Kate Sundquist 6 min read SAT Info and Tips, Standardized Tests

What Is a Good SAT Score in 2020?

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One of the most common questions we get here at CollegeVine is what counts as a good SAT score. There really isn’t a straightforward answer to this question, since a “good score” depends on a number of different factors, including your personal context. Everything from overall test averages to the schools on your college list will determine what a good SAT score is for you. 

 

Nonetheless, the reason we receive this question so often is because an applicant’s SAT scores are often one of the factors most heavily weighed by college admissions committees. Some adcomms use these as an initial screening tool to filter out under qualified candidates. Other adcomms use them to differentiate between similar candidates. Regardless of how exactly your SAT scores are used during the admissions process, there’s little doubt that it will be closely scrutinized. 

 

In this post, we’ll tackle a few different ways to determine what’s a good SAT score for you personally, how to set a great SAT goal for yourself, and the average SAT scores at some of the top colleges in the country. To learn more about how your SAT scores stack up, keep reading. 

 

What Is the Average SAT Score?

 

It’s hard to decide what a strong SAT score is without having a sense of what other people taking the exam are scoring. Let’s face it, if you scored the highest on an exam but only answered half of the questions correctly, your 50% means something different than your 75% on an exam where the highest score was a 98%. In the table below, we provide SAT scores along with the average percentile of 2019 test takers who scored below that number. The higher your SAT User percentile, the better your score is perceived to be by colleges and scholarship committees.

 

SAT Score SAT User Percentile
800 10
880 20
940 29 (Score for 30 not provided)
1000 39 (Score for 40 not provided)
1050 49 (Score for 50 not provided)
1110 60
1170 70
1240 80
1340 90
1510-1600 99+

 

Of course, when we talk about SAT scores, we are actually talking about three separate data points. Students who take the SAT receive one score from 200-800 for the Evidence Based Reading and Writing Test (EWR), and another score ranging from 200-800 for the Math test, leading to a composite score ranging from 400-1600, which is the sum of the section scores. 

 

In 2018, the average ERW score was 536, the average math score was 531, and the average overall composite score was 1068. 

 

How to Set Your Target SAT Score

 

Of course, there is a certain amount of subjectivity to consider when looking at SAT scores. A great SAT score for one student may not be a great score for another student. If you’re trying to set a target for your SAT score, there are a few different factors you should consider. 

 

What Is Your Starting Point?

 

Take a practice SAT to find out your starting point. Take the test under actual testing conditions, using the same resources and time constraints you’d have during an official test. This will give a realistic picture of where you’re starting from in your studying journey. Alternatively, you could use your PSAT score. Check what percentile you achieved on your PSAT and compare it to the same percentile SAT score to get a rough idea of what you might score on the SAT. 

 

Once you start studying, your score will hopefully improve. In general, the lower your score is to begin with, the more improvement you’ll see. If your score on a particular section is below 500, you may feasibly improve up to 200 points. For higher scores, you can aim to improve between 100 and 150 points. 

 

You should also realize that you’ll likely take the actual SAT test more than once, and your score will likely continue to improve each time you take it. Most students take the SAT two or three times, and the greatest score increases on actual tests occur between the first and second test administration. 

 

No matter where you’re starting from, establishing a baseline can help you set realistic goals for your SAT score based on the time you have before college applications and scholarship deadlines. 

 

What Colleges Do You Want to Attend?  

 

The other factor you’ll need to consider when setting a target score is what the SAT score range is at the colleges you want to attend. Generally, the more selective a college is, the higher the average SAT score of admitted students will be. Therefore, if you want to attend a selective college, you should expect to achieve a top SAT score in order to be a competitive applicant.

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What Is the Average SAT Score at Top Schools

 

Determining what a good SAT score is for you has a lot to do with where you’re applying. If you’re interested in attending a top college or university, you should aim for a score that lands you comfortably in the top 50% of admitted students. All hope isn’t lost if your score falls outside of the SAT score range of your prospective schools, however you’ll need to demonstrate achievement and excellence in other areas of your application. We’ve included the average SAT scores for top universities and liberal arts colleges below.

