How to Understand My SAT Scores When Applying to College

January 5, 2022
By AdmissionSight

How to Understand My SAT Scores When Applying to College

SAT scores have been an integral part of the college admissions process for decades. As a standardized test, the SAT allows admissions officers to compare the academic prowess of different applicants accurately while also judging their college readiness.

Although SAT scores are typically spoken of in a simple number such as 1450 or 1560, the scoring system is a bit more complex. There are multiple components to an SAT score that receive individual scores which are eventually combined to give a student their overall score.

If you’re looking at your results thinking “I can’t make sense of my SAT scores!”, you’re not alone! Many high schoolers and parents are unsure what comprises an overall SAT score and how they should respond to a particular score.

Using a pencil while writing in a desk.

Along with the ACT, the SAT has remained a crucial part of the college application. Understanding your score is vital to increasing your chances of getting into your top-pick colleges.

Here, we’re going to answer the question, “What do my SAT scores mean?” by diving into the specifics of this test and what it means for students. We’ll also cover some tips for improving your SAT score. You don’t want to miss out on this!

When should I expect my SAT scores?

You can expect to have your SAT scores available to view around 13 days following the completion of the test. SAT exams are usually administered on Saturdays which means the scores are typically published online the second Friday following the completion of the exam.

The exceptions to this rule are SAT exams hosted in June which generally take about five weeks to score. From the day you’re able to access your SAT scores, colleges will typically receive your scores within 10 days. Keep in mind that these are all estimates.

The exact amount of time it takes for you to receive an SAT exam can vary between students. So, if you catch yourself wondering “where are my SAT scores” know that it’s going to take around two weeks for the results to get published online.

Unidentified woman taking a test in a room.

On the day they’re released, scores could be available in the morning – around 5 am Eastern Standard Time (EST) or 2 am Pacific Time (PT). However, many factors can influence the precise time your SAT score results are released including the day you took the test and your account.

If you find yourself sitting in front of the computer constantly refreshing your screen, you might want to get up and take a walk around. Forget about it for a while. Your test scores are coming!

Why does it take so long to receive my SAT scores?

The SAT has been around since 1926. Yes, that long! With decades upon decades of use and acceptance by hundreds of colleges and universities across the country, many students naturally wonder “why does it take so long to receive my SAT scores?”

It’s a fair question given the importance placed on these exams. In reality, however, the few weeks it takes to grade your test and publish the results isn’t that long considering all that has to get done. There are a lot of steps in between when you submit the exam and when you receive the results. Here’s just a quick rundown of everything that goes on:

1. The exam is sent to the headquarters of the College Board in New York City after being collected.

2. College Board professionals scan the answer sheet to calculate a raw score based on the number of correctly and incorrectly answered questions.

3. The raw score resulting from these calculations is converted to the SAT’s 1600-point scale using a scaling rubric.

4. The converted score along with some additional results are published online for the test taker to see.

Phew! There’s a lot going on there. It’s not crucial information, but understanding everything going on behind the scenes can make it easier to wait around.

Further Reading: Not sure about the difference between the old SAT and new SAT scoring? Read about the change here.

What are the score ranges for the SAT?

The first step in answering the question “what do my sat scores mean?” is to look at the individual scores into which the overall SAT score is broken down.

SAT Score Range What do they mean? Score Range
Total Score This is the most commonly cited score range and is the sum total of the two sections of the SAT exam. 400–1600
Section Scores (2) The second broadest score range is for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math. 200–800
Test Scores (3) These scores are provided for the three sections of Math, Writing and Language, and Reading. 10–40
SAT Essay Scores (3)* If you opt to do the SAT Essay, you’ll see results for the Reading, Analysis, and Writing sections. 2–8
Cross-Test Scores (2) These cross-test scores are for Analysis in Science and Analysis in History/Social Studies. They’re based on certain questions across the Math, Writing and Language, and Reading tests to determine how well a student can use their problem-solving skills and test analysis in various fields. 10–40
Subscores (7) There are a total of seven subscores for subsections of material on the SAT exam including:

Reading and Writing and Language

  • Command of Evidence
  • Words in Context

Writing and Language

  • Expression of Ideas
  • Standard English Conventions


  • Heart of Algebra
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Passport to Advanced Math

*The SAT Essay is completely optional.

Vertical Scale Score

The College Board has created a vertical score scale that’s designed to provide students with some insight into their potential performance in college courses by extrapolating on their SAT scores. The vertical scale score aligns SAT, PSAT 8/9, and PSAT/NMSQT scores.

Sound confusing? Don’t worry! All you have to know is that this new scoring design offers a comparative element across the whole range of SAT Assessments. With their vertical scale score, students can track their academic progress throughout high school.

The scores in this assessment are weighted according to benchmarks determined by a student’s grade level. This makes it easier to determine where a student might need to improve to ensure their next score is higher than the previous.

Student Score Report

When you complete an SAT exam, you’ll have a personal CollegeBoard account. This is where you’ll need to log in when your score report is published. Once you access your profile, you’ll come across a wide range of scores and insights. The sheer amount of numbers can cause some confusion, but these various measurements each tell you something different.

The total score is the composite score, showing your performance on the SAT exam overall. The Section Scores, as the name suggests, will show your individual scores for each of the SAT sections. Mean scores, benchmarks, and percentiles are all score ranges designed to show how you scored compared to other students.

The Total Score is on a ranges from 400 to 1600 while Section Scores range from 200 to 800 for the Math and Evidence-Based Reading & Writing portions of the test. On the home screen of your CollegeBoard account, you’ll see scores from your most recent attempt although you can find past test scores by diving deeper into your profile.

