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When you’re preparing to take the SAT for the first—or maybe second or third—time, it can be difficult to know where to start. Before you even start studying, it’s important to set a goal for your SAT scores—while staying realistic, of course. Not sure where to begin? Here’s your guide to setting a (realistic) target SAT score.


Keep Your Expectations Realistic

While you want to aim as high as possible, it’s important to keep yourself in check. Understand where you’re starting in order to figure out how much you can improve.


Take a formative assessment to gauge your starting point. This type of practice test will give you a read on what skills you have now and which ones you still need to learn and practice. Learn more about the importance of this test in What Is a Formative Assessment and Why Should I Use One to Study?.


Remember that your initial score is likely to go up as you study and prepare for the SAT. Use the formative assessment to consider which studying strategies are best for you. For instance, if you’re strong in reading but weaker in geometry problems and formulas, you may want to implement a “formula of the day” to memorize.


Find Average Test Scores of Your Prospective Colleges

First and foremost, you should be looking for colleges that are the right fit—not just in terms of rankings, prestige, and difficulty of admission, but those that align with your values and interests.


While you’re reviewing colleges, make note of the average test scores at the schools that interest you. You can usually find the middle 50% SAT score range, meaning the range from the 25th percentile and to the 75th percentile of the most recent freshman class. You should aim to fall at least in the middle of this range. If you’re closer to the 25th percentile, it’s not a deal breaker, but it does make the school more of a reach.

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Consider Score Requirements for Scholarships

Many scholarships base awards on SAT scores among other factors. Identify these scholarships early on, so you know what you need to do and what scores you need to earn to achieve them. Winning these scholarships can help you with college costs. Learn more in How Your SAT Scores Can Help You Earn Scholarships and Getting a Head Start on Your Scholarship Search.


Look at Your PSAT Scores and Most Recent SAT Scores

Use your PSAT score as a starting point, as well as previous SAT scores. While you will improve with studying, as well as simply learning more information in school, your PSAT can give you a rough starting pointing. Learn more about interpreting your PSAT scores in What Does My PSAT Score Mean?.


Determine Your Target Score

Use information such as practice tests, your PSAT, and the average scores of the colleges on your list to set a realistic target score for the SAT. You should also factor in and consider how much time you’ll have for prepping and studying. Make a plan and stick to it. Then you can start working on achieving your goals.


For more advice on preparing for the SAT, read:


SAT Prep: 5 Things to Expect

6 Tips to Avoid Falling Behind on SAT Prep


Looking for some more help for acing the SAT? The CollegeVine SAT Tutoring Program will help you achieve top scores on your test. We’ll pair you with two private tutors, one for English and writing, and one for math and science. All of our tutors have scored in the 99th percentile on the section they are teaching and are chosen based on teaching skills and ability to relate to their students.

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Laura Berlinsky-Schine

Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.
Laura Berlinsky-Schine