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What Is a Good SAT Score? A Bad SAT Score? An Excellent SAT Score?

Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Apr 1, 2017 11:00:00 AM

SAT/ACT Score Target

 

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What is a good SAT score? You took the SAT, got your scores back, and now you want to know how you did. Or maybe you want to know what score to aim for next time.

In this guide, we’ll discuss how to figure out how your SAT scores stack up compared to all the other test-takers out there. Then, we’ll help you figure out what’s a good SAT score for you based on the colleges you are interested in. We’ll also provide the SAT score ranges of 38 popular schools, and discuss what to do if your score turns out to be lower than expected.

 

What's a Good SAT Score, Compared to the Entire Country?

The SAT score range is between 400 and 1600 for your total score, and 200-800 for each of your two subscores. One subscore is for Math, and one subscore is your combined Reading and Writing scores to make one “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing” score.

As you would expect, the higher your score, the better you did compared to all the other test-takers. But is there a certain SAT score cutoff that marks a “good” score?

To determine what makes for good SAT scores relative to everyone else, it’s important to understand how SAT scoring works. Your total score out of 1600 (as well as your two sections subscores out of 800) corresponds to a percentile ranking. Your percentile tells you what percent of students you scored better than. So if you got a 60th-percentile score, you’ve scored better than 60% of all test-takers!

The 50th-percentile SAT composite score—the average SAT score—is 1010. (The test is deliberately designed so that the average score hovers around 1000 on the 1600-point scale—about 500 per subsection). The average score for math is between 500 and 510 (500 is 48th-percentile and 510 is the 52nd). The average SAT score for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing is about 510 (at the 51st percentile).

SAT test scores follow a normal distribution. This means that student performance tends to cluster around the middle of the scale. Far fewer test-takers score towards the higher and lower end of the scale.

Here’s an abbreviated SAT score chart with percentiles for new 2016 SAT composite scores so you can check out the score distribution for yourself:

Composite Score (Out of 1600)

Percentile

1600

99+

1520

99+

1450

99

1360

95

1290

90

1190

80

1120

70

1060

60

1010

50

960

40

910

31

840

20

770

10

720

5

660

1

620

1-

400

1-

 

As you can see from the percentiles and associated scores, more people score towards the middle of the scale than at the top or bottom. For example, a score jump from 960 to 1060 (100 points) moves you from the 40th to the 60th percentile—so you’ve moved up past an entire fifth of test-takers! But moving 100 points from 1190 to 1290 only moves you up ten percentile points, from the 80th to the 90th. And moving from 1450 to 1550, a 100-point margin near the top of the scale, nets you less than a percentile since both are 99th-percentile scores!

In terms of what makes for good SAT scores based on this chart, you already know that 1010 is average, so anything above that is an above-average score. An 1190 places you at the 80th percentile, in the top fifth of test-takers, which is pretty good. A 1290 puts you in the top 10 percent, which is a strong score. A 1360 is in the 95th percentile—the top 5 percent of test-takers. And any score 1450+ puts you in the top one percent of test-takers!

By contrast, anything lower than a 1010 is a below-average score. A 910, at the 31st percentile, places you in the bottom third of test-takers. An 840, at the 20th percentile, places you in the bottom fifth. Not so great comparatively.

Here’s a chart for showing the SAT score percentiles for the two subsections. The distributions are pretty similar, but there are some slight differences. For example, fewer people do really, really well on math. You can tell because a 750 is a 99th-percentile score for Math, placing you in the top one percent of test-takers. But it’s an 98th-percentile score for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, placing you only in the top two percent.

Section Score (Out of 800)

Math Percentile

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Percentile

800

99+

99+

750

99

98

700

97

95

680

95

93

650

90

90

610

81

83

570

71

73

530

58

61

500

48

47

480

41

40

450

31

29

420

22

20

380

11

10

350

5

5

310

1

1

290

1-

1-

200

1-

1-


 

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What's a Good SAT Score for You?

We’ve discussed how your SAT score (and corresponding percentile ranking) shows how you compare to all the other test-takers.

But how well you did compared to all other test-takers isn’t the most important thing for you. What’s more important is what makes a good SAT score for you personally, based on the schools you are interested in.

A 1290 is a 90th-percentile score, meaning you scored better than 90% of test takers. And a 1290 would be a solid score for schools like Drexel (average SAT 1270), Hofstra (average SAT 1220), and Auburn (average SAT 1240). But it would be a very low score for highly selective institutions like MIT, CalTech, Duke, University of Chicago, or Johns Hopkins, for example.

Of course, not everyone is trying to get into super-selective schools! A score like 1050 (just above average) is solid for schools like CSU Sacramento (average SAT score 1020), UT El Paso (average SAT score 1000) or Florida Agricultural and Mechanical (average SAT score 1030).

