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

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Posted by Dr. Fred Zhang | Mar 1, 2021 11:00:00 AM

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

In this guide, we discuss how to figure out how your SAT scores stack up against those of all the other test takers. We'll then help you determine what a good SAT score for you is based on the colleges you are interested in. Finally, we provide the SAT score ranges of 43 popular schools and discuss what to do if your score turns out to be lower than you expected.

 

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

The SAT score range is 400-1600 for your total score, and 200-800 for each of your two section scores. One section score is Math, while the other is a combined Reading and Writing score called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW).

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, you need to know exactly how SAT scoring works. Your total score out of 1600 (as well as your two section scores out of 800) corresponds to a percentile ranking. Your SAT percentile tells you what percentage of students you scored the same as or better than. So for example, if you got a 60th percentile score, you've scored better than 60% of all test takers!

The mean, or average, SAT composite score is 1051. Note that the test is deliberately designed so that the mean score hovers around 1000 on the 1600-point scale—about 500 per section. The average score for Math is 528, and the average score for EBRW is 523.

SAT scores follow a normal distribution. This means that student performance tends to cluster around the middle of the scale (1000 is the halfway point between the minimum score of 400 and the maximum score of 1600). Far fewer test takers score toward the higher and lower ends of the scale.

Here's an abbreviated SAT score chart with percentiles for 2020 SAT composite scores so you can check out the score distribution for yourself:

SAT Composite Score (Out of 1600) Percentile (2019)
1600 99+
1550 99+
1500 98
1450 96
1400 94
1350 90
1300 86
1250 81
1200 74
1150 67
1100 59
1050 50
1000 41
950 33
900 25
850 18
800 11
750 6
700 3
650 1
600 and below 1-

 

As you can see from the percentiles and corresponding scores, more students score toward the middle of the scale than at the top or bottom.

For example, a score jump from 1000 to 1100 (100 points) moves you from the 41st to the 59th percentile—so you've moved up past nearly an entire fifth of test takers! But moving 100 points from 1250 to 1350 only brings you up about 10%, from the 81st to the 90th percentile. Finally, moving from 1450 to 1550, a 100-point margin near the top of the scale, nets you only about 3%!

In terms of what makes for good SAT scores based on this chart, you already know that 1050 is about average, so anything above that would be an above-average score. A 1250 places you in the 81st percentile, that is, in the top fifth of test takers, which is very good. A 1350 puts you in the top 10%, making it a strong score. A 1400 is in the 94th percentile, the top 6% of all test takers. And any score 1500+ puts you in the coveted top 1-2%!

By contrast, anything lower than a 1050 is a below-average score. For example, a 950, which is in the 33rd percentile, places you in the bottom third of test takers. And a 900, which is in the 25th percentile, places you in the bottom fourth. Not so great comparatively.

Here's a chart showing the SAT score percentiles for both the Math and EBRW sections. The distributions are pretty similar, but there are some slight differences.

For example, fewer people do really, really well on EBRW than on Math. You can tell this is the case because a 750 is a 98th percentile score for EBRW, meaning you're in the top 2% of test takers. But that same score is in the 96th percentile for Math, placing you only in the top 4%.

SAT Score (Out of 800) Math Percentile (2019) EBRW Percentile (2019)
800 99+ 99+
750 96 98
700 91 94
650 84 86
600 75 75
550 61 57
500 42 40
450 27 24
400 15 11
350 5 3
300 1 1-
250 and below 1- 1-

 

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What's a Good SAT Score for You?

So far, we've discussed how your SAT score and corresponding percentile ranking shows how you compare with other test takers.

But how well you did compared with everyone else isn't the most important thing for you. What is more important is what makes a good SAT score for you personally, based on the schools you are interested in.

A 1280 is an 84th percentile score, meaning that you scored the same as or better than 84% of test takers; therefore, this would be a solid score for schools such as Arizona State University (average SAT score: 1240) and Temple University (average: 1220).

However, it would be a very low score for highly selective institutions, such as MIT, Caltech, Duke, the University of Chicago, and Johns Hopkins.

Of course, not everyone is trying to get into super selective schools. A score of 1040 (just below the 1050 average) is solid for less selective colleges such as Indiana University Northwest (average SAT score: 1000) and CSU Stanislaus (average: 980).

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

It's also worth noting that the higher your test scores are, the more likely colleges offering merit scholarships are to give one to you. For the purposes of this guide, we're going to focus primarily on figuring out the score you need for admission (not scholarships), but it's something to keep in mind. For more information, check out our guide to scholarships based on SAT/ACT scores.

Another thing to consider is that a high test score can help you get admitted to certain schools if you have a lower GPA than what their typical admits have. (However, this won't help you so much at highly 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 SAT Goal Score: 5-Step Guide

In this section, we'll walk you through how to figure out what makes a good SAT score for you based on the schools you're applying to. Our quick five-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're Applying To

Next, fill in all the schools you want to apply to 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.

Nevertheless, I recommend taking the time to do some research on schools you might want to attend first so that you have a realistic SAT goal score. The more your list reflects the schools you actually end up applying to, the more accurate your target score will be.

 

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

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

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Click on the link to our SAT Scores and GPA page (or our Admission Requirements page—they'll both have the information you need) and scroll down to the 25th and 75th percentile composite SAT scores. The 25th/75th percentile range describes the scores of the middle 50% of all students admitted to a particular school.

For the University of Alabama, you'll find that the 25th percentile SAT score is 1060; this means that 25% of admitted students have a score of 1060 on the SAT. That would be a below-average score for admitted students to Alabama.

The 75th percentile SAT score for Alabama is 1280. That means that students with that score did better than 75% of all other admits. In other words, scoring at 1280 or above puts you in the top quarter of admits, giving you a very competitive score for admission!

