When test scores come back, making sense of it all can be overwhelming. Composite scores, section scores, percentiles—it’s a lot to decipher, and people taking the SAT or ACT for the first time are often surprised by subscores.
These tests are broken down into sections, but the sections break down even further into different types of questions. Subscores measure how well you did on each of these types, and they show up on score reports in a couple of different ways: for the SAT, they’re listed at the bottom of the first page, and for the ACT (which calls them Reporting Categories), they’re listed under Detailed Results.
The SAT measures seven different subscores:
- Command of Evidence
- Words in Context
- Expression of Ideas
- Standard English Conventions
- Heart of Algebra
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis
- Passport to Advanced Math
On the ACT, each section measures three Reporting Categories.
- Production of Writing
- Knowledge of Language
- Conventions of Standard English
- Preparing for Higher Math
- Integrating Essential Skills
- Key Ideas and Details
- Craft and Structure
- Integration of Knowledge and Ideas
- Interpretation of Data
- Scientific Investigation
- Evaluation of Models, Inferences, and Experimental Results
Oftentimes, when a new test-taker opens their score report, it’s the first they’ve heard about all these extra categories. They might even think they were tested on something they didn’t study for.
Don’t worry—subscores are nothing to be stressed about. In fact, colleges don’t even weigh them when considering your application. They can see them, but all they care about are your section and composite scores.
But even though colleges don’t care about your subscores, you should. They help you zero in on specific strengths and weaknesses within a section, like if you did well on the Heart of Algebra questions but struggled with the Passport to Advanced Math questions, or if your knowledge of language is strong but you need to work on conventions of English.
Taking your subscores into account is a great way to make the most of your test prep sessions. You can figure out what you’ve already got locked down and focus on the areas that need more attention, and that will be a massive help toward earning your best final scores.