The spatial variability of precipitation is often considered to be a major source of uncertainty for hydrological models. The widely used Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) is insufficient to calculate a sub-basin's mean areal precipitation (MAP) since it only uses data from the rainfall station nearest to the centroid of each sub-basin. Therefore, Inverse Distance Weighting (IDW), Thiessen Polygons (TP) and Ordinary Kriging (OK) were applied as alternative interpolation methods in this study to calculate sub-basin MAP. The MAP results from the four methods used for the Xixian Basin were quite different in terms of amount and spatial distribution. The SWAT model performance was then assessed at monthly and daily timescales, based on Nash–Sutcliffe efficiency (NSE), the Coefficient of Determination (R2) as well as Percentage Bias (PBIAS) at the basin outlet. The results under different network densities and spatial distributions of gauge stations indicated that the modified MAP models did not have an advantage over the default Nearest Neighbour (NN) method in simulating monthly streamflow. However, the modified areal precipitation obtained through IDW and TP showed relatively high accuracy in simulating daily flows as the applied rainfall stations changed. The difference in terms of estimated rainfall and streamflow in this study confirmed that evaluation of interpolation methods is necessary before building a SWAT model.