Have you taken the SAT recently? Are you wondering whether your score is bad? Or maybe you just want to know the score to beat before you take the SAT for the first time?
In this article, we'll explain what a bad SAT score is, both in terms of the national averages and the colleges you might be interested in.
What's Considered a "Bad" SAT Score Nationally?
Looking at the 2020 SAT Total Group annual report, we see that a composite score below 1050 is below average. In terms of the sections, an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score below 527 is below average, while a Math score below 522 is below average. This means that if you want to be above average nationally, you'll need to beat a 1050 total score.
According to the 2020 SAT percentiles, any composite score of 870 or lower is in the bottom 25%. In other words, if you score at or below this benchmark, your score is definitely in the low range. (Learn more about SAT percentile rankings here.)
What Do Colleges Think a Low SAT Score Is?
While your national rank is important, it's far more important to think about what your score means in terms of the colleges you want to attend. After all, you take the SAT to get admitted to colleges, so their opinion is ultimately the most important.
If you're above a college's average SAT score range—even if your score seems low nationally—then your admissions chances won't be compromised.
Conversely, you could have a score that looks good nationally—say, in the 90th percentile (a 1290)—but is far below the ranges of selective colleges, such as the Ivy League, Stanford, and MIT.
As you can see, it's much more important to consider SAT scores within the context of your target colleges. Now let's explore some score ranges to determine what constitutes a "bad" SAT score at various colleges.
What's a Bad SAT Score for the Most Selective Schools?
If you're aiming for the most selective schools in the country—think Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, MIT—pretty much any SAT scores that aren't considered excellent nationally are seen as low.
For example, at Harvard, the SAT middle 50% ranges (i.e., the 25th to 75th percentile scores) are 740-800 for Math and 720-780 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. That's pretty high!
Additionally, since highly competitive colleges routinely turn away applicants with scores within their average ranges, it's safest to aim for an SAT score at the top of that 50% range of admitted student scores—not just to be within the middle 50% range. So, for Harvard, that would mean aiming for an 800 in Math and a 780 in EBRW.
Being in the lower half of a highly selective college's score ranges can dramatically lower your chances of admission. For example, if the school's normal admission rate is 10% but your SAT score is in the 25th percentile for that school, your chances of admission are really just 5% or lower.
Your SAT composite score should be 1500 or higher (about 750 or higher per section) if you want to be competitive at highly selective schools. Anything below that will significantly lower your chances. Anything below 1400 (about 700 per section) is decidedly low and makes your admission more unlikely.
What's a Bad SAT Score for Selective Schools?
Once you're out of the top 15 colleges in the country, a "bad" SAT score for a school is anything below its middle 50% range. We say "bad" not because the score is necessarily bad on a national scale, but because it could lower your chances of admission.
To take one example, let's look at Boston University. BU is a selective school, ranked in the top 50 nationwide. Its SAT middle 50% score ranges are 680-780 on Math and 650-720 on EBRW.
A bad score would be anything below these section score ranges, or roughly anything lower than a 1330 SAT composite. So even though a 1330 is a strong SAT score nationally (in the top 7% of test takers!), you'd need to get at least that score to be competitive at BU.
What constitutes a "bad" SAT score at a selective school will vary by college, so look up the ranges of schools you're interested in using our guide below.
What's a Bad SAT Score for a Local State School?
If you're looking to get into a local university or less competitive school, SAT averages are much more forgiving.
For example, let's look at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Its middle 50% ranges are 510-600 for Math and 520-620 for EBRW. Therefore, for the UTSA, a composite score around the national average of 1051 on the SAT is definitely within range for admission.
In other words, there are many universities that are much more forgiving of an average or just below average SAT score. Look up your local schools below using our guide to figure out what their score ranges are.
How to Find a College's SAT Score Ranges
We've compiled the SAT score ranges for hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide as well as info on their average GPAs and other admissions data.
To find a particular college's SAT score ranges for admission, search for "[School Name] SAT scores site:prepscholar.com":
The SAT score ranges page should be the first or second result:
Click the link to get not just that school's SAT score ranges but also its average GPA and admission rate. We even have a tool that allows you to plug in your GPA and SAT/ACT scores to estimate your chance of admission.
Here is what our SAT scores page for Stanford looks like:
How to Avoid Getting a Bad SAT Score
Now that you know what a bad SAT score looks like, what can you do to avoid getting one yourself?
First, look up the middle 50% SAT ranges of all colleges you're interested in. By doing that, you can figure out the kind of SAT score you'll need to aim for to be competitive at your target schools.
If you want, you can fill out the table below to track the 25th and 75th percentile SAT scores for each school you're thinking of applying to:/p>
EBRW 25th %ile
EBRW 75th %ile
Math 25th %ile
Math 75th %ile
Composite 25th %ile
Composite 75th %ile
If you haven't taken the SAT yet or are planning to retake it, your target SAT score should be the upper bound of the middle 50% range of the most competitive school in your chart. As long as you make that score, you'll be competitive wherever you apply. Even if you miss it by a little bit, you'll likely be well within range for most colleges on your list.
We're covered what a bad SAT score might look like. So what's a good SAT score? An excellent one? Find out here.
How do you improve a low SAT score? Get expert tips for bringing up a low SAT Math score.
Read our guide to getting a perfect SAT score, written by our resident full scorer. Even if you're not aiming for a 1600, following these principles will help you reach your score goal.
Not sure you can study alone? Consider using the PrepScholar SAT prep program. We take the hard part out of the studying process by analyzing your weaknesses and giving you targeted practice questions.
Learn more about the SAT by reading our complete guide to the exam.
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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.