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SAT Percentiles and Score Rankings (Updated 2020)

Posted by Halle Edwards | Sep 26, 2020 4:30:00 PM

SAT General Info

 

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Have you taken the SAT recently and need help deciding whether you should retake the test? 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 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.

 

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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 2020.

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
1550-1600 99 to 99+
1500-1550 98 to 99
1450-1500 96 to 98
1400-1450 94 to 96
1350-1400 90 to 94
1300-1350 86 to 90
1250-1300 81 to 86
1200-1250 74 to 81
1150-1200 67 to 74
1100-1150 59 to 67
1050-1100 50 to 59
1000-1050 41 to 50
950-1000 33 to 41
900-950 25 to 33
850-900 18 to 25
800-850 11 to 18
750-800 6 to 11
700-750 3 to 6
650-700 1 to 3
600-650 1- to 1
550-600 1-
500-550 1-
450-500 1-
400-450 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 4 percentile points, 96 to 99.

However, the same point gap between 1100 and 1250 has a vast percentile difference—59 to 81. 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+ 98 to 99+
760-780 99 to 99+ 96 to 98
740-760 98 to 99 95 to 96
720-740 96 to 98 93 to 95
700-720 94 to 96 91 to 93
680-700 91 to 94 89 to 91
660-680 88 to 91 86 to 89
640-660 83 to 88 82 to 86
620-640 78 to 83 79 to 82
600-620 73 to 78 75 to 79
580-600 67 to 73 69 to 75
560-580 60 to 67 64 to 69
540-560 54 to 60 58 to 64
520-540 47 to 54 50 to 58
500-520 40 to 47 42 to 50
480-500 34 to 40 36 to 42
460-480 27 to 34 30 to 36
440-460 21 to 27 24 to 30
420-440 15 to 21 19 to 24
400-420 11 to 15 15 to 19
380-400 7 to 11 10 to 15
360-380 4 to 7 7 to 10
340-360 2 to 4 4 to 7
320-340 1 to 2 2 to 4
300-320 1- to 1 1 to 2
280-300 1- 1- to 1
260-280 1- 1-
240-260 1- 1-
220-240 1- 1-
200-220 1- 1-

Source: SAT Understanding Scores 2020

Again, note that the percentile ranks change dramatically toward the middle scores: 500 in EBRW is only 40%, 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 760 is in the 96th percentile on Math but in the 99th percentile on EBRW, and a 700 is in the 91st percentile on Math but in the 94th percentile on EBRW. This means that if you were aiming for the same percentile on both sections, you'd have to 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. If you're applying to schools this year and aren't sure if they've gone test-optional due to COVID-19, you can read more about that here.

 

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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 94th percentile, while that Math score is in the 75th 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 75 to 92. However, raising your EBRW score from 700 to 800, though super impressive, only improves your percentile ranking by 5%.

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.

 

What’s Next?

Now that you know the ins and outs of national SAT percentiles, check out what the average SAT scores are, and take a look at the average SAT scores in your state.

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.

Reaching for the stars? Check out what a good SAT score for the Ivy League looks like.

 

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Halle Edwards
About the Author

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.



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