What‌ ‌Is‌ ‌a‌ ‌Good‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌Score‌ ‌in‌ ‌2021?

What is a good SAT score? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. A “good score” depends on a variety of factors, including personal context, overall average test scores, and the schools on your college list. 

 

SAT scores are incredibly important at top schools. Many use students’ transcripts and test scores to filter out unqualified applicants, so it’s important to know how you compare to accepted students to understand your chances.

 

Keep reading to learn some strategies to determine what a good SAT score is for you, how to set an SAT goal for yourself, and what the average SAT score is at some of the top colleges in the country. 

 ‌

What‌ ‌is‌ ‌the‌ ‌Average‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌Score?‌ ‌

 ‌

Alone‌, ‌an‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌score‌ ‌is‌ ‌just‌ ‌a‌ ‌number—‌it’s‌ ‌how‌ ‌your‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌score‌ ‌compares‌ ‌against‌ ‌others‌ ‌that‌ 

give‌ ‌it‌ ‌context.‌ ‌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 ‌98%.‌ ‌ ‌

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The‌ ‌table‌ ‌below‌ ‌shows‌ ‌SAT‌ ‌scores‌ ‌along‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌average‌ ‌percentile‌ ‌of‌ ‌2020‌ 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

780‌

10‌

860‌

20‌

930‌

30‌

990‌

40‌

1040‌

50‌

1100‌

60‌

1160

70‌

1230

80‌

1340‌

90‌

1560-1600‌

99+‌

Of course, when we talk about SAT scores, we are actually talking about three different data points. Students who take the SAT receive one score from 200-800 for the Evidence Based Reading and Writing Test (EBWR), 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 2020, the average EBRW score was 528, the average math score was 529, and the average overall composite score was 1051. 

 

If you take it, the SAT essay is scored separately, with 3 section scores ranging from 2-8. This score doesn’t factor into your composite. 

 

SAT College Readiness Benchmarks 

 

The SAT College Readiness Benchmarks offer college-bound students an indication of how prepared they are for higher education, and are predictive of students’ performance in college-level courses. SAT scorecards use a color-coded scale to represent readiness. 

 

  • Green: Section score meets or exceeds the benchmark
  • Yellow: Section score is within one year of academic growth for the benchmark
  • Red: Section score is below the benchmark by more than one year of academic growth

 

The current SAT College Readiness Section Scores are: 

 

Section 

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW)

Math 

Green 

480–800

530–800

Yellow 

460–470

510–520

Red

200–450

200–500

 

If you meet the green benchmarks, you have a good chance of succeeding in college-level courses. That said, this doesn’t mean your SAT score will be “good enough” to get you into your dream college. Let’s dive into this next.

 

How to Set Your Target SAT Score

 

A great SAT score for one student is potentially a disappointment for another. A few factors to consider when determining what a good SAT score is for you are: 

 

1. 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. 

 

2.Which Colleges Do You Want to Attend?

 

To know what SAT score to shoot for, it’s important to know the range of scores the colleges on your list look for.  Generally, the more selective a college is, the higher the average SAT score of admitted students, and the better you’ll need to perform on the SAT to submit a competitive application.  

 

Most colleges release their middle 50% ranges, meaning that the middle 50% of accepted students scored in that range, with 25% scoring below and above. For example, if a school’s middle 50% SAT range is 1320-1450, 25% of students scored below 1320, 50% scored 1320-1450, and 25% of students scored above 1450. It’s important to have a score that is up to par with these middle 50% ranges.

 

Test-Optional Schools and COVID-19

 

COVID-19 and the disruption of the administration of standardized exams have thrust test-optional policies to the forefront of college admissions. A handful of schools had established test-optional policies pre-pandemic, but they’ve since been joined by many other colleges, at least in the short term. 

 

Should I Submit My SAT Score? 

 

If you have a good score, CollegeVine suggests you include it, as it will only bolster your candidacy. Students with SAT scores that fall within 60 points of the 25th percentile are encouraged to submit. For example, if you’re applying to Middlebury, which has a middle 50% range of 1360-1510, you should submit a 1300 or higher. 

 

It should be noted that since most students were only able to take the SAT once this year, the average score is lower than in years past, dropping from 1059 to 1051; superscores have also dropped for this reason. It’s also notable that the score declines were the greatest among students from underserved racial and ethnic groups who are already traditionally disadvantaged by standardized tests. 

 

For more information about test-optional admissions, check out our article, Should You Apply Test-Optional for the 2020-2021 Cycle?

