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SAT Score Range: 3 Steps to Understanding Your Score

Posted by Hannah Muniz | Apr 20, 2017 12:00:00 PM

SAT General Info

 

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Confused about the SAT score range? It's no secret that the SAT has undergone drastic changes since 2016, shifting from a 2400-point scale to a markedly narrower 1600-point scale. But what do these numbers mean for you? How can you use SAT score ranges to determine the scores you need for college?

First, we'll discuss the current SAT scores range for the exam as a whole, and for each SAT section and subsection. After, we’ll take a close look at how SAT scores are distributed among test takers, explain why colleges maintain different SAT score ranges, and teach you how to set your own SAT goal score.

 

What Is the SAT Score Range?

Altogether, the SAT score range is 400-1600 for your composite SAT score (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing + Math). Three sections comprise this total score: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. The Math score range is 200-800 in 10-point increments.

The Reading and Writing sections, however, work a little differently. At first they are scored separately in one-point increments on a scale of 10-40. They are then converted (using an individualized equating process) into a single Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) score on a scale of 200-800 (the same as the Math scale).

Notice that the composite SAT score range does not include the optional Essay component. The Essay score consists of three dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Two readers will each assign you three scores on scales of 1-4. The two scores from each reader are then combined to give you a total SAT score range of 2-8 for each of the three dimensions. So a perfect Essay score would be 8|8|8.

And we're not finished yet! The SAT also contains subscores and cross-test scores, which are calculated separately on scales of 1-15 and 10-40, respectively. Subscores and cross-test scores indicate your level of mastery of specific skills, such as vocab knowledge and algebra.

Here are the EBRW subscores:

And here are the Math subscores:

Cross-test scores are a little different; they measure your performance on history/social studies and science questions on all SAT sections (excluding the Essay). The two cross-test scores are:

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies
  • Analysis in Science

 

body_apple_slices.jpgThe SAT has four sections, and even its sections have sections!

 

To help you visualize what we've touched on so far, here is a detailed chart showcasing each SAT scores range:

 

New SAT Score Range (2016-Present)

SAT Section

Score Range

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)

200-800

Reading

10-40

Writing and Language

10-40

Expression of Ideas

1-15

Standard English Conventions

1-15

Words in Context

1-15

Command of Evidence

1-15

Math

200-800

Heart of Algebra

1-15

Problem Solving and Data Analysis

1-15

Passport to Advanced Math

1-15

Cross-Test Scores*

Analysis in History/Social Studies

10-40

Analysis in Science

10-40

TOTAL (EBRW + Math)

400-1600

Essay

2-8 | 2-8 | 2-8

Reading

2-8

Analysis

2-8

Writing

2-8

*Cross-test scores are for the Reading, Writing, and Math sections.

 

All of these score ranges are for the redesigned SAT (2016-present). But what about the pre-2016 SAT? Contrary to what we have today, the old SAT score scale was 600-2400, and there were no subscores or cross-test scores like there are currently. Additionally, test takers received separate Critical Reading and Writing scores, the latter of which was a combination of your Writing and Essay scores. (Nowadays, the Essay is optional and does not count toward your composite SAT score.)

Here is an overview of the old SAT scores scale:

 

Old SAT Score Range (Pre-2016)

SAT Section

Score Range

Critical Reading

200-800

Math

200-800

Writing Composite

200-800

Writing Multiple Choice

20-80

Essay

0-12

TOTAL (All Sections)

600-2400

 

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SAT Score Distribution

The College Board redesigned the SAT in 2016 so that a total score of approximately 1000 — the middle score between 400 (the minimum) and 1600 (the maximum), or the highest point on the SAT bell curve — would signify the average score of test-takers. This is in contrast to the pre-2016 SAT average of around 1500, which was the middle point between 600 and 2400 (the old minimum and maximum).

This new SAT bell curve means that most SAT takers score around 1000, and very few score extremely high (1500 and higher) or extremely low (700 and below).

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According to data collected by the College Board, the average SAT score is close to 1000: at present, it’s 1020 (for all juniors and seniors) and 1083 (for college-bound juniors and seniors).

Below is a chart showcasing the percentiles for EBRW, Math, and the total SAT. As a reminder, percentiles indicate what percentage of test takers you scored higher than on a given section. Thus, the higher your percentile, the more impressive your score is.

