. Each of these sections is scored out of 800, and they are added together to get your overall score.

  2. Which Colleges Require the SAT Essay? Complete List

    If you take the SAT without Essay, the test length is three hours. However, if you take the SAT with Essay, the optional Essay adds 50 minutes. It also costs more to take the SAT with Essay: $64.50 vs $49.50 without the Essay. Don't automatically assume you must take the Essay.

  3. What's the Highest New SAT Score Possible?

    This means that your Essay score is not included in the total maximum SAT score of 1600. Two graders will read your SAT essay and score your work on three different dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. Each grader will give you between 1 and 4 points for each dimension. In sum, each dimension is being scored out of 8 possible points.

  4. What's a Good SAT Score for College Admissions in 2020?

    There is also an optional essay section. The scores from each required section can range from 200 to 800, so the best possible total score without the essay is 1600. Average SAT Scores There are different ways to calculate what an "average" score is for the SAT.