What’s the best possible SAT score and worst possible SAT score you could get? How do you understand SAT scores if you’re used to letter grades like A- or B+, or test scores like 93%? In this guide, we convert SAT scores into much more understandable class grades to help you interpret your SAT score.
What's the Raw SAT Range?
First, if you are looking for the pure SAT score range, it is 200 minimum, 800 maximum per section.
The old SAT, which stopped being used in January 2016, had three sections, so the range for the entire exam was 600 to 2400. The current SAT has two sections, so its range is 400 to 1600. It's as simple as that!
But that might not tell you much since it's rare that someone will get a perfect 1600 or as low as a 400. However, if you’re more used to thinking about class grades like A+, B-, etc. then we can map SAT scores into grades to give you a rough idea of the letter grade your SAT score corresponds to. Likewise, we can do the same if you’re more used to numerical class grades like 95% for a good test or 55% for a failing test.
How Can You Understand Your SAT Score If You're Used to Class Grades?
We’ll first present the results of our conversion of SAT scores to class grades, and then we’ll interpret the results. For those interested in technical details, we’ll then tell you how we got there. In the final section, we’ll then discuss some other interpretations of what a good SAT score is.
Conversion of Old and New SAT Scores to Class Grade Equivalents
|Old SAT Score||New SAT Score||Numerical Class Grade||Letter Class Grade|
How can you read this table? Suppose you received a 1500 on the old SAT (or a 1000 on the current SAT). You'd want to find this row:
|Old SAT Score||New SAT Score||Numerical Class Grade||Letter Class Grade|
Under Numerical Class Grade, 88.7 means that this SAT score is like getting a class score of 88.7% (or round to 89%) at the end of the year. Imagine getting a 88.7 in history, English, or math. Under Letter Class Grade, the B+ means this SAT score is similar to getting the class letter grade B+.
What Does the Conversion Table From SAT Score to Class Grades Really Show You?
To put it simply, the conversion table takes your SAT score and tells you how well you're doing in terms of class grades. You're used to class grades because you've seen them since you began school, but this might be the first time you've looked at SAT scores. In the table above, we've taken something you might be unfamiliar with and put it in terms of something you know and understand.
To be more precise, the above table matches SAT scores to class grades based on percentiles. The SAT percentile is calculated from a recent group of old SAT scores. The class grades percentile is based on a comprehensive academic survey of common grades given out in college (which closely match US high school grades culturally). In other words, to go from a old SAT score of 1500 to 88.7%, we looked at the SAT percentile of 1500 (it happens to be right about 50%), and then we used a comprehensive academic survey which showed that the 50th percentile class grade across many colleges was an 88.7%, or a B+.
Imagine getting a B+ in one of your classes. Would you be happy with that grade? Would you consider yourself to know the material well? You can then apply those feelings to your SAT score and use them to plan your next steps, such as if you'd like to retake the exam.
Interesting Notes from the Conversion Table
First, you should note that the distribution of SAT scores and grades are quite different. There is a lot of resolution at the top end of the SAT scale -- an 1870 and a 2400 are 530 points apart, yet they all map to A+. Read that again; it's not a mistake: a 2400 and a 1870 are both A+.
Classes oftentimes do not do a good job of distinguishing great students from the truly spectacular. In a class of 20, you might have two people get an A+, which seems like a small number, until you realize that in that same class of 20, if it represented all students in the USA, you would only have two people as well who get 1870 or above. The SAT is useful to colleges, especially very selective ones, because it distinguishes the 90th percent from the 99th percent.
Also, class grades and SAT scores are equally good at resolving middle-of-the-pack students. When you go from an SAT score of 1020 to a 1660 -- just a range of 640 -- you're going from a straight D to an A. For students who are near the median of their class or a bit below, SAT scores and class grades both have decent resolution.
Finally, you may notice that both SAT scores and class grades have non-zero starting points, which makes sense when you apply it to what you know about the kinds of grades that are given out. When was the last time you heard of someone getting a 30 out of 100 as their final grade for a class? Less than 4% of class grades are failing grades. Likewise, when was the last time you heard someone get less than a 900 on the old version of the SAT? Even though the SAT goes all the way down to 600, fewer than 2% of people get less than a 900. Just like it's a good idea to think of class grades as starting from a D and not a 0, it's better to think of SATs as starting from 900 and not 600.
Can SAT Scores Really Be Mapped to Class Grades?
They certainly can! However, I should warn you, such mappings are an inexact science. Some issues you should be aware of include:
SATs and classes test very different things. The SAT is a mostly-multiple-choice test given over the course of a few hours on a Saturday morning (usually). Classes consist of hundreds of hours of schoolwork. The SAT is a solitary activity. Classes include working with teachers and classmates. The two measure different things. Getting a B+ in class does NOT mean you'll get a 1000 for sure on the SAT, and vice versa.
Class grades are not rigorous. Is an A- a good grade? If your teacher gives half the class a straight A, then A- is a bad grade. Conversely, if your teacher gives out only one A a year, you might have the top score. An A in art studies means something very different than getting an A in computer science. Thus, you can't look at the conversion too rigidly.
With that caveat out of the way, you're on the right track if you think of the table above as "lining up" different types of races. For example, you can't compare a 100-meter dash with the marathon, but you can say 10 seconds is an "Olympic level" 100-meter dash time, and 2:10m is an "Olympic level" marathon time.
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Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.