Discover your chances at hundreds of schools

Our free chancing engine takes into account your history, background, test scores, and extracurricular activities to show you your real chances of admission—and how to improve them.

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, 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. 

 

To see how you compare, below are the average SAT scores for U.S. News’ top universities and liberal arts colleges.

 

Middle 50% SAT Scores at Top 20 National Universities

 

School Name

U.S. News Ranking

Middle 50% SAT Score Range

Princeton

1

1450-1600

Harvard

2

1460-1580

Columbia

3

1480-1560

MIT

4

1520-1580

Yale

4

1450-1560

Stanford

6

1420-1570

UChicago

6

1510-1560

Penn

8

1470-1550

CalTech

9

1530-1570

Johns Hopkins

9

1500-1550

Northwestern

9

1450-1550

Duke

12

1500-1560

Dartmouth

13

1440-1560

Brown

14

1440-1550

Vanderbilt

14

1470-1570

Rice

16

1470-1560

WUSTL

16

1450-1560

Cornell

18

1400-1560

Notre Dame

19

1420-1530

UCLA

20

1420-1530

 

Middle 50% SAT Score at Top 20 Liberal Arts Schools

 

School Name

U.S. News Ranking

Middle 50% SAT Score Range

Williams

1

1420-1540

Amherst

2

1420-1560

Swarthmore

3

1380-1540

Pomona

4

1390-1540

Wellesley

4

1370-1510

Bowdoin

6

1430-1540

Claremont McKenna

6

1380-1490

United States Naval Academy

6

1250-1510

Carleton

9

1380-1520

Hamilton

9

1450-1530

Middlebury

9

1360-1510

Washington and Lee

9

1370-1480

Grinnell

13

1320-1530

Vassar

13

1380-1500

Colby

15

1390-1530

Davidson

15

1290-1460

Haverford

15

1360-1530

Smith

15

1330-1500

United States Military Academy

15

1170-1360

Colgate

20

1370–1500

Wesleyan

20

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% SAT scores at your desired college, you should try to get that score up before you apply. This is because many selective colleges use the Academic Index to filter out applicants. If your grades and scores aren’t good enough, you may be automatically rejected. 

 

Of course, it is possible to get in with lower scores, especially if you have stronger grades, or if you’re an underrepresented minority, legacy, or recruited athlete. But you should always strive for a score that’s as competitive, if not more, than those of accepted students. 

 

Here are our tips for improving your score:

 

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, especially for your weaker sections and concepts. 

 

Take at least a few timed practice tests, but don’t only take practice tests. It’s important to hone in on your weaknesses so that they’re no longer an issue. You can drill certain types of questions, or take practice section tests. 

 

2. Learn the Two-Pass Strategy

 

The two-pass strategy helps ensure you have time to answer all the questions that you find easy. The strategy is simple: first, answer every question that you know or that seems obvious, and skip the more challenging questions. After answering the “easy” questions, return to the ones you passed over.  

 

Make sure that you practice using this strategy in advance so that you can get your timing on each section just right. You should also pay special attention to your scantron, as you don’t want to accidentally mess up the numbering.

 

3. Use the Resources Available

 

SAT prep materials and courses are abundantly available, many of which are free. The most notable of these is offered by Khan Academythe official study partner of the College Board. It’s been shown that studying 20 hours on Khan Academy leads to a 115-point average improvement. 

 

For more info on SAT prep course and classes, check out these CollegeVine articles: 

 

 

CollegeVine also has an abundance of useful information on its blog. Check out these awesome articles about SAT prep:

 

 

3. Apply to test-Optional Colleges 

 

Another option for students who underperformed on the SAT is to apply at a school with test-optional admissions. Test-optional schools have been around awhile—Bowdoin, U.S. News’ sixth-ranked liberal arts college, has had a test-optional admissions policy since 1969. For the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, however, most colleges have gone test-optional due to the pandemic.

 

Test-optional admission is particularly beneficial for candidates with strong credentials—such as fantastic extracurricular activities and excellent grades—but lackluster test scores. They are also great for groups who generally are disadvantaged by standardized tests, like women, immigrants, students of color, people with disabilities, and first-generation students. 

 

Wondering what your odds are at a specific school? CollegeVine can help! Our free chancing engine takes into account a host of factors to predict your odds at over 500 colleges. The chancing engine can help you whether you’re applying with a test score or without, and can also recommend whether you should submit your score. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to take advantage of this powerful tool.


Short Bio
A graduate of Northeastern University with a degree in English, Tim Peck currently lives in Concord, New Hampshire, where he balances a freelance writing career with the needs of his two Australian Shepherds to play outside.

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