Manhattan Review SAT Prep – Understanding the SAT Scoring System

Motives for the New SAT Scoring System

An understanding of the 2023 SAT scoring system begins with an assessment of the reasons for the College Board's introduction of a new set of evaluation criteria beginning in 2016. Surveys of college admissions officials indicated that the old SAT did not provide enough useful information about college applicants. The SAT that was offered between 2005 and early 2016 gave only section scores for critical reading, writing, and math. Admissions officers complained that these scores were not specific enough with regard to applicant strengths and weaknesses and did not assist individual university departments in their screening of students by desired major. Competition with the ACT, the other major undergraduate admissions test, was also undoubtedly a motive behind the scoring changes to the SAT. With its science section, the ACT constituted a broader assessment than the old SAT, which did not evaluate scientific knowledge or skills per se. Popular criticism of the SAT was perhaps the most significant force behind the changes to the test. A revision to the scoring of the test was the College Board's response to critics who claimed that the old SAT was narrowly focused, tested many skills with little relevance to post-secondary study, and favored students from wealthier backgrounds.

Benefits of Test Scores and Sub scores

The current SAT scoring system is an improvement in that it gives a much greater amount of information to both students and colleges. Section scores for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math are complemented by test scores and sub scores that assess specific skills in these broad areas. Students receive test scores for each of the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math tests. Included on the Writing and Language Test are two sub scores for Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions that attempt to represent student abilities in terms of writing substance and knowledge of standard academic English. The Command of Evidence and Words in Context sub scores relate to questions on both the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. These sub scores ostensibly show student ability and potential in the areas of inferring, interpreting, and using evidence as well as word choice and meaning in terms of the art of rhetoric. The 2023 SAT uses sub scores to evaluate specific skills on the Math Test, including knowledge of algebra, solving problems and analyzing data, and familiarity with more advanced mathematics (these three sub scores are entitled Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math).

Benefits of Cross-Test Scores

The current SAT scoring system also includes cross-test scores that attempt to convey information about student analytical potential in several disciplines. These cross-test scores are Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. As the term implies, cross-test scores are built from questions on all three of the SAT's tests. Specific subject-matter knowledge is not required; the focus is on the ability to analyze information given alongside the SAT questions.

Supporting Evidence for Changes to Scoring Practice

One of the most important scoring changes to the SAT is the discontinuation of the penalty for guessing. The pre-2016 SAT deducted points for incorrect answers, and research showed that this practice discouraged many test-takers from using logic and the process of elimination to offer the most plausible answer choices. The development of reasoning skills is a worthwhile educational goal in and of itself, and a shift to a scoring system based exclusively on correct answers gives students an incentive to acquire these skills and to put forth their best effort while taking the test.

Another major change concerns the number of correct answer choices. Previous versions of the SAT gave five possible answers per multiple-choice question, while the 2023 SAT gives only four. College Board research indicated that the assessment value of the fifth answer choice was at best marginal and at worst counterproductive. The enhanced scoring provided by the current SAT aligns with an increasingly influential view among educational researchers. This view holds that literacy development should be just as concerned with acquiring subject-specific vocabulary as it is with more generalized reading skills. The 2023 SAT's sub scores and cross-test scores can be seen as a reflection of this ideological and pedagogical principle. The idea is to promote basic comprehension of the lexicon of many different subject areas, which produces students better prepared for postsecondary study in all fields. Surveys have shown that college professors consider advance knowledge of introductory-level terminology to be strongly associated with success in college courses.

Upcoming Changes to the SAT Scoring System

In 2022, the College Board announced that the SAT would be transitioning from a paper-and-pencil test to a digital test that will be completed on a computer. The test will continue to be scored on a 1600-point scale, comprised of Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math sections, each of which will continue to be scored in the 200–800-point range. One benefit of the test going digital is that students will receive their scores in a matter of days, rather than weeks, allowing them additional time to decide whether or not to take the test again in pursuit of a higher score and helping guide their overall college application process with regards to their chances of being admitted into certain universities. While an overall score and sectional scores will still be reported on the digital SAT, the new testing format will do away with sub scores and cross-test scores in an effort to streamline the amount of information and highlight that which is most important.

Fill out Info Request