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Understanding the New SAT Scoring System

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Now that the specifications have been finalized for the March 2016 SAT, we’re going to look at just how the new scoring system works. The most obvious change is the transition from a 2400 total possible score to a 1600 one superficially similar to that of the older scoring system. I say superficially because the sections included and the degrees to which they affect a student’s overall score don’t line up with either the pre-2005 or the 2005-2015 SAT.

The New Scale Score

The 2005 SAT assigns a scale score of 200 to 800 for each of the three exams: Critical Reading, Writing, and Mathematics. Approximately 30 percent of a student’s Writing scale score is influenced by his or her essay score. Most types of questions reward a point for a correct answer and deduct a quarter of a point for an incorrect answer. (Skipped questions don’t influence a student’s score one way or the other.) Therefore, a student’s total score can be anywhere from 600 to 2400.

The March 2016 total scale score is based on a student’s performance in each of the four newly-designed sections: Evidence-Based Reading, Writing and Language, Math Test: No Calculator, and Math Test: Calculator. Reading and Writing equally influence one 200 to 800 score, while the other is derived from the two Math tests. This, in turn, leads to a minimum possible 400 and a maximum possible 1600 total score. Much like the ACT, incorrect answers no longer count against a student’s score. The Essay section is now optional and is assessed independently from the scale score using a completely new system.

Score Breakdowns Galore

The 2016 SAT includes multiple score breakdowns. Motivated by a desire to provide colleges with a more-nuanced analysis of student performance, and a wish to leap ahead of the ACT’s popular sub-score system, the College Board has integrated test scores, sub-scores, and cross-test scores into the new SAT grading system.

Test Scores are reported on a scale of 10 to 40 for Reading, Writing, and Math. Sub-scores are assessed on a 1-15 scale and represent specific key areas of development within each exam that the College Board considers important for college readiness. Writing and Language has two sub-scores: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. Math has three: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. Two additional sub-scores, Words in Context and Command of Evidence, are derived from both the Reading and Writing sections.

The combined Reading and Writing sub-scores shouldn’t be confused with the 2016 SAT’s final score breakdown: cross-test scores. The Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science cross-test scores are based on specific questions from all three exams that the College Board feels reflect the application of reading, writing, language, and math within these particular fields. Each of the Analysis cross-test scores is reported on a 10 to 40 scale.

Separate Essay Scores

The now-optional Essay is graded in three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Two graders assign an essay a score of 1 to 4 in each category, for a final score of 2 to 8. What’s important to understand about these 2 to 8 scores is that they are not combined with each other or with any other score on the new SAT. This is fundamentally different from how the Essay is/was graded on the 2005 SAT and how its ACT counterpart, the Writing test, is graded. The 2005 SAT Essay is graded separately but is also weighed against a student’s Writing scale score.  Students taking the (optional) ACT Writing exam receive individual scores for English and Writing, as well as a combined English/Writing score.

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