What is a Good SAT Score?
The SAT test is among the most important standardized tests you’ll take during your high school years. Designed to measure your ability to analyze and problem-solve, the test is also intended to assess your college and career readiness. The SAT and ACT are the exams most commonly used by college admissions committees to weigh decisions about college acceptances.
If you’re considering taking the SAT or are preparing for an upcoming test date, you may be wondering what exactly counts as a “good” score on the SAT. Maybe you want to know so that you can weigh your chances at college admissions. Maybe you’re trying to set a realistic target score for yourself. Whatever the case may be, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
To learn more about the factors weighing into the strength of your SAT score and how you can determine what a good SAT score will be for you, read on.
SAT Scoring System
The system for scoring the SAT has evolved over a century, and it still isn’t exactly the same for every test administration. The most recent significant changes in scoring the SAT were introduced in March of 2016 and involved changing the score range from 2400 back to the 1600 range in use until 2005. This can make it difficult to compare test scores from before March 2016 to scores from current tests, but you can view CollegeVine’s New SAT vs Old SAT Score Conversion Chart to get a better idea of how your scores compare.
The total score up to 1600 and the individual section scores that contribute to it are derived from your raw score, which is simply the number of questions you got right. The exact formula for converting raw scores to the 1600 point scale can vary ever so slightly with each administration, so you can’t use a raw score to measure your performance.
The current scoring on the SAT is out of a total of 1600 and this score is a combination of a Math score up to 800 points and an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score up to 800 points. The optional SAT Essay is scored separately and does not contribute to your overall SAT score, but it is reflected on your score report.
Interpreting Your SAT Score
When you receive your SAT scores, your score report will consist of a number of different subscores and data points. You will see your total score, your score for the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections, subscores for content areas within these sections, and a percentile score. The most important scores are your total score, your score on each of the primary sections, and your percentile score.
Your total score out of 1600 is usually the first thing that will catch the eye of college admissions committees. In the best-case scenario, an overall score that falls well below the range of admitted students might push an admissions committee to dig deeper into your application for an explanation of your relatively weak performance on the SAT. This is especially true if other aspects of your application, such as your GPA and extracurricular activities, are consistent with those of admitted students. But unfortunately, more often a weak score will mean that the admissions committee moves along to more competitive candidates.
Your individual section scores are usually the next thing that admissions committees will review. If you are applying to liberal arts colleges, it is unlikely that they’ll look at one section more closely than the others, but if you’re applying to a specialized program like engineering, you will need to shine on the Math section of the SAT.
Finally, your percentile score helps you and colleges to determine how you performed on the test in comparison to other students. If you score in the 80th percentile, that means that you outperformed 80% of students taking the test.
To learn more about how SAT exams are scored and what your subscores really mean, read The CollegeVine Guide to SAT Scores: All Your Questions Answered.
What is the average SAT score?
The average (or mean) SAT score is roughly 1000, or 500 on each of the major sections. That said, performing above or below average on the test may not be the best indicator of what a “good” SAT score is for you. This will more likely depend on your overall academic profile and the average score ranges of admitted students at the schools that you wish to attend.
SAT Scores for College Admissions
There is no minimum SAT score required for admission to college. Instead, each college has its own standards regarding standardized test scores, how heavily they are weighed during the admissions process, and the scores that are considered competitive enough to be admitted.
While a great SAT score alone is unlikely to gain you admission to any college, a weak score can certainly exclude you from certain schools. And, although some schools may place great emphasis on SAT scores, others do not require them for admissions consideration at all.
While there is no standard SAT score to qualify you for college admissions, the College Board does have set benchmarks to evaluate your college readiness. These benchmarks serve to identify students who are on track for success in college or career readiness, identify students who may need extra support while there is still time to provide it, and identify students who may be ready for more challenging course work.
The College Board specifically warns that benchmarks are not good indicators of appropriate academic tracks so, even if you do not meet the benchmarks, you should not be discouraged from applying to college or participating in challenging courses.
Instead, the benchmarks aim to predict a 75% likelihood of achieving at least a C in a college level course. The current Evidence-Based Reading and Writing benchmark score is 480. The current Math benchmark score is 530.
Your score report will include your performance on each section in relationship to the benchmarks. This section of your score report is color-coded according to the following designations:
- Green: Your section score meets or exceeds the benchmark.
- Yellow: Your section score is within one year’s academic growth of the benchmark.
- Red: Your section score is below the benchmark by more than one year’s academic growth.
Competitive SAT Scores for College Applicants
The greatest factor determining what a “good” SAT score is for you will be the colleges and universities that you hope to attend.
In order to decide if your SAT score meets their admissions standards, you will need to find the range of SAT scores of admitted students. You can find average test score ranges for admitted students at a specific college or university by visiting each school’s admissions website or doing a quick online search. Alternatively, you can also search for schools at which your current scores make you a competitive candidate by using the College Board’s Big Future search feature and applying the Test Score and Selectivity filter.
Looking at the average scores of admitted students will give you a better idea of how your scores compare to that school’s applicant pool. But don’t worry if your scores don’t land you at least squarely in the middle of that pool. You should keep in mind that test scores are only one piece of the college admissions puzzle.
Although their weight varies in the admissions process from school to school, there is no single college that bases admissions decisions entirely on test scores. Other factors such as grades, extracurriculars, essays, and recommendations can all weigh into the final decision.
Most competitive colleges have a large number of applicants with very high test scores. In fact, the majority of applicants may even have SAT scores that fall within the ideal range for admissions to the most competitive schools. Even if your nearly-perfect SAT score was cause for celebration and bragging rights at home, you’re now a big fish in an even bigger pond. For this reason, a high score alone won’t be enough to make you stand out compared to other students. Although your test scores may be competitive, many other things will be weighed in the admissions committee’s decision.
On the other hand, while SAT scores won’t get you into a good college, they can certainly keep you out of one. SAT scores can sometimes be used as an initial screening device for admissions to some schools. Students with scores below a certain threshold may be automatically dismissed from the admissions process barring any extenuating circumstances that might explain the comparatively weak scores.
What to Remember About Your SAT Scores
It’s impossible to say what a “good” SAT score is for any one student. You can compare your scores to average scores, benchmark scores, or scores that make you a competitive candidate for admissions at specific schools, but these comparisons only reveal how your score stacks up to other scores. Ultimately, a “good” SAT score will be any score that represents your personal best effort and keeps opportunities open at the schools you hope to attend.
It can be easy to get caught up in the pressure of SAT performance, but it’s important to remember that a “good” SAT score is only one piece of a very large and often fluid admissions puzzle. While you should strive to achieve the highest score that you are capable of, you shouldn’t do so at the expense of your regular coursework or other commitments. Focusing too much on any one piece of the college admissions puzzle could ultimately harm your overall admissions profile.
Your best bet to maximize your SAT performance is to take a diagnostic test, set a target score for improvement, create a study plan tailored to it, and give yourself plenty of time to chip away at content knowledge, test strategy, and time management. By planning ahead and taking your time, you’ll ensure that you achieve the best SAT score that you can.
For specific ideas about the content and strategy preparation that you should include on your study plan, see these CollegeVine SAT study guides:
Preparing for the SAT? Download our free guide with our top 8 tips for mastering the SAT.
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