What Do the Scores Mean for the SAT Subject Tests?

SAT subject tests are graded by a computer.
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SAT subject tests, unlike the general SAT, measure subject-specific knowledge, and ask more detailed questions about a subject. Although you'll get three separate scores with the general test, you'll only get one score from the subject test. Your score is based upon the number of answers you get correct, and this number is then converted into a standardized score using a proprietary equation.

1 Score Range

SAT subject tests range from 200 to 800. Subject tests are shorter than the general SAT, with each subject test containing several dozen multiple choice questions and requiring 60 minutes to complete. Because your score is converted from a raw score, it's possible to get a few questions wrong and still get a perfect score.

2 Score Conversion

For each correct answer, you'll get one point. If you answer a question incorrectly, you'll lose a fraction of a point. The precise fraction varies with the number of answers; for a three-choice question you'll lose 1/2 point and for a four-choice question you'll lose 1/3 point. For a five-choice question you'll lose 1/4 point. If you leave a question blank, you won't get or lose any points; this is why testing instructors advise students that the SAT has a guessing penalty. After the College Board determines your raw score, it converts this score to a standardized score.

3 Percentile Ranking

In addition to your actual test score, you'll also receive a percentile ranking that tells you how you did relative to other students. Your standardized score is not based on your performance compared to other students, so this percentile ranking can provide you with additional information. The number you receive is the percent of students you outperformed. For example, if you are in the 90th percentile, you did better than 90 percent of test-takers.

4 Average Scores

Average scores vary from test to test, but the College Board does publish general guidelines about averages. Most average scores are in the 600s. For example, the average score on the literature test is 604, while the average math level one score is 617. You'll generally need to get an above-average score for your subject test results to increase your likelihood of admission to the college of your choice.

Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.