The word on the street lately is that the SAT is graded on a curve. Is this really true? If so, how does it affect students? Read on to find out how the test is actually scored—and how you can help reduce your anxiety on test day.
How Is the SAT Scored?
The SAT consists of two sections: math and evidence-based reading/writing. There’s also an optional essay section that is graded on three aspects (reading, analysis, writing), with scores for each ranging from 2 to 8. Your score on the essay portion does not affect your composite score of the main two sections.
Raw scores are converted to a scaled score of 200 to 800 points for each of the two primary sections. Composite scores (the ones you see on your score report) can range from 400 to 1600.
Is the SAT Graded on a Curve?
College Board reports that, contrary to popular belief, the SAT is not graded on a curve. That means you are not evaluated based on how well you did compared to other test-takers who took the SAT the same day. Students take different versions of the test anyway, so it would be difficult to compare their performances. When a test is graded on a curve, your score goes up or down depending on how well the rest of your testing cohort did that day. A curve is unfair because it ultimately limits how many students can get top scores.
However, because some editions of the test are easier than others, the College Board scales them to make sure they are equivalent to each other. The equating process ensures that the tests are fair, and that scores are comparable and reliable no matter which version you take. In other words, a score of 600 in math on one test date means the same thing as a score of 600 on another date. This widely accepted process is the norm for many other standardized tests, too.
The scaling system may sometimes result in confusing discrepancies between SAT scores, however. For instance, let’s say you took the test twice—once in May, then a second time in October. Both times, you got a 650 in reading. On round one of testing, you got 15 questions wrong. But the second time, you only got 13 questions wrong. Naturally, you might be wondering how you could end up with the same score when you actually did better on that section the second time. However, in this scenario, College Board determined that the first test you took in the spring was a little more difficult than the one you took in the fall.
Is There a Penalty for Guessing on the SAT?
In addition to wanting to know more about how the test is scored, students are also curious about what happens if you skip questions. The answer: nothing. You don’t have to stress because there is no penalty for getting a question wrong on the SAT. That means it’s better to attempt all the questions rather than skipping the ones you aren’t sure of.
Making an educated guess is better than just randomly selecting an answer. But how do you do that? One way is to look at the answer choices and eliminate as many obviously incorrect answers as possible. If a question has four choices and you randomly select one, you have a 25% chance of being correct. If you can narrow down your choices to just two answers, however, the likelihood that you will select the correct one increases to 50%.
It’s important to manage your time efficiently, too. If you can’t figure out the answer within a reasonable amount of time, go on to the next question and return to the skipped item later. Spending too many minutes puzzling over a question may cause you to run out of time before you have a chance to attempt all the questions in that section.
If you leave a question blank, make a note of it in your test booklet so you can easily return to it later. Also, make absolutely sure you leave the ovals blank on your answer sheet that correspond to the skipped question. Otherwise, you’ll be filling in answers to the wrong question numbers.
Can Your Test Be Rescored?
The numbers you see on your score report are considered official. However, if your score is much lower than you think it should be, you can request a rescoring of your answer sheet.
In-Depth SAT Test Prep
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