 

Mid-50% SAT Scores at Top 20 National Universities

 

School Name US News Ranking Middle 50% SAT Score Range
Princeton 1 1430-1570
Harvard 2 1460-1590
Columbia 3 1450-1580
MIT 3 1490-1570
U of Chicago 3 1480-1580
Yale 3 1420-1590
Stanford 7 1390-1540
Duke 8 1390-1580
Penn 8 1420-1560
Johns Hopkins 10 1460-1580
Northwestern 10 1420-1560
Caltech 12 1530-1590
Dartmouth 12 1430-1560
Brown 14 1405-1570
Cornell 16 1390-1550
Rice 16 1490-1580
Notre Dame 18 1370-1520
UCLA 19 1240-1490
WUSTL 19 1470-1570

Mid-50% SAT Score at Top 20 Liberal Arts Schools

 

School Name US News Ranking Middle 50% SAT Score Range
Williams 1 1410-1550
Amherst 2 1390-1540
Swarthmore 3 1380-1550
Wellesley 3 1350-1520
Pomona 5 1430-1560
Bowdoin 6 1420-1550
Carleton 7 1380-1530
Claremont McKenna 7 1350-1500
Middlebury 7 1390-1460
Washington and Lee 10 1380-1480
Colby 11 1350-1510
Haverford 11 1370-1530
Smith 11 1340-1520
Grinnell 14 1320-1530
Hamilton 14 1450-1530
Vassar 14 1380-1500
Colgate 17 1410-1520
Davidson 17 1310-1470
United States Naval Academy 17 1250-1520
Wesleyan 17 1450-1560

What To Do If Your Score is Too Low

 

If your SAT score doesn’t fall within the mid-to-high range of the middle-50% of scores at your desired college, you should try to get that score up before you apply. Of course, ultimately your admissions decision will rely on multiple factors, including things like extracurriculars, grades, and other qualities, so it’s certainly possible to get in with a lower SAT score. In fact, hundreds of students do it each year– but we always recommend getting that score up as high as possible if you want to be a competitive applicant. So how can you do this? 

 

1. Make a Study Plan

Use your target score to help create a study plan. Work backwards from the date you intend to take your test and break down your prep work into manageable chunks. Set time aside each day to prep for the test, and take as many practice tests as possible to get yourself ready. Chip away at things like strategy along with content knowledge. Planning well in advance means you can avoid a last minute frenzied cram session, which isn’t usually an effective way to learn anyway. 

 

2. Learn the Two-Passes Strategy

The two-passes strategy is our go-to when it comes to SAT strategy. Essentially, this process ensures that you have time to answer all the questions that you find easy, making the most of your potential to succeed. To employ this strategy, simply go through each section of the test and answer every question that you know or that seems obvious to you on the first pass through the test. Mark clearly each question that seems like it will take you longer or that doesn’t seem obvious. You’ll skip these questions on your fast pass, and return to them on your second pass. Make sure that you practice using this strategy in advance so that you can get your timing on each section just right. 

 

3. Use the Resources Available

There are lots of free SAT-prep materials available. Start with the CollegeBoard’s Daily Question app and use it regularly to get accustomed to the format and content of actual SAT questions. You might also choose to use Khan Academy, the official study partner of the CollegeBoard SAT. Here, you’ll find message boards, video tutorials, and other study materials to help guide your work. Finally, don’t miss the wealth of knowledge available here on the CollegeVine blog. Check out the articles below to learn more about SAT prep. 

 

If you’re interested in learning more about a specific section on the SAT, you’ll find our section-specific guides a big help:

 

 

If you’re getting ready to take the SAT and want to brush up on your general content knowledge or strategy, check out the awesome tips in our SAT prep guides:

  

 

For more general information about building your extracurricular profile, winning scholarships, or applying to college, create your own free account on our free college admissions platform at app.collegevine.com

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.