The scores are normalized.

Once upon a time, only kids going to college took the SAT, they were the top 40% of the “smartest kids”. Today everybody seems to want to go to college, so maybe 80% of kids take the test. The added kids aren’t the top 40% because, math. This would pull the average down, but normalization fixes that.

A 780 Math score from 1960 is the same as a 780 math today, top 0.5% of the students that took the test, and those students would have taken the test in 1960 also so the result is really the same. Similarly, a 600 math means something similar statistically, but many of the students that get 600 wouldn’t have taken the test in 1960, so the math proficiency of someone who got 600 in 1960 might be reflective of someone who got 680 today.

Also be aware when comparing old scores that things have changed several times. Up until 2006 it was scored on a 1600 point system. Then it became a 2400 point system. Then in 2016 it became a 1600 point system again.

So there are 10 years with a different score, as well as the issues with comparing population averages other people are talking about.

Recentering began in 1997- normalizing (as in making to fit a normal statistical distribution) the scores.

Before that, it was basically straight arithmetic to calculate the score. 800 in math or verbal meant you didn’t miss a single question in that section.

After that, 800 meant you were in the top tenth of a percent of all test-takers for that section- not that you necessarily got every answer right.

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