SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

Defining a Good SAT Score


While the definition of a “Good SAT Score” is can seem subjective, in fact, there are valid and objective ways to quantify it.  In this article, I’ll go through four different methods you can use to decide what a good SAT score means for you. Having the wrong definition can be catastrophic to your college future, and having the right definition can be a strong motivator to achieve your SAT goals.


What’s a Good Score Compared to the US Population?

First, to understand what a good SAT score is, you must have a rough feeling for what the SAT scores of the US population of high school students look like overall. If you're not applying to the same colleges as the "average American," you might lack this broader perspective.  

The SAT in January 2016 and before is scored on a 2400 scale. The top score is 2400, and the bottom score is 600.  The new SAT, which starts in March, will be scored on a 1600 point scale, so the maximum and minimum scores will change to 1600 and 400.

The SAT gives students percentile rankings that show them how high their score is relative to other students across the country who took the test. I'll give you the scores defined by these percentiles for the current SAT and provide predicted scores for the new SAT. According to the most recent data:

  • Ten percent of students score below an 1100, so below an 1100 is very low score nationally. This should translate to around a 730 on the new SAT.
  • The 25th percentile is around a 1300, so a score below 1300 is slightly low. This should translate to around an 870 on the new SAT.
  • The 50th percentile mark is around a 1500; anything within 50-100 points of 1500 is an average score. This should translate to around a 1000 on the new SAT.
  • The 75th percentile score is around a 1700, so anything above this is a great score. This should translate to around an 1130 on the new SAT.
  • The 90th percentile cutoff is around a 1900. Above this, you're in reach of the elite range of scores. This score should translate to around a 1270 on the new SAT.

Read this article for more information on national score percentiles. Keep in mind that the predictions for the new SAT are very tentative since we only have data from the old version of the test. The scores that correspond to each percentile may change depending on how well students adapt to the new test. 


What’s a Good Score Compared to Your Peers?

Unless you are exactly the average American, comparing yourself against the US national average may not be appropriate. You should care about what a good SAT score is for *you* personally, and a reasonable proxy is your peer group.  After all, your peer group may have grown up in the same environment and have similar expectations for SAT scores.  If you're a football star at an athletics-heavy high school, your varsity football team is a better comparison pool than a class of math geniuses in a selective private high school (and vice versa).

In this case, the best method for determining where you stand is to ask at least four people in your peer group what their SAT scores are. This way you can get a sense of how you're doing. If you're way below all four, then you're doing poorly.  If you're scoring better than two, then you're doing well.  And if you're doing better than all four, you're doing spectacularly. The gold standard for comparison is the SAT score range of people in your peer group.

Fortunately, you don't have to do all the hard work!  We did some heavily lifting for you and compiled data from two peer groups of competitive students.

Honors students in the top third of their class: If you're in the top third of your class, to be in the 75th percentile on the SAT, you'll need to score 1928 or better.  Thus, honor students should consider about 1900 or more(around 1250-1300 on the new SAT) to be a good SAT score

Students in the top 10% of their class, or students in top 10% school districts.  For this group, the 75th percentile score is as high as 2100.  A stellar student should shoot for 2100 (around 1400 on the new SAT) as an SAT score goal.


body_nhsStudents in National Honors Society may have a higher SAT target score.


What Is a Good SAT Score for College?

Even better than comparing against your peers is comparing against the scores of admitted students at a college that interests you.  After all, most people take the SAT for college.  It makes the most sense to start with figuring out what a good college is for you and then work backward to determine a target SAT score.

The best way to figure out what score you should shoot for is to look up the average test scores at the college of your choice and see where you fall. Most schools will give a range from the 25th percentile score to the 75th percentile score. If you’re hoping for a solid chance of admission, you should be aiming for the 75th percentile score at colleges that interest you. Consult this article on finding your target score for more details on how to find and interpret these numbers.  

If you look up the average scores at a college of your choice and find that your scores are much higher, you might consider aiming for a more competitive school. Doing so could give you a much more fulfilling learning experience. Selective colleges will have a driven student community and offer intellectually challenging classes. You’re likely to learn more at these schools, have access to greater opportunities, and be looked upon favorably in the future when you’re trying to find a job or apply to grad school.

If you’re aiming for Ivy League or other highly competitive schools like Stanford and MIT, you’ll find that the 75th percentile score is sometimes close or equivalent to a perfect 2400. Obviously, you’re not going to be able to score any higher than this. In general, for these schools, you’ll need to have a 2200 or higher to end up with a reasonable chance of admission (most likely in the 1450-1500 range on the new SAT). College admissions have become extremely competitive lately, so these schools have had to adopt higher and higher standards to weed out students from the vast numbers of applications they receive.


body_poisonivyYou may also choose to attend one of the Poison Ivy League schools I'm planning on founding. Coursework consists solely of going on hikes and learning how to recognize and treat poison ivy while playing poison ivy-related pranks on real Ivy League schools.


What’s a Good Score for You?

One of the best definitions of a good SAT score is based on your own potential.  After all, if the best you can do is a 1300, and you get a 1280, then that's an excellent score.  Conversely, if your potential is a 2300, then even a 2000 is a bad score for you personally.  

In considering what a “good score” means, it’s important to take stock of your starting point and limitations. In other words, you should be competing with yourself first and foremost to try and improve from your baseline score. Try studying for ten hours or so, and take a practice test. Treat this score as your baseline score. Students usually can improve on this score by 250 points or more with dedicated studying (this should translate to around a 170-point improvement on the new SAT).

Many students find that they hit the upper limit of SAT studying toleration after 40-80 hours of studying. If you manage to do this amount of focused studying, the score you end up with should be a good one based on your own standards. If you ended up with a low score on the baseline test and didn’t improve much after a lot of studying, you might need to reassess your study habits and make sure that you really understand your mistakes. For a student who scores low initially, any score that indicates an improvement of more than 200 points (or more than 130 points on the new SAT) should be considered a good score.


body_ididgoodYou after a long shift in the SAT factory.


What's Next?

Aiming high for college? Read our articles on how to get a perfect score on the SAT and what it takes to get into the most selective schools.

If you're working on raising your score to reach your goals, check out my article that lists 15 quick tips for improving your SAT score.

Worried about the discrepancy between your high GPA and low SAT score? Find out how to deal with this dilemma.


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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Samantha Lindsay
About the Author

Samantha is a blog content writer for PrepScholar. Her goal is to help students adopt a less stressful view of standardized testing and other academic challenges through her articles. Samantha is also passionate about art and graduated with honors from Dartmouth College as a Studio Art major in 2014. In high school, she earned a 2400 on the SAT, 5's on all seven of her AP tests, and was named a National Merit Scholar.

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