28 Oct 2020

Understanding Your SAT / ACT Scores

If you’ve recently taken the SAT or ACT, more likely than not you are anxiously awaiting your score report. Your score report will provide a lot of useful information about your exam performance, but interpreting SAT or ACT scores is not as easy as one might think. For those of you just embarking on your test prep journey, understanding how the scoring works for your exam of choice is essential to planning your test prep most effectively. 

It’s important to understand that scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the specific exam that you took, recognizing that difficulty level may vary slightly from one version of the test to the next. ACT and College Board start by calculating your raw score for each section, which is simply the number of questions you answered correctly. The raw score is then converted into a scaled score. Both College Board and ACT utilize a process they refer to as “equating” when converting raw scores to scaled scores. College Board explains, “Equating makes sure that a score for a test taken on one date is equivalent to a score from another date… it’s important that the score a student receives on the SAT means the same regardless of when the student took the test. This ensures that there’s no advantage to taking the SAT during one administration versus another.” 

Contrary to popular belief, the SAT and ACT are not “graded on a curve” in the traditional sense. The process of equating ensures that a student’s score is based only on how they performed on test day and is never affected by another test-taker’s performance, according to College Board and ACT.

Scaled Scores on the ACT 

For the ACT, scaled scores are reported as a number out of 36. You will get a scaled score out of 36 for each of the four multiple-choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Your composite score is the average of those four scaled scores. In other words, ACT adds up all four scaled scores and then divides that value by four. 

Scaled Scores on the SAT

College Board calculates verbal section scores differently than the math sections. You will receive scaled scores out of 40 for the reading and writing sections of the SAT. Your reading and writing scaled scores are then added together and multiplied by 10 to give you a scaled verbal score out of 800. 

Your raw scores for the two math sections (No Calculator and Calculator) are added together, giving your final math raw score. This combined raw math score is converted directly to a scaled score out of 800. 

Your scaled verbal and math scores are then added together to give you a total score out of 1600.

ACT Percentiles

Your percentile rank, distinct from your scaled scores, represents the percentage of students whose score is equal to or lower than yours. If you are in the 80th percentile, for example, this means that 80% of test-takers earned scores that were equivalent to or below your score. 

On the ACT, you’ll receive two separate percentiles: a US Rank and a State Rank. Simply put, these ranks represent the percentages of recent high school graduates in the US and recent graduates in your state who took the ACT and earned scores equal to or lower than yours.

For more information on scoring, you can check out the ACT website

SAT Percentiles

Two percentiles will show up on your SAT score report. The Nationally Representative Sample Percentile indicates where you stand compared to all 11th and 12th grade students in the US, including those who did not even take the SAT. The SAT User Percentile indicates how you scored compared to students in the past three graduating classes who took the current SAT during high school. 

College Board provides a detailed breakdown of the SAT Score Report. You can check it out here.

As you can see, there is no “passing” or “failing” when it comes to the SAT or ACT. However, it is essential to understand how you will be scored on these tests in order to make an informed decision about which exam will play to your strengths and how to construct a test prep plan that addresses your weaknesses. If you are seeking guidance in this process, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. At Sentia, we don’t just tutor, we’ll be with you every step of the way™!

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