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SAT Curve: Is It Real?

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Jul 21, 2019 11:00:00 AM

SAT General Info

 

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Many high school tests are curved, but what about the SAT? Is the SAT curved? Can when or whom you take the exam with affect your final SAT score?

In this article, we'll answer all of your questions about the SAT curve. First, we'll closely examine whether there actually is an SAT curve and discuss how the SAT is scored. We'll then look at SAT curve trends and give you tips on how you can use SAT curves to your advantage.

 

Is the SAT Curved?

Contrary to what you may believe, there is no SAT curve. This means your SAT score will never be affected by how other test takers perform on the test. So even if everyone you took the SAT with were to perform poorly on it, the College Board would not raise everyone's SAT scores to account for the surplus of low test scores.

In other words, you will never receive an SAT score higher than what you actually earned on the test, regardless of whom you took the test with.

But if the SAT isn't curved relative to other test takers, how does its scoring system work? Is an 800 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) on one SAT the same as a perfect EBRW score on another? Or is it more difficult to score highly on certain test dates?

To account for slight differences in difficulty among SATs, the College Board uses a system known as equating. This process ensures that SAT scores are consistent across tests and will always indicate the same level of ability no matter when you take the SAT. So a 650 Math score on one SAT will always correspond to a 650 Math score on another SAT—even if one test contains easier Math questions.

In the College Board's words:

“This [equating] process ensures that no student receives an advantage or disadvantage from taking a particular form of the test on a particular day;* a score of 400 on one test form is equivalent to a score of 400 on another test form.”

*Emphasis mine.

Through this equating process, or "SAT curves," the College Board can account for slight variations in difficulty among SATs to give test takers on different test dates the same opportunity to achieve their goal scores.

As a result, there is no single best time to take the SAT. Regardless of how easy or difficult a test may be, all SATs are equated so that getting a certain scaled score will always require the same amount of effort and level of ability.

So how is the SAT scored? And how is it equated? Read on to find out.

 

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How Do SAT Curves Work?

Before we get into the SAT equating process, let's do a quick recap of the scoring system. Both the EBRW and Math scores use scales of 200-800 and combine to give you a composite score range of 400-1600. But you likely know there aren't 1,600 total questions on the SAT. So then how are these scaled scores calculated?

On the SAT (excluding the Essay), you earn one point for every question you answer correctly. (You do not lose any points for incorrect or blank answers.)

All of your correct answers combine to give you a raw score for each section. If you were to correctly answer 45 out of 58 Math questions, your raw Math score would equal 45. This raw score is subsequently converted into a Math section score (i.e., your final scaled score).

But the process is a little more complicated for the Reading and Writing sections. Like the Math section, your Reading and Writing performances are assigned raw scores based on the number of questions you answered correctly. These raw scores are then converted into test scores on a scale of 10-40. Finally, the test scores are added together and multiplied by 10 to give you an EBRW score (on a scale of 200-800—the same as it is for Math).

But here's the caveat: raw scores on one SAT will not necessarily convert into the same scaled scores on another. Why is there this discrepancy?

Each SAT varies slightly in content and difficulty, and so to account for these variations, the College Board translates raw scores into scaled scores using individual equating formulas for each test. This essentially means you'll never be able to know before you take the SAT how a raw score will convert into a scaled score.

That said, by looking at a score conversion table from an official SAT practice test, we can get a rough idea as to how the equating process works for each SAT. These conversion tables—which differ slightly with each test due to differences in equating formulas—show us how raw scores convert into scaled scores for different sections of the test.

The two tables below are based on the score conversion tables for Practice Test #6 and Practice Test #7 (both of which are copies of real SATs!).

 

SAT Practice Test #6 Raw Score Conversion Chart

Raw Score
Math Section Score
Reading Test Score
Writing and Language Test Score
0
200
10
10
1
200
10
10
2
210
10
10
3
230
10
11
4
250
11
11
5
260
12
12
6
280
13
13
7
290
14
14
8
310
15
15
9
320
15
16
10
330
16
16
11
340
17
17
12
350
17
18
13
360
18
18
14
380
18
19
15
390
19
20
16
400
19
20
17
410
20
21
18
420
20
22
19
430
21
23
20
440
21
23
21
450
22
24
22
460
22
25
23
470
23
25
24
490
23
26
25
500
24
27
26
510
24
27
27
510
25
28
28
520
25
28
29
530
26
29
30
530
26
30
31
540
27
30
32
550
27
31
33
560
28
31
34
570
28
32
35
580
29
33
36
590
29
34
37
590
30
34
38
600
30
35
39
610
31
36
40
620
31
36
41
630
32
38
42
640
33
39
43
650
33
39
44
660
34
40
45
670
35
 
46
670
36
 
47
680
37
 
48
690
37
 
49
700
38
 
50
710
39
 
51
720
40
 
52
730
40
 
53
740
 
 
54
760
 
 
55
770
 
 
56
780
 
 
57
790
 
 
58
800
 
 

 Source: Scoring Your SAT Practice Test #6

 

body_hug_cat.jpgOverwhelmed by all of the numbers? Time for kitty therapy.

