Have you taken the SAT recently and need help deciding if you want to retake the test or not? Or maybe you haven’t taken the SAT yet but want to develop a target score.
One of the best ways to understand your SAT scores is to understand your SAT scores’ percentiles. You can learn to maximize your study time, find the biggest score gains, and impress your dream school by understanding SAT percentile rankings. Read on for a guide to maximizing your score – and your college admissions chances – by using SAT score percentiles.
What Are SAT Score Percentiles?
In addition to the composite score you get on the SAT (that number between 400 and 1600), you will also get a percentile ranking, ranging between 1 and 99. The SAT gives you a percentile ranking for your overall composite score, as well as for each of the two section scores: Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math.
Your percentile score tells you how you did on the SAT compared to everyone else who took it. For example, if you got a composite percentile of 76, that means you scored higher than 76 percent of students. If you got a percentile of 47 on the Math section, you did better than 47 percent of students on that particular section.
The percentile score is not like a grade out of 100. For example, if you get a percentile of 90, that doesn't mean you got exactly 90 percent of the questions right. It just means, compared to everyone who took the SAT, you scored higher than 90 percent of them. (For more on how the SAT is scored, see our scoring guide.)
So, why do percentiles matter? Colleges use percentiles to compare you to other students. For example, if you get an SAT score in the 90th percentile, that makes you competitive for many schools, since you have scored better than 90 percent of students nationwide. Paying attention to your percentile ranking, as well as your composite score, can give you the best idea of your performance and help you make strategic choices about which colleges you apply to.
What Are the Percentile Ranges for the SAT?
Okay, so you get that percentile rankings are important. But if you haven’t taken the SAT yet, or have taken it and plan to retake it, what composite score should you shoot for to get a certain percentile ranking?
Luckily, College Board releases data about composite scores and matching percentile rankings to help you figure that out. These numbers change slightly from year to year, but we have the most recent info from 2016.
We've summarized the percentile ranges here in a percentile chart. Just find where your score fits in, and estimate your percentile.
|SAT Composite Score Range||Percentile Score|
|1500-1550||98 to 99|
|1450-1500||97 to 98|
|1400-1450||94 to 97|
|1350-1400||91 to 94|
|1300-1350||86 to 91|
|1250-1300||80 to 86|
|1200-1250||72 to 80|
|1150-1200||64 to 72|
|1100-1150||55 to 64|
|1050-1100||44 to 55|
|1000-1050||34 to 44|
|950-1000||25 to 34|
|900-950||18 to 25|
|850-900||12 to 18|
|800-850||7 to 12|
|750-800||4 to 7|
|700-750||2 to 4|
|650-700||1 to 2|
Percentiles via College Board. (Check out the link for more detailed score info as well as percentile breakdown by gender.)
Something to note about these percentile ranks: they change the fastest with the middle scores. For example, the difference between a 1450 and a 1600 – the highest possible score – is only 3 percentile points, 97th to 99th.
However, the same point gap between 1100 and 1250 has a vast percentile difference – 55th to 80th. This means that if you have scored 1100 or lower, increasing your overall composite by just 150 points will have a vast boost to your percentile rank and your admissions competitiveness!
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SAT Percentile Charts by Section
We also have data on percentile rankings for score ranges in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math. Check out the chart below to see how your scores stack up.
|Section Score Range||SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Percentiles||SAT Math Percentiles|
|780-800||99+ to 99+||98 to 99+|
|760-780||99 to 99+||98 to 98|
|740-760||98 to 99||96 to 98|
|720-740||96 to 98||95 to 96|
|700-720||94 to 96||92 to 95|
|680-700||91 to 94||89 to 92|
|660-680||86 to 91||87 to 89|
|640-660||81 to 86||83 to 87|
|620-640||75 to 81||79 to 83|
|600-620||69 to 75||73 to 79|
|580-600||63 to 69||67 to 73|
|560-580||56 to 63||60 to 67|
|540-560||49 to 56||53 to 60|
|520-540||42 to 49||45 to 53|
|500-520||35 to 42||34 to 45|
|480-500||28 to 35||27 to 34|
|460-480||22 to 28||21 to 27|
|440-460||17 to 22||16 to 21|
|420-440||13 to 17||12 to 16|
|400-420||9 to 13||8 to 12|
|380-400||6 to 9||5 to 8|
|360-380||3 to 6||3 to 5|
|340-360||2 to 3||2 to 3|
|320-340||1 to 2||1 to 2|
|300-320||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|280-300||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|260-280||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|240-260||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|220-240||1 to 1||1 to 1|
|200-220||— to 1||— to 1|
Via College Board.
Again, note that the percentile ranks change dramatically towards the middle scores: a 500 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing is only 35 percent, but a 600 is 69 percent. In other words, a 100-point improvement – which is very manageable with some smart studying – could transform your score from poor to good.
Note that the Math curve is more competitive near the top than the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing curve. A 750 is 97th percentile for Math but 99th on Reading, a 700 is 92nd on Math versus 94th on Reading. This means that if you were aiming for the same percentile on both subjects, you would have to work the hardest on Math and aim for a higher composite score.
For more on SAT scores and rankings, check out our guide to average SAT scores, including breakdowns by gender and ethnic group.
How Can Knowing Your Percentile Help You?
So we know that percentiles are important, and that in some cases, a relatively small composite score increase can have a huge affect on your percentile ranking. However, your target composite score for the colleges you want to apply to is the most important. While percentiles help college admissions officers compare your scores, schools also have their own score ranges that typically don’t change drastically from year to year.
To find any college’s SAT score ranges, search “[Name of College/University] SAT Scores Prepscholar” to find our page with their score ranges (as well as GPA ranges and overall competitiveness). For more on this strategy, including a table you can fill out for your specific colleges, see our guide to what a good SAT score is.
Maximize your study time by getting your personal SAT target score.
Finally, percentile rankings can be a helpful tool for you. Especially if you’re deciding whether or not to retake the SAT, percentiles really help put your scores in context. For example, the difference between your 700 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and a 600 in Math may not seem enormous, but that Reading score is in the 94th percentile, while the Math score is in the 73rd. That’s a huge difference!
This means you can get more bang for your buck if you focus on the Math section for your retake. Increasing your Math score by 100 composite points can raise your percentile from 73rd to 92nd. Raising your Reading composite from 700 to 800, while super impressive, only improves your percentile ranking by 6 points.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should ignore Critical Reading – in fact, a gain of 50 points could get you into the 99th percentile – but recognizing that you stand to gain more with Math can help you prioritize your time.
Trying to figure out your SAT target score? Or maybe you’ve taken the SAT, but you’re not sure if your score makes you competitive. Check out our guide to SAT scores to help you develop your personal target score using the colleges you want to apply to.
Reaching for the stars? Check out what a good SAT score for the Ivy League looks like.
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.