After taking an SAT, most students focus on two magic numbers: their scores on the math and reading/writing sections.  While those numbers are the most important, they provide precious little insight into your studying strategy. For instance, if you raised your math score from a 700 to a 750 between two practice exams, most students would continue their current studying plan after seeing it bear fruit.  However, this may prove inefficient if you continue to lag in some areas while excelling in others.


The SAT Math section is broken down into three parts: Heart of Algebra (basic algebra and functions), Passport to Advanced Math (quadratics, trigonometry and polynomials) and Problem Solving and Data Analysis (interpreting data and graphs).  The College Board has recently begun giving test-takers a subscore between 1 and 15 for each subsection. Thus, if you have already maximized your subscore in the Heart of Algebra, you can relegate that to the backburner and just do intermittent questions so you don’t lose proficiency.  Rather than studying for less time total, you devote your extra minutes to one of the other two math sections where you have had less success.


You should use your subscores for the Reading section, also broken down from 1 to 15, to similar effect.  After taking the exam, your reading score will be broken down along two, rather than three, parameters: Command of Evidence and Words in Context.  The former describes your ability to comprehend how the author formed their argument and cite evidence within the passage. The latter tests your raw vocabulary, understanding of particular words’ nuances and grammar.  There is a strong correlation between a student’s strength in either section, but if one falls significantly beneath the other then you should bone up on that category. This will often take the form of either flash cards or rote grammar review.  Your studying for the Reading section will come with the added bonus of strengthening your writing; the best writers are also the best readers.


You will also receive two scores which are formed by examining multiple sections; both of which are on a scale of 10 to 40.  Your History/Social Studies score counts passages where you had to examine a historical analysis alongside math questions which were contextualized by historical data.  An example of this latter category would be a creating a function which predicts population growth in the United States. The Analysis in Science score is created the same way by drawing upon various reading and math questions.  Exceptionally entrepreneurial students can further break down their History and Science scores by math and reading to get an even better idea of their performance. The SAT doesn’t expect that you come with any preconceived knowledge and you won’t report either of these cross-sectional subscores to colleges, so their utility is that they can provide valuable insight for your targeted studying.  If either score is abnormally low given your other metrics, that means you should do practice problems within that respective domain. On the other hand, if you did exceptionally well on either score, then that means you should try to ground other questions within math or science. For instance, if you do better on math-based history questions then you should mentally contextualize other math questions within a historical framework.  Rather than think about geometry in an abstract sense, think it as a way to understand the growth of a French city.


The SATs are designed to be standardized and comparable throughout the country.  Scores mean little without context, so comparing your score to other students’ is essential.  You won’t receive a percentile for your subscores, however you will for the big picture ones. A quick refresher: the 95th percentile means that you scored higher than 95 percent of tests takers.  You will need to further contextualize your results beyond just other students, however.  While a score in the 95th percentile (somewhere around a 1420) is very strong nationally, it will carry a different weight at different schools.  At Harvard for instance, that would put you below the bottom 25 percent of students. While at American University, your score would surpass 75 percent of the student body.  Contrary to popular belief, there’s no cut and dry “good” SAT score. Rather, it’s dependent upon what schools are on your list. Context is king. That’s the main takeaway for understanding your SAT Scores.  You can use your subscores to contextualize your primary scores in an effort to target your studying and your primary scores will allow you to better target potential colleges.