Understanding how the SAT scoring system works is an important part of preparing for the test - how else are you supposed to measure progress and set goals? The SAT has undergone some recent changes, which means that the scoring system that most people were familiar with has seen a radical overhaul. Here, I’ll cover how the scoring system has changed and what that means for you.
Prior to 2005, the SAT had just two sections (Math and Reading), each scored from 200-800 points for a maximum total of 1600. In 2005, the College Board instituted a new test 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.
At the beginning of 2016, the College Board once again updated the SAT both in terms of the scoring system and test content. We’re now back to two mandatory SAT sections (Math and Writing & Language), each scored from 200-800 points, but there’s also an optional essay section. You might notice that the structure 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. Put simply, there’s no more guessing penalty on the SAT.
For more detailed information on these changes, check out our complete guide to the SAT.
The Highest Possible SAT Score
Like I mentioned, there are now only two mandatory SAT sections, each scored out of a maximum of 800 points. This means that the new highest possible SAT score is 1600.
Read more about what counts as a good, bad, or average SAT score.
The essay used to be a mandatory part of the SAT Writing section - it’s now an optional, separate section with an independent scoring system. Your essay score is not included in the total maximum score of 1600.
Two graders will read your essay and score your work on three different dimensions: reading, analysis, and writing. Each grader will give you between 1-4 points on each dimension. In sum, then, each dimension is being scored out of a total of 8 points. Three separate scores (out of 8 points each) means that the highest possible essay score is 24 total points.
Read more about the SAT essay and how it’s scored.
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 Scoring Changes Mean for You
These changes may not seem like a huge deal, but these structure and scoring updates may change the way you approach the test. Here are the major things to keep in mind as prepare for this new SAT:
There’s a Greater Emphasis on Math
On the old SAT, the reading & writing sections accounted for ⅔ of your total score whereas math accounted for only ⅓. Now, the math section accounts for ½ of 1600 total points for mandatory SAT sections. If math isn’t your strong subject, you may want to dedicate more time preparing for that section than if you were prepping for the old test - math now counts for a bigger fraction of your score.
To get started, check out our ultimate guide to SAT math prep.
A New Essay Rubric Means New Expectations
The new essay means three separate scores on three different dimensions. Check out the rubric to see exactly what graders are looking for from essay-writers. For expert tips and strategies, read our guide to getting a perfect 8 on each of the three essay dimensions.
You Shouldn’t Be Scared to Guess on Questions
With the switch to rights-only scoring (no point deductions for wrong answers), there’s no more guessing penalty. This means 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.
Read more about how and when to guess on SAT questions.
Guessing obviously isn’t ideal, but these changes mean you don’t have to stress about whether to guess if you’re super stuck on a question.
Knowing how the SAT is scored is great, but it’s even more helpful if you have a context for understanding these scores. Start off by checking out SAT scoring charts. Then, 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 perfect 1600.
Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:
Wait, wait – not so fast! Let’s break this down a little. After all, understanding how a test is scored is absolutely vital to, well, getting the highest SAT score possible on it.
Furthermore, some of you may still be thinking: “Uh…isn’t it 2400?”
The Quick Answer
It used to be. Up until January 2016, the highest possible score on the SAT was 2400. As of March 2016, however, the highest possible score is now 1600, as it was for most of the twentieth century. So what gives? Were parents just protesting that they wanted to know how well they’d done in comparison to their kids?
Not exactly. Here’s what happened:
The Long Answer
On the “old” (pre-March 2016) SAT, there were three sections: reading, writing, and math. Each section had a possible score of between 200 and 800, for a total composite (overall) score of between 600 and 2400. However, that writing section presented a problem. A significant amount of the score was made up of the grade students received on an essay. Anecdotal evidences indicates that many colleges reasoned that because the essay grading was subjective, the writing score was not so useful for admissions—and so they’d ignore it, making the actual score they were looking at between 400 and 1600.
The College Board, the company that makes the SAT, caught on to this (they’re pretty bright over there). They began a redesign of the test that not only made the essay a score separate from the composite score, but also reworked the test in other areas to make it more relevant to what students were learning in school and to what they’d be learning in college.
Highest SAT Score: Section Scores
So! Now, the multiple-choice section of the test is broken down into two categories: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (which includes both reading passages and English grammar and usage questions), and Math. Within each of these sections, you can score between 200 and 800 (“section scores”), for a total score of 400 to 1600 (“total score”).
SAT Subscores and Cross-Test Scores
However, you’ll also receive subscores in the Reading/Writing section: in two separate categories (Reading/Writing & Language), you’ll receive a subscore out of a possible 40 points. This also holds true for Math, though that section doesn’t have subscores.
But wait, there’s more! Now, there’ll also be “cross-test” scores, also out of 40 points. These subscores, as their name implies, cross the tests and apply to Reading, Writing, and Math—basically, any question that has a Science, History, or Social Studies context.
New SAT Essay Score
Whew! After all that, the new essay scoring is pretty simple: three scores between 2-8 in the categories of Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The good news, though? It’s now optional, as it is on the ACT. Heads up, though: some colleges may continue to require it.
Head spinning? We don’t blame you! Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and remember this:
The highest SAT score on the new test is 1600. End of story.
P.S…Go here for updated information on SAT Score Ranges for the Top 100 Colleges and Universities!
About Rachel Kapelke-Dale
Rachel is a TOEFL and SAT/ACT blogger at Magoosh. She has a Bachelor of Arts from Brown University, an MA from the Université de Paris VII, and is currently a doctoral candidate at University College London. She has taught the TOEFL for six years, and worked with nearly 1,000 students in that time. Currently, Rachel divides her time between the US and London. When she’s not teaching or studying, she’s either riding (horses), or writing (fiction), a pair of activities that sound so similar that it confuses even native English speakers. Follow Rachel on Twitter, or learn more about her writing here!
Magoosh blog comment policy: To create the best experience for our readers, we will approve and respond to comments that are relevant to the article, general enough to be helpful to other students, concise, and well-written! :) If your comment was not approved, it likely did not adhere to these guidelines. If you are a Premium Magoosh student and would like more personalized service, you can use the Help tab on the Magoosh dashboard. Thanks!