In this article, we’ll go over how to calculate target SAT Math, Reading, and Writing scores, as well as why you might want to do this.
Why Calculate Target Scores?
Target scores are useful to calculate because they help you set realistic goals that are based on schools you’ll be applying to, rather than on some arbitrary standard that has no real justification behind it.
By creating concrete, results-oriented scores to aim for, you’ll not only increase your chances of a successful outcome (getting into the schools you want), but, since the relationship between the scores and acceptance at colleges you wish to attend is so linear, you might even be more motivated to study to reach these goals.
The steps you'll follow for finding your target SAT Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing scores are similar to what you'd do to find your overall SAT target score. If you haven't done this already, stop now and read our article on what makes a good, bad, or excellent SAT score, then come back; it's far more important to calculate your overall target SAT score than it is to calculate individual section scores.
Step 1: Download These Worksheets
To mathematically determine the target Math and EBRW scores you should be aiming for, we'll be filling out two worksheets for all the schools you're interested in. Click here to download the Math and EBRW score target worksheets, or click the images below:
Step 2: Fill In the Schools You Want to Get Into
In the leftmost column of the sheet, write down the names of colleges you want to attend. These might be schools that you already know you want to apply to, including your dream or "reach" schools; however, don't include safety schools (schools that you're 90% sure that you're going to get accepted to).
If you're not sure yet what schools you want to apply to, go ahead and put down any schools you've heard of, or schools that your friends are interested in. We do recommend, however, that you research the schools before calculating your target score, though, so you'll get a sense of what scores you'll need to get into the schools you're interested in and if they're realistic for you given other factors like your high school GPA.
Step 3: For Each School, Google "[Name of School] PrepScholar"
For example, if I'm interested in University of Michigan, I'll do the following search:
Most schools will have a PrepScholar.com link, as shown above. If you don't find one, try using the National Center for Education Statistic's IPEDS Data Center to look up the school's Admissions and Test Scores information; the data will be older but will still be official. Alternatively, try searching "[name of school] average sat scores" to see if the scores are listed on the official school website (although many schools do not report individual section scores on their websites). Use either of these methods to double-check your numbers.
Our PrepScholar.com page lists the 25th/75th percentile scores for current University of Michigan students. We currently have hard data only for the old, out-of-2400 SAT (although we use these numbers to then estimate the equivalent out-of-1600 SAT) - when colleges release their student data for the new 1600 SAT, we'll update these pages.
A refresher on what we mean when we talk about percentile scores: 25th percentile scores mean that 25% of students attending that school have at or below that score (this score is below average). The 75th percentile score means that 75% of students have a score at or below that number (making this score above average). In effect, the middle 50% of all students admitted to a school will have SAT scores between the 25th and 75th percentiles.
If you score at the 75th percentile for a school, you have a great chance of getting in. If you're at the 25th percentile, you'll have to rely on some other part of your application to impress them (or retake the SAT to get your score more in line with the middle 50 percent of students admitted).
For the University of Michigan, the old SAT 25th percentile scores were 660 for Math, 620 for Reading, and 630 for Writing, while the 75th percentile scores were 760 for Math, 720 for Reading, and 730 for Writing.
Step 3a: Calculate the New SAT Score out of 800 for Math and EBRW
Because you'll be taking the new 1600 SAT, you'll need to convert any old scores from the out-of-2400 SAT into new SAT scores in the rightmost column of the worksheets. This is particularly important for converting old Reading and Writing scores (which, when combined, were on a scale of 400-1600) to the new SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (on a scale of 200-800).
Use our updated converter tool, which is based on official concordance tables from the College Board, to determine 75th percentile scores for the new SAT.
For the University of Michigan, this tool gives a new SAT Math score of 690 and EBRW score of 680.
Step 4: Calculate Your Final Target SAT Section Scores
Finally, take the average of all the percentile columns.
In general, we recommend using the 75th percentile score as your target, because it’ll give you the greatest chance of acceptance (as compared shooting for the 25th percentile or even the "average" score). However, just because you score at the 75th percentile doesn’t mean that you have a 75% chance of acceptance at any given school. The baseline acceptance rate for the school also affects the target score you choose.
If a school's acceptance rate is low (<20%), then you’ll want to aim for a score even higher than the 75th percentile score for a fixed likelihood of getting in. If the acceptance rate is higher, then you can aim for a lower percentile score (since increasing your SAT score is likely to only have a marginal effect on your acceptance rate).
Find your target score and aim for it with all your might.
Bonus: Looking for the very best guides to every SAT section? Check out our top guides for every single section of the SAT. Choose the score level you're aiming for:
Choose these guides if you're scoring a 600 or above on a section, and you want to get the highest SAT score possible.
Choose these guides if you're scoring below a 600 on a section, and you want to boost your score to at least a 600 level.
These are the very best guides available on boosting your SAT score, section by section. They're written by Harvard grads and perfect SAT scorers. Don't disappoint yourself - read these guides and improve your score today.
When Do Section Scores Matter?
Most of the time, hitting specific section score targets isn’t as important as making sure your overall SAT score is good; whether that high total score comes from a 680 on Math and a 780 on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing or a 780 on Math and a 680 on EBRW is usually a moot point.
There are two types of schools, however, for which individual section scores become more important: engineering programs and liberal arts colleges.
For engineering schools and programs, a high SAT Math score (above a 700) is imperative; for the most competitive engineering programs, you’ll be at a severe disadvantage if you don’t get 770 or above on SAT Math. Even a perfect 800 won’t guarantee you admission, but getting a SAT Math score below a 750 lowers your odds dramatically at schools like MIT. On the other hand, you can get away with a (relatively) low Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score (a 720 EBRW score still puts you in the middle 50 percent of students at MIT).
Liberal arts schools, by contrast, prefer to see relatively equal section scores. That doesn't mean that you have to get exactly the same score on Math and EBRW, but it does mean that you'd have a better chance of getting into most liberal arts schools with two medium-high section scores (e.g. 700 Math, 690 EBRW) than with one high and one low score (e.g. 590 Math, 800 EBRW). Some of these schools may even go down to the Reading and Writing subscore level when it comes to evenness, although with the new combined Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score the odds of this happening are lower than with the old SAT (where students received out-of-800 scores for both Critical Reading and Writing).
A good strategy if you’re applying to a mixed set of schools (some engineering, some liberal arts, and some that fit into neither category) is to create multiple different target scores sheets; if you take the SAT multiple times and get mixed results, the different sheets will help you determine which scores to send to schools that don't superscore. For instance, if you take the SAT twice and get 730 Math/780 EBRW and 790 Math/610 EBRW, you'd want to send the first score to liberal arts schools (who don't superscore) and the second score to engineering schools (who don't superscore); if the schools do superscore, you'd want to send both the scores to get the 790 Math/780 EBRW combo.
What does it mean to score in the top percentiles on the SAT? Get an in-depth look at SAT score percentiles here, or read about the difference between the SAT User Percentile and the Nationally Representative Sample Percentile on ExpertHub.
A high SAT Math score is a good start, but what else is required for engineering programs? Find out what it takes to get into a great engineering school here.
Want to figure out what your overall SAT score should look like? Learn to distinguish between excellent, good, and bad SAT scores here.
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:
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Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel in high school.