 

SAT Practice Test #7 Raw Score Conversion Chart

Raw Score
Math Section Score
Reading Test Score
Writing and Language Test Score
0
200
10
10
1
200
10
10
2
210
10
10
3
230
10
10
4
250
11
11
5
260
12
12
6
280
13
12
7
290
14
13
8
310
15
14
9
320
15
15
10
330
16
15
11
350
17
16
12
360
17
17
13
370
18
18
14
380
18
18
15
390
19
19
16
400
20
19
17
420
20
20
18
430
21
21
19
430
21
22
20
440
22
22
21
450
22
23
22
460
23
24
23
470
23
25
24
480
24
25
25
490
24
26
26
500
25
26
27
510
25
27
28
510
26
28
29
520
26
29
30
530
27
29
31
530
27
30
32
540
28
31
33
550
28
31
34
550
29
32
35
560
29
32
36
570
30
33
37
580
30
34
38
590
31
34
39
590
31
35
40
600
32
36
41
610
32
36
42
620
33
37
43
630
34
39
44
640
35
40
45
650
35
 
46
660
36
 
47
670
37
 
48
680
37
 
49
680
38
 
50
690
39
 
51
700
39
 
52
720
40
 
53
730
 
 
54
740
 
 
55
760
 
 
56
770
 
 
57
790
 
 
58
800
 
 

 Source: Scoring Your SAT Practice Test #7

 

Just by glancing at these charts, you can probably tell there are several minor differences in how the raw scores for Math, Reading, and Writing convert into scaled or test scores.

For Math, a raw score of 40 would net you 620 on Test #6 but only 600 on Test #7! This hints that the Math section on Test #7 is a little easier than that on Test #6. How can we tell? On Test #7, you must answer more questions correctly (and obtain a higher raw score of 42) to get a scaled score of 620.

The trends are similar for Reading. You could get a perfect 40 on Reading on Test #6, even if you were to miss a question (and earn a raw score of 51). On Test #7, however, missing just one question reduces your Reading test score to 39. Once again, we can see a minute difference in difficulty: the Reading section on Test #6 is slightly more difficult than that on Test #7, and has thus been equated so that even if you were to miss a question you will still get a perfect score.

You'll find similar differences among the Writing scores, too. A raw score of 42 will nab you a near-perfect test score of 39 on Test #6 but a noticeably lower 37 on Test #7.

Ultimately, through these tables, we can confirm that raw SAT scores do not consistently convert into the same scaled scores for each test. So while you can't know for sure how many questions you'll need to answer correctly on the SAT in order to get the scaled scores you want, you can use the tables above to give yourself an idea as to how your raw scores may translate into scaled scores on test day.

 

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How Has the SAT Curve Changed Over Time?

Because the new SAT hasn’t been around that long, we can't determine yet how much the SAT curves have changed with each testing year. That being said, we can look at some of the official score range tables for previous testing years (for the old, pre-2016 SAT) to get a feel for how the new SAT might experience similar trends.

Score range tables show us how raw scores convert into scaled scores for entire testing years. For this analysis, we'll be looking at a 10-year difference using the 2005-06 and 2015-16 raw score to scaled score range tables.

 

2005-06 SAT Score Range Table

Raw Score
Critical Reading
Raw Score
Mathematics
Raw Score
Writing (Multiple Choice)
67
800
 
 
 
 
65
790-800
 
 
 
 
60
710-740
 
 
 
 
55
660-680
54
800
 
 
50
620-640
50
710-750
49
800
45
580-600
45
650-690
45
700-770
40
550-570
40
610-640
40
630-670
35
520-530
35
570-600
35
570-610
30
490-500
30
530-550
30
520-560
25
460-470
25
490-510
25
480-510
20
420-440
20
450-470
20
440-470
15
390-410
15
410-430
15
400-430
10
350-380
10
370-390
10
350-380
5
290-330
5
310-340
5
300-330
0
200-270
0
210-260
0
210-260
-5
200
-5
200
-5
200 

 Source: SAT Raw Score to Scaled Score Ranges 2005-06

 

2015-16 SAT Score Range Table

Raw Score
Critical Reading
Raw Score
Mathematics
Raw Score
Writing (Multiple Choice)
67
800
 
 
 
 
65
790-800
 
 
 
 
60
710-740
 
 
 
 
55
650-680
54
800
 
 
50
610-630
50
700-730
49
800
45
570-590
45
650-670
45
690-720
40
540-560
40
600-620
40
620-650
35
510-520
35
560-570
35
560-600
30
480-490
30
520-530
30
510-550
25
450-460
25
480-490
25
470-500
20
420-430
20
440-460
20
420-460
15
380-400
15
400-420
15
380-410
10
340-360
10
350-380
10
340-370
5
290-320
5
300-330
5
280-320
0
200-240
0
220-260
0
200-240
-5
200
-5
200
-5
200 

 Source: SAT Raw Score to Scaled Score Range 2015-16

 

Before we analyze each SAT curve chart, keep in mind that these tables are for the old SAT; therefore, the Reading and Writing scores are not combined for an overall EBRW score as they are currently. In addition, unlike the new SAT, on the old SAT you could score lower than a 0 due to penalties for incorrect answers.

