It's easy to understand the content and scoring of the SAT.

The SAT is a perennial source of angst for high school seniors. For a valedictorian aiming for the Ivy League, nothing short of a perfect score will do. For others, an average score will satisfy. Either way, students often struggle to understand what the exam is testing and to interpret their scores in context. The SAT's content and scoring metric are both easy to understand.

### The Sections

The SAT exam is composed of three individual 800-point sections -- critical reading, mathematics and writing -- for a cumulative total of 2,400 points. Each section is scored between 200 and 800 points, so the total score for the test can range from 600 to 2,400 points. The average score per section is approximately 500 for an average total score on the test of 1,500 points. This average is calibrated to make the raw number score a useable metric in college admissions.

### Percentiles

When college admissions offices use SAT scores, it's the percentile rank that they're interested in, not the raw point scores for the sections. This is largely because the point scale means something slightly different for each section. For example, a 500 score on the critical-reading section puts a student in the 51st percentile, but the same score on mathematics only puts a student in the 45th percentile. A 500 score on writing, meanwhile, earns a student a 55th-percentile ranking.