SAT Curve: Is It Real



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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,

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

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Overwhelmed 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 for that many years, and the data the College Board puts out is limited, 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 for the old SAT.

2005-2006 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

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 year

—imply 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!

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Now, 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:






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