Let's start with the SAT Math curve. According to the data above, a raw Math score of 50 gave test takers as high as 750 in the 2005-06 testing year but only as high as 730 in the 2015-16 testing year. Similarly, if you look at the highest possible scaled score for each Math range, you'll find that the 2005-06 maximums are consistently (albeit only marginally) higher than those on the 2015-16 table. What this pattern tells us is that, on average, the Math sections on the 2005-06 SATs were slightly harder than those on the 2015-16 SATs. This is evidenced by the fact you typically needed to score more raw points in 2015-16 to get the same scaled Math scores in 2005-06. 

But what about the other sections? On Writing, you used to be able to earn up to 49 raw points. In 2005-06, you could score as high as 770 with a raw score of 45 but only as high as 720 with the same raw score in 2015-16. And with the SAT Critical Reading curve, the 2005-06 and 2015-16 ranges are mostly the same, give or take 10 points.

Based on all of this information, then, what can we conclude about the SAT curve? The tables indicate that the number of questions you must answer correctly to get certain scaled scores has stayed roughly the same over the years. Generally speaking, the variations among scaled scores on each section are minimal—usually only 10- or 20-point differences at most. Therefore, these patterns—along with the fact that SAT percentiles hardly change each yearimply that the difficulty of the SAT has stayed relatively consistent over time.

 

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Using the SAT Curve to Your Advantage: 5 Do's and Don'ts

By now you may be wondering how the SAT curve can help you, personally. Below, I give you the do’s and don’ts of what to do with this knowledge about the SAT equating system, so that you can give yourself a better shot at getting the SAT scores you need for college.

 

Do:

  • Use raw score conversion tables to estimate how many correct answers you’ll need to get the scaled scores you want. My recommendation is to first figure out your SAT goal scores. Once you have these scores, use any raw score conversion table from an SAT practice test (or multiple tests) to get a feel for the raw scores you'll need on each section in order to hit your (scaled) goal scores on test day. (Tests #5, #6, and #7 are all former SATs, so these are great tests to use!)
  • Take the SAT curve with a grain of salt. Although the equating process can be helpful, at the end of the day nobody (except the College Board!) knows the exact equating formula for the SAT you’re going to take. So don’t worry too much about raw scores and how they convert into scaled scores—just know that while you can use equating tables to help you estimate the number of correct answers you'll need, this data will never be 100-percent applicable to your particular test.

 

Don't:

  • Confuse the SAT equating process with a regular curve. As I mentioned before, there is no SAT curve—at least not in the traditional sense. On the SAT, how other test takers score has zero bearing on your score (though it does affect your SAT percentile). The only factor that influences your scaled score is the equating process, which varies with each SAT to ensure scaled scores represent the same levels of ability across tests.
  • Assume when you take the test will affect your score. Again, this is a common misconception. Many people believe certain tests are easier to score higher on than others due to variations in difficulty or different abilities of test takers. But this isn't true! The equating process makes it so you don't gain or lose any likelihood of attaining a certain score, no matter when or with whom you take the SAT.
  • Try to game the system. Because you can't know for certain how your raw SAT scores will convert into scaled scores, it's impossible to use what we know about the equating process to cheat the system and guarantee yourself a higher score. Anyone who claims this is possible is flat-out wrong!

 

body_popcorn-1.jpgNow, sit back and grab your popcorn—it's time for the recap!

 

Recap: What Is the SAT Curve? How Does It Work?

So is the SAT curved? In short, no, the SAT isn't curved. However, the College Board does use an equating system, which ensures scaled SAT scores always correlate to the same levels of ability, no matter when you take the test.

Although there's no way of knowing for sure just how your raw scores will convert into scaled scores, you can use raw score to scaled score range tables from official SAT practice tests to help you approximate the number of questions you'll need to answer correctly on test day, so you can get the scaled scores you want. Unfortunately, these tables aren't a hundred percent reliable, as each test uses a different equating formula (that only the College Board knows).

Lastly, don't try to use the SAT curve to cheat the SAT. As long as you study hard and use high-quality resources, you'll be on your way to a high SAT score (and hopefully the college of your dreams) in no time!

 

What’s Next?

You understand how the SAT curve works—but what about the scoring system? Read our in-depth guide to how the SAT is scored to learn more about the equating process and how subscores and cross-test scores come into play.

Want to learn more about SAT scores? Find your goal score with our step-by-step guide and learn about the current averages. Once you're finished with those, check out my article on SAT scores for colleges  to see what kinds of scores you'll need for popular schools!

If you enjoyed this article, you'll love my analysis of the ACT curve!

 

Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

 

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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



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