What is a Good, Bad, and Excellent SAT Score? Here’s How to Think About It.
What’s a good SAT score? The answer is more complicated than you might think. A good SAT score isn’t an objective numerical answer. While we can tell you what scores put you in the range of top scorers, a good SAT score varies by student–a “good” score is the one that helps you achieve your academic goals.
To figure out what score you should aim for, look at the average or median test scores of the colleges you want to apply to. To be a competitive applicant, you want a score higher than those numbers. A high score doesn’t guarantee you’ll be admitted, but it does mean that you’re less likely to be rejected for a below-average score. In fact, some more selective schools may use academic cutoffs, so an impressive test score is one way to increase the chances of your application being read.
Rather than tell you what’s a good SAT score, our goal is to give you an idea of what to aim for. With that in mind, we’ve included the SAT score ranges for some top schools later in this post. It’s important to remember, however, to build a balanced profile. For example, colleges also give great weight to your GPA and extracurricular involvement. To learn more about the factors that admissions officers consider, check out our post on how college applications are evaluated.
How SAT Scores Work
The most common way people approach SAT scores involves the total score and the section scores.
There are two section scores—one for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and the other for Math. Each section ranges between 200 and 800, and the sum of these scores gives you your total score.
But the SAT also has three tests within it: a Reading test, Writing and Language test, and Math test. The Reading test and the Writing and Language test combine to form your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score, while the Math test is converted to your Math Section score. Each test is scored from 10 to 40.
The SAT also includes two cross-test scores which evaluate how well you did on certain questions from all three tests. The two cross-test scores are the Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science, which are also scored from 10 to 40.
Each of the two sections has subscores. The subscores range from 1 to 15 and focus on your performance for a particular subset of questions. The subscores include:
- Reading Test, and Writing and Language Test: Words in Context and Command of Evidence
- Writing and Language Test: Standard English Conventions and Expression of Ideas
- Math Test: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Mathematics
What is a Good SAT Score?
Most people mean “competitive” when they ask what a good SAT score is. Getting a score in the top 5-25% of scorers gives you an edge over other applicants, but these scores don’t guarantee acceptance. They’re more of a guideline to ensure your application is as strong as possible.
According to the College Board’s Annual Report on Understanding SAT Scores, these are what the top scores look like:
- Top 5%: 1410+ total score
- Top 25%: 1200+ total score
What is an Average SAT Score?
Based on the results in College Board’s 2019 Annual Report, the average total score of all test takers is 1059, with an average Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score of 531 and average Math section score of 528.
The SAT also shares the averages for the test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores. Here are those averages:
SAT Test Score Averages
- Reading Test: 27
- Writing and Language Test: 26
- Math Test: 26
SAT Cross-test Score Averages
- Analysis in History/Social Studies: 27
- Analysis in Science: 27
SAT Subscore Averages
- Words in Context: 9
- Command of Evidence: 9
- Expression of Ideas: 9
- Standard English Conventions: 8
- Heart of Algebra: 9
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis: 9
- Passport to Advanced Mathematics: 9
What is a Bad SAT Score?
SAT scores reflect a sliding scale of academic skills, so defining a “bad” score is a little subjective. The SAT College and Career-Readiness Benchmarks are used by many state schools as minimum scores: 480 for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and 530 for the Math section.
Scoring below these benchmarks will decrease your chances of acceptance; however, you should also note that the average SAT Math score of 527 is lower than the benchmark score of 530, so scoring below the benchmark doesn’t mean you can’t get into college.
Like the driving test, you can always retake the SAT, and in-between test sittings you’ll want to practice the concepts you’re shaky on. Unlike the driving test, which is pass/fail, the SAT represents a continuum of academic ability. And while the number of times you take the road test doesn’t matter, the number of times you take the SAT does. The Common Application asks for how many test sittings you’ve completed, and some colleges ask for all past score reports.
The bottom line? Prepare for each test administration seriously to ensure you perform your best.
What SAT scores are needed for some of the top schools?
Below is a list of the reported SAT scores of the middle 50% of applicants to U.S. News’ top 25 ranked national universities.
The middle 50% range includes the score at the 25th percentile and that of the 75th percentile. If your score is near the 25th percentile, you scored better than 25% of applicants. If your score is near the 75% percentile, you scored better than 75% of applicants.