 

SAT Score Percentiles

Percentile

EBRW

Math

TOTAL

99

750-800

790-800

1510-1600

90

680*

690*

1340

75

620

610*

1220*

50

540**

530**

1080

25

470

470**

950

10

410*

410

830

1

200-330

200-330

400-680

Source: The College Board

*Score is one percent higher than percentile listed (91st, 76th, or 11th percentiles).

**Score is one percent lower than percentile listed (49th or 24th percentiles).

 

Unfortunately, the College Board doesn’t tell us exactly how many test takers took the new SAT at the beginning of 2016 (the time frame on which the above data is based). That being said, we can use SAT percentiles to help us understand how many (or, rather, how few) test takers scored at the extreme ends of the exam.

According to this data, a 99th-percentile or higher SAT score is anywhere from 1510 to a perfect 1600. This means that only 1 percent of test takers scored a 1510 or higher on the SAT. So you don't need to get a perfect score in order to reach the 99th percentile — in fact, you can miss as many as 90 points and still achieve that 99th-percentile distinction on your SAT score report!

Likewise, very few test takers scored at the lowest end of the SAT score range. Only 1 percent of test takers scored between 400 (the absolute minimum) and 680 — that's a large 280-point span! What this ultimately means is that you’re extraordinarily likely to earn at least 280 points on the SAT, as 99 percent of test takers do not score below 680.

In regards to SAT section scores, once again, few test takers scored the highest and lowest possible scores. To hit the 99th percentile on EBRW, you’d have to score 750 or higher. But to do the same on Math, you’d need a near-perfect score of 790. This trend indicates that the Math section is generally more competitive than the EBRW section, as more people score higher on Math than they do on EBRW.

As for the 1st percentile, both EBRW and Math maintain identical score ranges of 200-330. This means that only 1 percent of test takers scored 330 or below on either section, and the vast majority scored higher than 330.

But how can you figure out what kinds of SAT scores you'll need for your colleges specifically? Read on to find out!

 

body_college_graduation.jpgTo get to this point, you must first get IN.

 

What Are SAT Score Ranges for Colleges?

There is no general SAT scores range for colleges; instead, every school maintains its own SAT scores range as a means to compare applicants' SAT scores. This range represents the middle 50 percent of SAT scores (usually of incoming students).

What do I mean by "middle 50 percent"? Think of it as being similar to average SAT scores — only instead of a single average you're given a range of scores consisting of the 25th and 75th percentiles for a particular group of students. A 25th-percentile score means that 25 percent of incoming students to a school scored at or lower than a certain threshold on the SAT. Similarly, a 75th-percentile score indicates that 75 percent of students scored at or lower than a different (and higher) threshold.

For example, here is a screenshot from the Yale Admissions website of its 25th and 75th percentiles for each SAT section:* 

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*These SAT score ranges are based on the old SAT. Because the redesigned SAT is relatively new, most schools are still reporting averages and score ranges using the old SAT scoring scale. This should begin to change, however, once entire classes of freshmen are applying to college with new SAT scores.

 

So how is this info helpful to you? SAT score ranges tell you how high you must score on the SAT in order to be on par with (or better than) other applicants. In general, a score in the 75th percentile or higher is a safe bet, as it means your SAT scores will exceed those of most other applicants.

You can find SAT score ranges for most schools using our database. Simply search for "[School Name] PrepScholar" or "[School Name] PrepScholar SAT." Here's an example of the page I got when I searched for "university of delaware prepscholar sat":

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Click on either link to get to the PrepScholar page for your school. SAT score ranges will typically appear in a box as so:

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You can also check out our comprehensive guide to SAT scores for colleges (coming soon), which contains a list of 100+ schools and their SAT score ranges.

 

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How to Set an SAT Goal Score: 3-Step Guide

In the simplest of terms, you’ll want to get the best SAT score you can get on test day. And to do this, you must set an SAT goal score. A goal score is the score most likely to get you into at least one of the schools to which you’re applying — hopefully all of them!

Follow our three simple steps below to set your own SAT goal score today.

 

Step 1: Make a Chart

Before jumping headfirst into your SAT score research, make a quick chart of all of the schools to which you're applying (excluding any safety schools). You may download our worksheet or create a chart like the one below. Draw two columns for the 25th and 75th percentiles for each of your schools and write "AVERAGE" in the final row.

Here is an example chart:

School Name

25th Percentile

75th Percentile

University of Washington

   

University of Oregon

   

UCLA

   

UC Santa Barbara

   

AVERAGE

   

 

Step 2: Look Up SAT Score Info

Next, begin looking up SAT score info for each of the schools on your table. Specifically, you’ll want to look up the middle 50 percent (i.e., the 25th and 75th percentiles) for each of your schools.