So to sum up, a good SAT score is a score that makes you competitive for the schools that you want to attend.

It’s also worth noting that the higher standardized test scores, the more likely schools that offer merit scholarships are to offer you them. For the purposes of this guide, we’re going to focus primarily on figuring out the score you need for admission, but it’s something to keep in mind. Another thing to consider is that a test score can help you get admitted at some schools if you have a lower GPA than their typical admits. (However, this won’t help you so much at very selective institutions—they expect students to have high marks across the board.)

 

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Does this puppy have competitive scores for your heart?

 

How to Find Your Goal Score

In this section, we’ll walk you through how to figure out what makes a good SAT score for you, based on the schools that you are most interested in. Our quick 5-step process only requires a worksheet (linked below), a writing utensil, and an internet-browsing device!

 

Step 1: Download This Worksheet

First, you’ll need to download our worksheet so you can fill it out with information for your schools of interest. Click here to download it, or click the image below. 

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Step 2: Fill in the Schools You Want to Get Into on the Left

Fill in all the schools that you know you want to apply to already in the leftmost column. If you don't know what schools you're aiming for yet, feel free to use ones that have been suggested to you by parents, friends, teacher, or counselors. However, I recommend that you take the time to do some research into schools you might want to attend first, so that you have a realistic target score. The more your list reflects the schools you actually end up applying to, the more accurate your target score will be for your goals.

 

Step 3: For Each School, Google "[Name of School] Prepscholar SAT"

For example, if I'm interested in University of Alabama, I'll do the following search:

body_examplesearch.png

Click on the the SAT and GPA post (or the Admission Requirements post, they’ll both have the information) and scroll down to find the 25th and 75th percentile composite ACT scores for admitted students for the new SAT.  The new SAT—the one offered since last May—is out of 1600 points, unlike the old SAT, which was out of 2400 points. For students who applied to college this past fall, they might have submitted the old SAT or the new SAT. But most students applying this coming school year will be using new SAT scores.

For some schools, it’s hard to find the new SAT information. But if you search for our SAT/GPA page for that school, we do the searching (and converting of old scores if necessary) for you!

When we scroll down to the new SAT information for University of Alabama, we can see that the 25th percentile SAT score is 1070. This means that 25% of admitted students have a score of 1070 on the SAT. That would be a below average score for admitted students to U Alabama.

The 75th percentile score for University of Alabama on the SAT is 1320. That means that students with that SAT score scored better than 75% of all the other admits. So scoring at 1320 or above puts you in the top quarter of admits score-wise—a very competitive score for admission! In summary, the 25th/75th percentile range describes the scores of the middle 50% of all students admitted to a particular school.

If you score at the 75th percentile for any school, you have a great chance at getting in (assuming your other credentials are on point for the school). So that’s a good SAT score for that school. If you're at the 25th percentile, you'll need to have a particularly strong application to boost your odds of getting in.

For each school on your list, google the Prepscholar SAT score information and write down the 25th and 75th percentile scores for the new SAT in the appropriate row for that school on your goal score sheet.

 

Step 4: Calculate Your Final SAT Target Score

To calculate your target SAT goal score, look at the 75th percentile column. Find the highest score in that column. That’s your SAT total score goal. If you score at the 75th percentile level for the most competitive school on your list, you’ll be competitive at all your schools for test scores. So that is a good SAT score for you!

Another advantage of choosing a high goal score is that if you end up falling 10-50 points short, it’s not a huge deal because you’ll still be competitive for most of your schools.

You might be thinking—hey, wait! Why did I fill out that entire sheet if I was just going to pick the highest 75th percentile score? Well, the advantage of filling out all that information is that you now have it handy as a reference. You’ll be able to check your SAT score against the 25th-75th percentile ranges of all your schools of interest as soon as you get your scores back!

 

Step 5: Make Your Goal Known

As a last step, I suggest that you do two things with your target SAT score:

  1. Share it with your parents. This can turn into a helpful conversation around your personal goals and how you want to achieve your target SAT score. Plus, they can help keep you accountable throughout the preparation process!

  2. Tape it to your wall. This will keep your goal score front and center in your mind, which help you stay motivated to keep up with your SAT study schedule.

 

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Puppies are also a great motivator.

 

Good SAT Scores for Popular Schools

To help you with determining your goal score, here’s an SAT score chart with 25th-75th percentile SAT scores for 2016 for 38 popular schools. I’ve also provided the current US News ranking (from the National Universities list) and the 2016 acceptance rate to give you some reference points as to how selective the school is.