To be the most competitive applicant, you should aim for a score near the 75th percentile, if not higher.
|School||US News Rank||25th Percentile SAT Score||75th Percentile SAT Score|
|Massachusetts Institute of Technology||3||1490||1570|
|University of Chicago||6||1480||1580|
|University of Pennsylvania||6||1420||1560|
|Johns Hopkins University||10||1460||1580|
|California Institute of Technology||12||1530||1590|
|University of Notre Dame||15||1370||1520|
|Washington University in St. Louis||19||1470||1570|
|University of California—Los Angeles||20||1240||1490|
|University of California—Berkeley||22||1330||1530|
|University of Southern California||22||1300||1500|
|Carnegie Mellon University||25||1430||1560|
|University of Michigan—Ann Arbor||25||1380||1540|
Here is a list of the reported SAT scores of the middle 50% of applicants to U.S. News’ top 25 ranked liberal arts colleges.
|School||US News Rank||25th Percentile SAT Score||75th Percentile SAT Score|
|Claremont McKenna College||7||1420||1560|
|Washington and Lee University||10||1350||1490|
|United States Naval Academy||17||1150||1370|
|United States Military Academy||21||1140||1350|
|Harvey Mudd College||23||1490||1560|
|University of Richmond||23||1310||1490|
When should I retake the SAT?
Depending on how you scored your first time around, you may not need to! Compare your score to the score range of the schools you are considering. Remember, the answer to what’s a good SAT score is a score that helps you achieve your academic goals. If your score meets or exceeds their average score, there’s no need to retake the test. If it’s below their average, or the College and Career Readiness Benchmarks, you may want to retake the SAT.
We recommend students take the SAT at least once in the fall of your junior year. This way you have time to study and improve before retaking the test in the spring of junior year, if you need to. Starting earlier will help you avoid having to test during fall of senior year, when there are so many other things to worry about.
Don’t wait too long between retakes, though. The College Board takes about 3 weeks to send your official score report, so plan ahead if you need to meet deadlines. We compiled a list of all the SAT test dates and registration deadlines to help you get started.
Can I still get in with a low score?
It is still possible to get in with a lower score than that in the middle 50% range. Remember that 25% of students score below the first number in that range, the 25th percentile! That said, it will be harder to gain admission if your scores are lower, especially if the school is selective. Most schools use what’s called the Academic Index (AI) to compare their applicants academically. This metric usually represents the strength of a student’s test scores and transcript. If your AI is below a certain threshold, you may get rejected automatically.
The bottom line is that it’s uncommon to be accepted if your scores are lower. If you have a special circumstance, however, colleges might be more forgiving when it comes to a low score. Students with special circumstances include those with exceptional talents, those who experienced an illness or family death, those from a low-income background, or those from underrepresented minority groups (among other situations).
What to Do If Your SAT Score Is Too Low
Get Familiar with the SAT: People often say that the SAT doesn’t actually test your intellectual abilities, but rather how well you take the SAT. For example, knowing the instructions in advance of the test will save valuable time which is better used for answering questions. Likewise, a clear understanding of the format—such as the knowledge that SAT questions (with the exception of Critical Reading) are arranged in ascending order of difficulty—will allow you to strategize where to devote the majority of your allotted time.
Develop SAT-Specific Skills: Research by the College Board, the group that administers the SAT, shows that the majority of SAT test takers improve their score when taking the test more than once. One of the primary reasons for students’ improvement is experience with the test. Take some practice exams before the big day and get accustomed to taking such a long, demanding test.
Identify Weaknesses: Because subscores focus on more specific types of questions, using these parts of your score report is a great place to start when identifying weaknesses. Once you’ve identified where you can improve, focus on the weaknesses you want to address one by one. Brush up on any difficult concepts and develop strategies to overcome common obstacles. Half the battle is identifying patterns and understanding how to tackle recurrent question.
Create a Study Schedule: Most high schoolers have demanding schedules—often balancing school with jobs, extracurricular activities, and social obligations. To increase your SAT score, you’ll need to carve out time to study. Create a study schedule and stick to it, treating it with the same seriousness you would for any of your other commitments.
Get Professional Help: Whether it’s through one of the fantastic free SAT resources available to today’s students, with an online prep class, or in-person with a tutor, getting outside assistance is a smart strategy. Professionals are familiar with the skills needed to ace the SAT and can help you identify opportunities to pick up points on the exam.
Consider a Test-Optional School: If you’re unable to improve your SAT score or retaking the test isn’t an option, consider applying to a test-optional school. Test-optional admission is growing in popularity; more than 1,000 schools nationwide are now test optional—including highly regarded institutions such as the University of Chicago, Bowdoin, Bates, Wesleyan, and Colorado College. Learn more about test-optional colleges in our blog What Test-Optional Means for College Admissions.
If you want to learn more about improving your SAT score, check out our ultimate guides:
- Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Reading Test
- Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Writing and Language Test
- Ultimate Guide to the New SAT Math Test
Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
Want to know how your SAT score/ACT score impacts your chances of acceptance to your dream schools? Our free Chancing Engine will not only help you predict your odds, but also let you know how you stack up against other applicants, and which aspects of your profile to improve. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to gain access to our Chancing Engine and get a jumpstart on your college strategy!