To find these ranges, search for “[School Name] PrepScholar” or "[School Name] PrepScholar SAT" on Google. Most schools should be recorded in our database, but if not you can also try searching for “[School Name] average SAT scores” or "[School Name] 25th 75th percentile SAT" and look for relevant links to your school's official website.

Here is an example of the PrepScholar page for the University of Washington:

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While a handful of schools have updated their SAT score info to reflect the new SAT score scale out of 1600, most schools are still reporting score ranges using the old SAT score scale. You can convert any old scores you come across into current SAT scores using our handy conversion charts. Note that in our database, all SAT scores have been pre-converted for you.

Now, here is our chart again, with the 25th and 75th percentiles filled out:

School Name

25th Percentile

75th Percentile

University of Washington

1180

1410

University of Oregon

1080

1320

UCLA

1250

1500

UC Santa Barbara

1220

1440

AVERAGE

   

 

body_ice_cream_cone.jpgIf at any point you get tired, just take an ice cream break.

 

Step 3: Calculate Your SAT Goal Score

The last step is to calculate your SAT goal score. To do this, take the averages of the 25th and 75th percentiles and round your answer to the nearest 10. (So if you were to get 1234 as your average, you'd round it down to 1230. On the other hand, if you were to get 1355 as your average, you'd round it up to 1360.)

School Name

25th Percentile

75th Percentile

University of Washington

1180

1410

University of Oregon

1080

1320

UCLA

1250

1500

UC Santa Barbara

1220

1440

AVERAGE

1180

1420

 

The average score in your 75th-percentile column will be your target SAT score. This score is extremely likely to get you into at least one of the schools on your chart, if not several.

To increase your chance of getting into all of your schools (instead of just one or a couple), aim for the highest 75th percentile on your chart instead. In our example, this score would be 1500, for UCLA. Attaining (or exceeding) the highest score on your chart will give you the best chance possible of gaining admission into all of your schools.

But what about your goal scores for each section? To get your individual EBRW and Math goal scores, divide your total goal score by 2. So a goal score of 1420 means you'd have to aim for around 710 on both sections. If you’re applying to engineering schools or other field-specific schools, however, aim for a slightly higher score on the section more relevant to your major. For example, aspiring engineers applying to MIT should focus more on trying to achieve a super high Math score instead of a super high EBRW score.

 

Wrap-Up: SAT Score Range

The total SAT score range for the redesigned SAT is 400-1600 in 10-point increments. This score comprises two sections: EBRW and Math, whose score ranges are 200-800. (EBRW can be further divided into Reading and Writing, which each use scales of 10-40.) The optional Essay consists of three separate scores on scales of 2-8. Additionally, there are several subscores and cross-test scores, which use smaller scales of 1-15 and 10-40, respectively.

The old SAT differed greatly in its score scale. Before 2016, the SAT score range was 600-2400 in 10-point increments, and the exam contained three separate sections (Critical Reading, Math, and Writing) that each used a scale of 200-800.

On the new SAT score range, a score of around 1000 (the midway point of the score range) is the average SAT score. (The actual average is 1020 for all 11th and 12th graders.)

In terms of score ranges for colleges, each school maintains its own SAT score range, or middle 50 percent, to indicate an average range of SAT scores for incoming students. The lower score in this range is the 25th percentile, and the higher score is the 75th percentile.

To find your SAT goal score:
  1. Make a chart with your schools' names and their 25th and 75th percentiles.

  2. Look up SAT score info for your schools. You can use the PrepScholar database or peruse official school websites. Record the 25th and 75th percentiles in your chart.

  3. Calculate the average of the 75th percentiles; this will be your target SAT score. But if you're a high achiever, aim for the highest 75th-percentile score on your chart instead. Doing this will increase your shot at securing admission into all of the schools in your chart.

 

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What’s Next?

Want more info on SAT scores? Check out our in-depth articles to learn how the SAT is scored and what constitutes a great, a good, and a poor SAT score.

Gearing up for college applications? In our article on the SAT scores you'll need for college (coming soon), we've gathered average SAT scores for dozens of popular schools, both private and public!

Aiming for a perfect 1600? It's not impossible, promise! For step-by-step tips, take a look at our comprehensive guide to getting a perfect 1600 on the SAT — written entirely by a perfect scorer!

 

Disappointed with your scores? Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

Get eBook: 5 Tips for 160+ Points

 

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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in English and East Asian languages and cultures. After graduation, she taught English in Japan for two years via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.



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