A Look at ACT & SAT Scoring

We often are asked how the ACT and SAT are scored. Other common questions: “Are these tests curved?” & “How does the ACT [or SAT] scale work?” Let’s take a closer look at the way the ACT and SAT are scored.

When a student takes an ACT or a SAT, they receive a raw score (the number of questions they got right). The raw score for each specific section is, then, placed against a scale. In this post, we will breakdown how this scoring works and how the scales for each test are designed.


How does ACT scoring work?

For each ACT section, the scale ranges from 1 to 36. The four scale scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science) are averaged to produce the composite score, which ranges from 1 to 36. 

Sample Student Score (December 2019 ACT)--

English: Raw Score 70/75 = Scale Score 35

Math: Raw Score 54/60 = Scale Score 34 

Reading: Raw Score 33/40 = Scale Score 30

Science: Raw Score 33/40 = Scale Score 30

Composite Dec. 2019 ACT Score: 32.25 (rounds to 32)

If on the English section (containing 75 questions) of the Dec. 2019 ACT, a student misses 5 questions, making their raw score 70/75. Placed against the Dec. 2019 scale, the student’s English scale score would be a 35. This is a very kind English scale.


How does SAT scoring work?

For each SAT section, the scale ranges from 1 to 800. The Verbal score is divided into two sections: Reading and Writing/Language (Each has the potential to score up to 400). The two sections (Verbal and Math) are added together to produce the total score, which has a max score of 1600. 

Sample Student Score (SAT 10)--

Reading: Raw Score 45/52 = Scale Score 330

Writing/Language: Raw Score 38/44 = Scale Score 310

Math: Raw Score 52/58 = Scale Score 700

Total SAT 10 Score: 1340

For the Writing/Language, if a student missed 5 questions on SAT 10, the scale score would result in a 310. This is one of the more unforgiving Writing/Language scales.


How are the ACT and SAT scales designed?

The ACT and the SAT are not curved--that is, the scales are not based upon the scores of each specific testing group, like how many academic course curves are curved. 

Both the ACT and the SAT use a process called “equating” to develop their scales. In equating, the ACT and the SAT seek to ensure that despite slight variations in difficulty between various tests, the score on the test indicates the same level of ability. The scales are not determined by what specific date or with whom you take the ACT or SAT.

The difference in scales between one test to the next indicates the perceived variation in the difficulty level of the tests. So, on an English section deemed less difficult than Dec. 2019 ACT’s English, if a student missed the same raw score of 5 questions in English, then their scale score could be as low as a 31 or 32. In a similar way, on a Reading section perceived as more difficult than SAT 10’s Reading, if a student missed the same raw score of 7 questions, their scale score could rise as high as 370. The SAT scale seems to have larger fluctuations than the ACT scale on average.


What does all of this mean for taking the test?

  • Focus on what you can control: the raw score.

  • The scaling of the test is not impacted by when or with whom you take the test.

Interested in what the ACT or SAT percentiles mean? Check out our previous blog post on percentiles here.

If you have additional questions or comments about the ACT, SAT, scoring, or scaling, feel free to reach out. We are always happy to help!

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