What is More Important- SAT Composite Scores or Your Individual Scores?

Most colleges consider composite score as the basis for admissions, individual score is widely overlooked. While there are a variety of scenarios and situations wherein the composite score is more important, this article highlights those situations where your individual score holds more weightage. 

Updated by Tanisha Alex on 20th April 2020

Before we enumerate the importance of your scores, we must first provide a basic understanding of what exactly these scores entail. Every high school student takes either the SAT or the ACT. This is almost a ritual for every college going student. While the test does measure your knowledge to some extent, its purpose has always been to measure a student’s critical thinking skills and ability to apply knowledge, rather than measuring the amount or strength of background knowledge a student brings to the test.

In fact, the current SAT consists of two primary tests. The first consists of a mathematics test that is later subdivided into two additional tests. The second primary test consists of a verbal test. The other primary test is the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Test. This also comprises two smaller test sections: the Critical Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. The final component of the SAT, the SAT Essay, is optional. After you have submitted the above tests you would be given a score between 200-800 depending on how well you did. This score is most commonly referred to as the composite score as it is displayed prominently on the test booklet. Most colleges consider this score as the basis for admissions into their respective universities. The other score that is widely overlooked is the individual scores. While there are a variety of scenarios and situations wherein the composite score is more important, this article highlights those situations where your individual score holds more weightage. 

When is the composite score important?

Before we explain which score is more important we must first talk about the scenarios in which the composite score is given preference. As your SAT and GPA scores are used as tools for the initial screening process, it is important to excel at them. When your application is first reviewed by the admissions board, they mostly look at your composite score in order to determine whether you are proficient enough to pass to the next round. Since most colleges get hundreds of applicants a day it is far more efficient for them to eliminate candidates based on their SAT composite scores. But in later screening processes, your individual SAT scores would be reviewed in order to further promote you in the application process. 

When do individual or section scores matter?

Of course, just because an admissions committee might review your composite score first doesn’t mean that your section scores are completely irrelevant. It simply means that this layer of scrutiny usually comes later in the process and that sometimes, your application will never undergo this kind of scrutiny. There are mainly three reasons why the admissions board might look at your sectional scores. The first reason is if you apply to a liberal arts school or wish to be a liberal arts major they might review your sectional scores in order to ensure that you are a well-rounded individual. This would mean that you should have passable grades in the language and math fields of this SAT test. The admissions committee may not consider you in the case that you score exceptionally high in one field but do poorly in the other fields. Because this would imply that you are unable to handle many responsibilities at once and aren't very well-rounded. 

The second reason could be that when you are applying to a specialized major or program, and one section score is significantly more relevant than the other. In this circumstance, the scenario of mismatched scores could actually work in your favor. If you are applying to an engineering program and your composite score is competitive, the admissions committee will likely be impressed by an exceptionally high math score, even if your language scores suffer somewhat. In this case, it is not your general abilities across the board that they are interested in so much as your specific abilities in your intended field.

The last reason could be that the admissions board could review your sectional scores in order to further determine your strength as an applicant. In the case that they are unsure of your application or candidacy to their particular institution they might look at the more fine details in your application in order to really check if you deserve a place in that particular university. This would include them to look at your sectional SAT scores.  For example, they may be dealing with a pool of accepted candidates that is particularly strong in math and wish to level it out a bit with some more language-oriented applicants.

When would your individual or sectional scores matter?

In what event would your sectional scores matter? Your sectional scores are most likely to be reviewed when you apply to a field that is closely related to these scores. Your section score most closely related to the subject area or field of work will probably matter most. This means that they are potentially relevant to applications for scholarships, summer programs, and even internships.

In conclusion, your SAT scores are important in the sense that most colleges and universities use them as a basic screening tool. But if you prepare diligently then this should not pose much of a problem.