May 06, 2019

What does my ACT/SAT score mean?

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Knowing how the SAT and ACT scoring systems work will help you know what to expect after putting in the hard work of completing the SAT, ACT, or both exams.  Here's the breakdown.

Grading on the Curve

The SAT nor the ACT change test-takers' scores based on how others did, which is the definition of "grading on a curve." That is to say, if everyone did poorly on the test, they would not raise everyone else's scores to account for the surplus of low-test scores. Likewise, a high-test score by itself does not indicate how others did.  The "curves" that SAT/ACT use are related to test difficulty, not student performance.

SAT Grading System

SAT test scores range from 1 to 1600, with 1600 being a perfect score.  The average score for 2018 was 1050. 

The SAT test has two sections.  Each section is graded separately on a scale of 200 to 800, with 200 being the lowest possible score and 800 being the highest.  The two scores are added together to provide the final SAT test score.

The SAT essay, which is optional, is graded on a scale of one to four.  The three criteria used to score the essay section are reading, writing, and analysis. 

ACT Grading System

ACT test scores range from 1 to 36, with 36 being the highest possible score.  The test consists of four different sections.  A fifth section, writing, is optional. 

Each section of the ACT is graded separately.  One point is awarded for each correct answer, and you don't lose points for wrong answers or unanswered questions.  Once the entire test is scored, each raw score is converted to a scaled score.  Finally, the four scaled scores are averaged to create a composite score. 

The writing test, if you choose to take it, is graded based on four separate domains:  ideas and analysis, development and support, organization, and language use and conventions.  Each area is assigned a score ranging from one to six, with six being the highest possible score.  The writing score is not counted in the final ACT composite score.

What do the Scores Mean?

If you have already taken the test or will have taken the test, you're now probably wondering exactly how your scores will impact the rest of your life.  Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when looking at your final score:

  • A high score increases your chance of getting into a prestigious college or university.  Most competitive educational institutions look for scores in the 90th percentile on the SAT test.  A minimum ACT score of 28 is recommended if you want to study at universities such as Harvard and Princeton.  However, it's important to remember that your educational qualifications are only one aspect of your application.  Many universities don't look only at your test scores and grades.  They also want to know about your life experiences, work experiences, and any "soft skills" you may have.  Even those who have a less than stellar ACT or SAT score can get into a good college or university as long as they have an above-average score.
  • In addition to impacting admission to the college or university of your choice, your ACT or SAT score can have a bearing on your scholarship opportunities.  Most scholarship funds require a minimum ACT or SAT score to apply for funding.  The minimum score varies depending on which fund you apply to, but you can be sure that the higher your score is, the more scholarship opportunities you'll be able to take advantage of.
  • A low SAT or ACT score isn't the end of the world.  You can, in fact, take either one of these tests more than once if you want to.  Naturally, you'll want to get it right the first time because taking these tests more than once takes a considerable amount of time, and you'll need to pay about $50 per test.  However, if your test score was lower than you need it to be, retaking either test is not only feasible but also a good idea.  In fact, you don't even need to put on your college or university application that you took the test twice.

Now What?

Now that you know how ACT and SAT scores work, it's time to get busy so you can earn a high one.  There's no need to stress; in fact, stressing out will only work against you by making it hard for you to study and remember important information.  However, you need to come up with a study plan and set aside time each day to study important information and do practice SAT and/or ACT exams.

UWorld offers not only practical tips on studying for the SAT and ACT exams but also a plethora of practice exams that are formatted to look just like the actual tests.  You not only get targeted review in areas you're weak in but also become accustomed to taking tests that look like the real thing, so you won't feel nervous when your test date arrives.

Do you want to get a high score on your test without having to take it more than once?  Are you a busy student who doesn't have time to spend long hours studying?  UWorld can help you ace your upcoming exams without having to spend time that you don't have studying information that you won't really need.  Get in touch with us to learn more, or sign up for a free practice exam to get started.


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