School

25th Percentile SAT

75th Percentile SAT

US News Ranking 

2016 Acceptance Rate

Princeton University

1480

1600

1

6.5%

Harvard University

1480

1600

2

5.4%

University of Chicago

1490

1560

3

7.9%

Yale University

1490

1600

3

6.3%

Columbia University

1450

1580

5

6%

Stanford University

1450

1580

5

4.8%

MIT

1480

1580

7

7.9%

Duke University

1480

1590

8

11%

University of Pennsylvania

1440

1570

9

9.4%

Johns Hopkins University

1410

1550

10

11.4%

Dartmouth University

1430

1510

11

10.5%

CalTech

1520

1600

12

8%

Northwestern University

1430

1560

12

10.7%

Brown University

1410

1560

14

9.3%

Cornell University

1390

1550

15

14.1%

Notre Dame University

1400

1550

15

18.7%

Rice University

1430

1570

15

17%

Emory University

1340

1510

20

25.2%

Georgetown University

1390

1550

20

16.4%

University of California, Berkeley

1330

1530

20

17.5%

Carnegie Mellon

1400

1550

24

13.7%

Boston College

1350

1510

31

29%

Georgia Tech

1360

1510

34

25%

New York University

1350

1510

36

32%

Boston University

1270

1450

39

29%

Northeastern University

1370

1510

39

28%

Lehigh University

1220

1410

44

25.5%

Penn State

1160

1350

50

51%

University of Florida

1250

1430

50

38%

George Washington University

1290

1460

56

39.5%

Fordham University

1300

1430

60

45%

Clemson University

1180

1380

66

51%

University of Pittsburgh

1250

1430

68

53.9%

Rutgers University

1270

1450

70

58%

American University

1250

1430

74

25.7%

North Carolina State

1210

1380

92

43.7%

Bucknell University

1290

1460

32 (Liberal Arts Colleges)

24.8%

 

 

What If My Score is Too Low?

What if your SAT score ends up being lower than your goal score? What should you do? In this situation you have a few options to consider. We’ll go over them here and help you figure out which one is best for you.

 

Strategy 1: Retake the Test

If you have the time to do additional preparation for the test and retake it, this is probably your most straightforward strategy. However, keep in mind that if you really want a better score, you’ll need to invest a lot of time and really work on shoring up your weaknesses. These are the estimated time estimates for particular score improvements for the SAT:

  • 0-30 point improvement: 10 hours
  • 30-70 point improvement: 20 hours
  • 70-130 point improvement: 40 hours
  • 130-200 point improvement: 80 hours
  • 200-330 point improvement: 150 hours +

 

Strategy 2: Don’t Worry About It

If you were just under your goal score (think within 50 points), you might not actually need to do anything if that slightly lower score is still competitive. If you were going for a 1580 for your most selective school, Columbia, but you got a 1540, you’re definitely still in the competitive range for that school. Depending on how soon you’ll be applying to college, it might make more sense to use the time and energy you would spend preparing for and retaking the test on other parts of your application.

However, if you were more than 50 points short of your goal score, you should at least consider strategies 1 or 3.

 

Strategy 3: Adjust Your List of Schools

If you are 50+ points short of your goal score and you don’t have time to retake the test, you may need to make some adjustments in your list of schools. While you definitely should still apply to your dream schools as reach schools, you’ll probably need to pad out your list of match and safety schools to be in like with the lower scores.

Maybe you were going for a 1510 but you got a 1410 instead. With your goal score, you had NYU (middle 50% 1350-1510) as a match, but with 1410 it’s more of a reach.  And then you had Lehigh University (middle 50% 1220-1410) as a safety, but now it’s a better match. Consider adding some additional safety schools for your 1410, like Cal Poly (middle 50% 1200-1390) and University of Connecticut (middle 50% 1210-1400).

You can see more on choosing appropriate safety, match, and reach schools here.

 

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Thankfully, all puppies are safety puppies. 

 

Review: What Is a Good SAT Score for You?

So what are good SAT scores? Your SAT total score (out of 1600) corresponds to a percentile ranking that compares you to everyone else who took the test. The 50th percentile or average SAT score is a 1010.

What is a good SAT score for you? This depends on what schools you want to attend. In this article, we described a five-step process to figure out good SAT scores for you.

We also gave SAT score ranges for 35 popular schools. Finally, we provided some advice for what to do if you miss your goal score. You can prepare and retake the test, do nothing (if you were pretty close to your goal), or adjust your list of schools.

So what is a good SAT score? The most important thing to remember is that good SAT scores are specific to you. You won’t necessarily need the same scores as your friends and peers.

 

What's Next?

Trying to figure out a good SAT score for each subsection? Or are you wondering what makes a good SAT score for super-selective institutions? We can help!
 

If you got a lower score, we have a low score guide! We can also help you figure out whether or not you should retake the SAT.

 

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 Sample Lesson

 

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!
Dr. Fred Zhang
About the Author

Fred is co-founder of PrepScholar. He scored a perfect score on the SAT and is passionate about sharing information with aspiring students. Fred graduated from Harvard University with a Bachelor's in Mathematics and a PhD in Economics.



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