One of the best ways to understand your SAT scores is to understand your SAT score percentiles. You can learn to maximize your study time, find the biggest score gains, and impress your dream school by understanding percentile rankings. Read on for a guide to maximizing your SAT score—and your college admissions chances—by using SAT score percentiles.
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What Are SAT Score Percentiles?
In addition to the composite score you get on the SAT (i.e., that number between 400 and 1600), you'll get a percentile ranking, ranging from 1 to 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 and Writing (EBRW) and Math.
Your percentile tells you how you did on the SAT compared with everyone else who took the test. For example, if you got a composite percentile of 76, this means you scored higher than 76% of students on the whole test. If you got a percentile of 47 on the Math section, you did better than 47% of students on SAT Math.
An example of an SAT score report with percentiles.
Your percentile score is not like a grade out of 100. For instance, if you get a percentile of 90, this doesn't mean you got exactly 90% of the questions right. It just means that compared with everyone who took the SAT, you scored higher than 90% of them. (For more info on how the SAT is scored, see our scoring guide.)
So, why do percentiles matter? Colleges use percentiles to compare you with other students. If you got, say, an SAT score in the 90th percentile, this would make you competitive for many schools since you scored better than 90% 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 to apply to.
What Are the Percentile Ranges for the SAT?
OK, 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 SAT score should you shoot for in order to get a certain percentile ranking?
Luckily, the College Board releases data about composite scores and matching percentile rankings to help you figure this out. These numbers change slightly from year to year, but we have the most recent info from 2017.
We've summarized the SAT percentile ranges here in a percentile chart. Just find your score to see your estimated percentile.
|SAT Composite Score Range||Percentile Score|
|1500-1550||99 to 99+|
|1450-1500||98 to 99|
|1400-1450||95 to 98|
|1350-1400||92 to 95|
|1300-1350||88 to 92|
|1250-1300||82 to 88|
|1200-1250||76 to 82|
|1150-1200||68 to 76|
|1100-1150||59 to 68|
|1050-1100||49 to 59|
|1000-1050||40 to 49|
|950-1000||31 to 40|
|900-950||22 to 31|
|850-900||15 to 22|
|800-850||9 to 15|
|750-800||5 to 9|
|700-750||2 to 5|
|650-700||1 to 2|
|600-650||1- to 1|
Something to note about these percentile ranks is that they change the fastest with the middle scores. For example, the difference between 1450 and 1600—the highest possible score—is only 2 percentile points, 98 to 99.
However, the same point gap between 1100 and 1250 has a vast percentile difference—59 to 82. This means that if you scored 1100 or lower, increasing your overall composite by just 150 points would give 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 EBRW and Math. Check out the chart below to see how your scores stack up.
|Section Score Range||SAT EBRW Percentiles||SAT Math Percentiles|
|780-800||99+||99 to 99+|
|760-780||99 to 99+||98 to 99|
|740-760||98 to 99||97 to 98|
|720-740||97 to 98||95 to 97|
|700-720||95 to 97||94 to 95|
|680-700||92 to 95||91 to 94|
|660-680||89 to 92||88 to 91|
|640-660||85 to 89||84 to 88|
|620-640||79 to 85||81 to 84|
|600-620||73 to 79||76 to 81|
|580-600||67 to 73||70 to 76|
|560-580||60 to 67||65 to 70|
|540-560||53 to 60||58 to 65|
|520-540||46 to 53||49 to 58|
|500-520||39 to 46||40 to 49|
|480-500||32 to 39||34 to 40|
|460-480||25 to 32||29 to 34|
|440-460||19 to 25||22 to 29|
|420-440||14 to 19||17 to 22|
|400-420||10 to 14||12 to 17|
|380-400||6 to 10||8 to 12|
|360-380||4 to 6||5 to 8|
|340-360||2 to 4||3 to 5|
|320-340||1 to 2||1 to 3|
|280-300||1- to 1||1- to 1|
Source: SAT Understanding Scores 2017
Again, note that the percentile ranks change dramatically toward the middle scores: 500 in EBRW is only 39%, but 600 is 73%. 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 EBRW curve is. A 750 is in the 97th percentile on Math but in the 99th percentile on EBRW, and a 700 is in the 94th percentile on Math but in the 95th percentile on EBRW. This means that if you were aiming for the same percentile on both sections, you'd have to work harder (and get a higher score) on Math than you would on EBRW.
For more info on SAT scores and rankings, check out our guide to average SAT scores in which we also look at score breakdowns by gender and ethnic group.
How Can Knowing Your SAT Percentile Help You?
We know that percentiles are important and that, in some cases, a relatively small composite score increase can have a huge effect 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 much from year to year.
To find a college’s SAT score ranges, search “[School Name] SAT scores PrepScholar” on Google to find our Admission Requirements page with its SAT/ACT score ranges and info on GPA ranges and overall competitiveness. For more tips on how to use this strategy (and for a table you can fill out for your specific colleges), see our guide on what a good SAT score is.
Maximize your study time by setting a personal SAT target score.
Finally, SAT percentile rankings can be a useful tool for you. Especially if you’re deciding whether or not to retake the SAT, percentiles really help put your SAT scores in context. For example, the difference between your 700 in EBRW and 600 in Math might not seem enormous, but that EBRW score is in the 95th percentile, while that Math score is in the 76th percentile. 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 points can raise your percentile from 76 to 94. However, raising your EBRW score from 700 to 800, though super impressive, only improves your percentile ranking by 4%.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should ignore EBRW—in fact, a gain of just 50 points would put you in the 99th percentile! But recognizing that you stand to gain more with Math can ultimately help you prioritize your study time better.
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Trying to figure out your SAT target score? Or maybe you took the SAT but aren't sure whether your score is competitive. Our guide can help you develop a personal SAT target score based on the colleges you're applying to.
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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.