Thoughts on SAT scores

Many area high school juniors recently took the SAT in May and June and have just received their results.  Experience has shown that often students do not know how to appropriately interpret their scores and determine what they mean on a greater spectrum.  The SAT, which is administered by the College Board, is scored on a 200-800 scale.  In addition, there is an essay which is reported on a 2-12 scale.

In the state of Vermont, as reported on the College Board’s website, students who graduated in 2012 had average scores of Critical Reading 519, Mathematics 523, and Writing 505.   If your scores are within close range of these numbers, it means you are on par with your peers in Vermont.  In 2012, per the College Board’s website, the national averages across the United States for the three content areas are as follows: Critical Reading 496, Mathematics 514, and Writing 488.

In regards to the writing section, readers (often retired English teachers) score each essay on a scale of 1-6.  These scores are then tallied to create a combined total from 2-12. The essay only counts for 30 percent of the entire score while the multiple choice section of the SAT is responsible for 70 percent of the score in the written section of the SAT.

When reviewing a score report, students will note percentiles. These are a comparison of the student’s individual scores to other students who also tested at the same time.  If a student has a 600 mathematics SAT score and the state percentile is listed as 70, that is showing that the student has done better than 70 percent of the students in Vermont who are considering higher education in the previous year’s graduating class.

Students often ask me when they should sit for the SAT and/or ACT for the first time.  As one who formerly worked for twenty years in a college admissions office and now serves as a director of college counseling, I believe that a junior is best served by taking the SAT and/or ACT for the first time in the spring of the 11th grade.  The reason behind this is that much of the content is based on curriculum that they will encounter during their eleventh grade year.  I have known students who have taken the tests for the first time in the fall of the junior year, but often times the stress of doing so produces a fair amount of anxiety and leads to a poor result.  Instead, students should focus on taking the PSAT in the fall of junior year.  There are sample SAT and ACT tests online that students can take. Just visit the websites for both exams.

Each high school produces a school profile and I encourage students to pick one up in the guidance and college counseling office (or look for it on your school’s website).  Your school will send out the profile to each of the colleges to which you submit applications and on it will be information about the standardized testing results (SAT and ACT) for its graduates.

This helps college admission officers put your scores into context with your school specifically and also provides a wealth of information about the percentage of graduates who pursue higher education, grade point averages, courses offered, and other pertinent information.

I strongly encourage students at Vermont Commons, Rice, and CVU to make use of Naviance as it is a wonderful resource during the college search process.  Each of these three schools have Naviance as part of their college counseling suite of services and your counselor can help you get started with how to use the site.  The scattergrams are invaluable and are personalized to you and your academic profile! Good luck!

Sarah Soule is the Director of College Counseling at the Vermont Commons School in South Burlington.  She has been quoted in the Princeton Review’s book The Portable Guidance Counselor and was named admissions counselor of the year for the State of Vermont by the New England Association for College Admissions Counseling while she was working at Champlain College. She has 31 years of experience in the field of college and independent school admissions.  She works individually with students advising them on the college admission process. 


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