Gianna Cifredo 8 min read SAT Info and Tips

What is a Good, Bad, and Excellent SAT Score? Here’s How to Think About It.

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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

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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
Princeton University 1 1430 1570
Harvard University 2 1460 1590
Columbia University 3 1450 1580
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 3 1490 1570
Yale University 3 1420 1590
Stanford University 6 1390 1540
University of Chicago 6 1480 1580
University of Pennsylvania 6 1420 1560
Northwestern University 9 1420 1560
Duke University 10 1390 1580
Johns Hopkins University 10 1460 1580
California Institute of Technology 12 1530 1590
Dartmouth College 12 1430 1560
Brown University 14 1405 1570
University of Notre Dame 15 1370 1520
Vanderbilt University 15 1400 1550
Cornell University 17 1390 1550
Rice University 17 1490 1580
Washington University in St. Louis 19 1470 1570
University of California—Los Angeles 20 1240 1490
Emory University 21 1350 1520
University of California—Berkeley 22 1330 1530
University of Southern California 22 1300 1500
Georgetown University 24 1350 1520
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
Williams College 1 1400 1570
Amherst College 2 1430 1560
Swarthmore College 3 1380 1550
Wellesley College 3 1360 1530
Pomona College 5 1370 1530
Bowdoin College 6 1290 1510
Carleton College 7 1350 1530
Claremont McKenna College 7 1420 1560
Middlebury College 7 1320 1510
Washington and Lee University 10 1350 1490
Colby College 11 1350 1510
Haverford College 11 1370 1530
Smith College 11 1340 1520
Grinnell College 14 1370 1540
Hamilton College 14 1350 1510
Vassar College 14 1370 1510
Colgate University 17 1320 1510
Davidson College 17 1290 1450
United States Naval Academy 17 1150 1370
Wesleyan University 17 1300 1500
Bates College 21 1290 1460
United States Military Academy 21 1140 1350
Harvey Mudd College 23 1490 1560
University of Richmond 23 1310 1490
Barnard College 25 1310 1500
Macalester College 25 1310 1500

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:

 

 

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!

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Gianna Cifredo
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Gianna Cifredo is a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where she majored in Philosophy. She has six years of higher education and test prep experience, and now works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She currently lives in Orlando, Florida and is a proud cat mom.