Test Scores

One of the most important and insightful score results from the SAT is your performance on the individual tests of the exam. As mentioned before, the SAT is split into three different tests: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. Together, these tests comprise the two main sections of the exam: The evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section.

Pretty confusing, huh? Don’t worry! You’ll get the hang of it quickly. All you have to know is that the Test Scores are In a range from 10 to 40 points. The CollegeBoard also includes color-coding to show where you excelled and where you need to study a bit more.

Green scores meet or push past the benchmark while scores in yellow are just shy of the benchmark and red scores fall considerably short. If you’re planning on taking the SAT again (which you should!), the Test Scores are an excellent way to determine where you need to improve.

Cross-Test Scores

The SAT doesn’t have any social studies, history, or science sections despite these subjects making up an important part of the freshman year curriculum at many colleges and universities. To make up for this, the College Board provides students with Cross-Test Scores.

The whole point of this assessment is to give high schoolers a rough idea of their college preparedness in these individual areas despite not having dedicated sections on the test for them. These Cross-Test Scores are based on your performance on individual questions across the various SAT sections that pertain to social studies, history, and science.

The College Board reports Cross-Test Scores on a scale ranging from 10 to 40. This scaling makes it easier to compare your performance on these supplemental sections with your performance on the official SAT sections.


In the next section you’ll come across subscores to the three primary sections of the SAT: Writing and Language, Reading, and Math. These scores range from one to 15 and are designed to provide greater insight into a student’s performance on the test.

More specifically, subscores offer a breakdown of specific areas where students are either struggling with or excelling. This information is a helpful way to make sense of a score for both colleges and students as it offers more clarity than a total score.

For instance, if your Mathe score is weighed down by your poor performance on the Heart of Algebra problems, you’ll want to focus on this area before your next attempt so you come back stronger than before. Here’s a detailed list of the various Subscores and their associated Tests:

  • Reading Test, Writing and Language Test
    • Command of Evidence
    • Words in Context
  • Writing and Language Test
    • Expression of Ideas
    • Standard English Conventions
  • Math Test
    • Heart of Algebra
    • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
    • Passport to Advanced Math

Essay Details

The essay portion of the SAT is 100% optional. There’s nothing wrong with deciding not to take it, but having it on your resume can help you stand out from the crowd. The vast majority of people who take the SAT opt out of the essay portion. As a result, admissions officers take notice when an applicant challenges themselves.

Female student writing an reading in a library.

It shows determination, college readiness, and the desire to get better. If you did participate in the SAT essay, you’ll see results for Reading, Writing, and Analysis. You can find these scores on the tab labeled Essay Details. Each of the SAT essay scores is on a scale from two to eight.

What are the different types of scores in Skills Insight?

When you receive your SAT results, you can access Skills Insights which is a free tool provided by the College Board to give high schoolers a better understanding of their performance on the SAT. You’ll notice a variety of scores including mean scores, score ranges, percentiles, and benchmarks.

Shading a test paper using a pencil.

These varied scores are designed to give students different glimpses of how their scores stack up against the performance of others taking the test. “Who are my SAT scores being compared to?” you might wonder. Great question! The SAT results of participants are measured up against what’s known as a norm group, also known as a reference group. Let’s take a look at the various types of scores on the College Board’s Skills Insight so you can develop a clearer understanding of what each means:

Mean (Average) Scores

The report will show you an average score (mean score) of SAT results from standard test-takers in the same grade as you along with averages from students in other grades. This is a great way to see how you fared against people within a similar group as you.

Score Ranges

The score ranges are intended to give projections of how a student’s score could change after repeated testing with the assumption that their skill level doesn’t fluctuate up or down. Generally speaking, the score ranges for Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing have a 30 to 40-point buffer lower and higher than a student’s ability. But don’t worry! Colleges are provided important context by the College Board when they receive your test results.

Percentile Ranks

Students are given two percentile ranks that can extend from 1 through to 99. These percentile ranks are intended to show a student how they performed in comparison to fellow test-takers. Percentile ranks are calculated using two reference populations for the Section Score and Total Score. These reference populations represent the total percentage of test-takers whose SAT scores are lower or the same as yours. For instance, if you scored within the 75th percentile, that means 75% of the reference group scored the same or lower. There are two different percentile ranks provided in your SAT results:

Nationally Representative Sample Percentiles – These percentile ranks are based on the SAT scores of various junior and senior students across the country. Their scores are taken as a whole to represent the total number of US students on a national level.

User Percentiles – In contrast to nationally representative sample percentiles, user percentiles are derived from actual scores of various students from the previous three graduating classes who completed the SAT in high school.


In your Skills Insight, you’ll see a benchmark and information indicating whether you’ve achieved it. These benchmarks equate to college readiness. If you met the benchmark, represented with a green checkmark, that means you’re on the way to being prepared for college by the time you graduate. Alternatively, a yellow exclamation mark means you’ve fallen below the benchmark meaning you could use some additional work before you’re prepared for college.

Work with an entrance expert to master the admission process.

The college admission process is daunting, challenging, and confusing for many high schoolers. With a lack of valuable information and helpful advice from teachers or counselors, students and even parents don’t know where to turn for accurate information about the college application process. That’s where AdmissionSight can help!

Young man looking at his laptop.

As a college admissions experts, we’ve spent the past decade helping students improve their applications with the ultimate goal of increasing their chances of getting accepted to their dream schools. We know exactly what college admissions officers around the country are looking for from applicants.

Based on the crucial information, we’ve created an array of highly effective and proven services with the intention of helping students perfect their applications. From high school course and extracurricular selection to essay editing services, standardized test preparation, and everything else in between, AdmissionSight is offering it.

If you’re interested in learning more about our services and how you can benefit from them, feel free to contact us today. We’ll schedule a free consultation to get all of your questions answered. We look forward to hearing from you!


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