Not only can it be a challenge to answer the questions on the SAT, the manner in which your SAT score is calculated adds an additional layer of challenge to the test. Instead of the straightforward number correct out of number possible or percent correct out of total questions method of grading that students are accustomed to, on the SAT points are deducted for wrong answers.
This is how it works:
One point is given for every correct answer. Zero points are given for every unanswered question. -1/4 point is given for every incorrect answer. The correct answers are added up and 1/4 point is subtracted for every incorrect answer and the total is called the raw score.
The reason this poses a challenge when taking the test is that you have to be strategic about guessing when you’re not sure of the answer. Most students have been taught to answer every question on a test, even if it’s a guess, because there’s a chance it might be correct. This is not the strategy to use on the SAT. If you have no idea what the answer to a question is and would just be making a random guess, then it’s better to leave that question blank because odds are high that you’ll get it incorrect and be penalized. If you can eliminate some answer choices that you know are definitely incorrect, then you might want to guess one of the remaining answer choices since odds are greater that you’ll choose the correct one. On the other hand, leaving too many questions blank can also be detrimental to your score because you will earn fewer points. So, the challenge is answering enough questions correctly to achieve your desired score, but not answering too many incorrectly, which will lower your score.
A few other items to note about the calculation of the SAT score:
The raw score is converted to a scaled score for each of the three tests: reading, writing, and math. The highest possible scaled score on each of the three tests is 800. The three scores are added together for a possible total of 2400 on the entire SAT. The score for the writing section is a combination of the multiple choice score (calculated as stated above) and the essay score. The essay is scored by two readers, each of whom award a score from 1 to 6. These two scores are added together, so the score range is 2 to 12. The two readers’ score must be within one point of each other; if not, the essay will be scored by a third reader. The math test includes several “student-produced response” questions which are not multiple choice and require the test-taker to write-in an answer. No points are subtracted for incorrect answers to these questions; an incorrect answer on these earns 0 points. One multiple choice section of each SAT is not scored. This section is used to confirm the accuracy of the score on the rest of the test, as well as try out questions for future tests. Percentiles are also reported with your score. These show you how your score compares to other students’ scores and are calculated based on your scaled score. Your SAT score is based solely on your performance on the test, not how others taking the test at the same time performed.
You can find more information about how the SAT is scored on the College Board’s website: http://sat.collegeboard.org/scores/how-sat-is-scored