If you score at or above the 75th percentile for any school, you'll have an excellent chance of 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, however, 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 in the appropriate row for that school on your goal score sheet.

 

Step 4: Find Your Final SAT Target Score

To determine your target SAT goal score, look at the 75th percentile column. Find the highest SAT score in that column; that'll be your SAT score goal. By scoring at the 75th percentile level for the most competitive school on your list, you'll be competitive at all the schools you're applying to. So that's 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 this information is that you now have it handy as a reference. You'll be able to compare your own SAT score with 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 about your personal goals and how you want to achieve your target SAT score. Plus, your parents can help hold you accountable throughout the test-prep process!

#2: Tape it to your wall. This will keep your goal score front and center in your mind, encouraging you to 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 determine your goal score, we're giving you an SAT score chart with the 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores for 2020 for 50 popular schools. I've also provided the current US News ranking and acceptance rate to give you an idea of how selective each school is. All schools are arranged in order of ranking.

For an even longer list, check out our collection of good SAT scores for 101 popular schools.

School 25th %ile SAT Score 75th %ile SAT Score US News Ranking Acceptance Rate
Princeton 1470 1560 1 6%
Harvard 1460 1570 2 5%
Columbia 1450 1570 3 5%
MIT 1510 1570 3 6%
Yale 1460 1560 4 6%
Stanford 1440 1570 6 4%
UChicago 1500 1570 6 6%
Penn 1450 1560 8 8%
Caltech 1530 1560 9 6%
Johns Hopkins 1470 1570 9 10%
Northwestern 1440 1550 9 9%
Duke 1380 1540 12 9%
Dartmouth 1440 1560 12 8%
Brown 1440 157.0 14 7%
Vanderbilt 1460 1560 14 9%
Rice 1470 1570 16 9%
WUSTL 1480 1560 16 14%
Cornell 1400 1560 18 11%
Notre Dame 1400 1550 19 16%
UCLA 1280 1530 20 12%
Emory 1360 1530 21 16%
UC Berkeley 1310 1530 22 17%
Georgetown 1380 1550 23 14%
U of Michigan 1340 1530 24 23%
USC 1360 1530 24 11%
Carnegie Mellon 1460 1560 26 15%
UVA 1340 1520 26 24%
UNC--Chapel Hill 1300 1490 28 23%
Wake Forest University 1320 1490 28 30%
NYU 1350 1530 30 16%
Tufts 1390 1540 30 15%
UC Santa Barbara 1240 1490 30 30%
U of Florida 1310 1470 30 37%
U of Rochester 1310 1500 34 30%
Boston College 1340 1500 35 27%
Georgia Tech 1370 1530 35 21%
UC Irvine 1160 1440 35 27%
UC San Diego 1230 1490 35 32%
UC Davis 1150 1420 39 39%
William & Mary 1320 1510 39 38%
Tulane 1360 1520 41 13%
Boston U 1340 1510 42 19%
Brandeis 1350 1520 42 30%
Case Western  1340 1510 42 27%
UT Austin 1230 1480 42 39%
U of Wisconsin 1310 1490 42 54%
U of Georgia 1240 1420 47 46%
U of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign 1220 1480 47 59%
Lehigh 1280 1450 49 32%
Northeastern 1390 1540 49 18%
Pepperdine University 1230 1450 49 32%
U of Miami 1270 1440 49 27%

 

 

What If My SAT Score Is Too Low? 3 Strategies

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 SAT

If you have the time to do additional preparation for the SAT and retake it, this is probably your most straightforward strategy.

That said, keep in mind that if you really want a better SAT score, you'll need to invest a lot of time into prep and really work on shoring up your weaknesses. These are the estimated time estimates for different total score improvements (not per section) on 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. For example, if you were aiming for a 1560 for your most selective school but got a 1530, you'd definitely still be 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'd spend preparing for and retaking the test on other parts of your application.

If you were more than 50 points short of your SAT goal score, consider Strategy 1 or 3.

 

Strategy 3: Adjust Your List of Schools

If you're 50+ points short of your goal score and don't have time to retake the test, you might need to make some adjustments to your list of schools. While you definitely should still apply to your dream schools as reach schools, it's wise to pad out your list of match and safety schools to be in line with the lower scores.

For instance, maybe you were going for 1510 but got 1410 instead. With your goal score, you had NYU (middle 50%: 1350-1550) as one of your match schools. But with an actual score of 1410, this school is now more of a reach (its 75th percentile is more than 50 points higher than your score).

You also had Lehigh University (middle 50%: 1280-1450) as a safety school, but with your current score, it's better as a match school.

Finally, you might consider adding some additional safety schools that align better with your 1410 score, such as American University (middle 50%: 1210-1390) and Penn State (middle 50%: 1160-1370).

Read our guide to learn more about choosing appropriate safety, match, and reach schools.

 

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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 total SAT score out of 1600 corresponds to a percentile ranking that compares you to everyone else who took the test. The current mean, or average, SAT score is 1050.

What is a good SAT score for you, though? The answer to this question 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 based on the middle 50% of scores for the colleges you're applying to. We also listed SAT score ranges for 50 popular schools.

Finally, we provided some advice on what to do if you don't hit your goal score. You can retake the test, do nothing (if you were pretty close to your goal score), or adjust your list of schools based on what kinds of SAT scores they're looking for.

All in all, 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 or peers, so don't feel the need to compare your goals with those of other people. What ultimately matters is that your SAT score is high enough to get you into the college of your dreams!

 

What's Next?

 

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

Aiming for a high SAT score? Then check out our expert guide to getting a perfect 1600, written by an actual full 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

 

Have friends who also need help with test prep? Share this article!


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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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