To put it simply, the answer to the question of what makes a good SAT score is: it depends. What does it depend on, you may ask? Well, the main factor is the level of competitiveness of the schools that you are applying to. If you are aiming for Ivy-League or top-tier schools only, then it is likely that you will need a much more competitive SAT score than if you are applying to middle-tier schools that are less competitive with the admissions process.
According to the College Board, over 2.2 million students took the SAT in 2019. That is a lot of students! One determinant of how “good” your score is will ultimately be how you measure up to the other students that are taking it. In 2019, the total mean score for the SAT was 1059 (the overall score range is 400-1600), and the average scores for the ERW and Math sections were 531 and 528, respectively. This means, that according to the statistics from all of the test-takers in 2019, the higher above the mean your score is, the more competitive of an applicant you become.
There are several tools that you can take advantage of to help you figure out where you stand on the SAT score spectrum. The first is understanding percentile rankings.
When you take the SAT, in addition to receiving your three main scores (overall score out of 1600, along with one score for each of the sections), you will also get a percentile ranking. The percentile ranking is an extremely useful tool for interpreting your score because it provides insight into how well your score measures up to the rest of the SAT test-takers. For example, if you score in the 52nd percentile in Math, that means that your score is better than 52% of test-takers. Overall, the higher your score is, the more students you will “beat” in the rankings. Click here to see the College Board’s Guide to Understanding your SAT score, which includes a chart that will help you determine your percentile ranking for the SAT Composite score (out of 1600).
You will notice from the chart that the majority of students score in the middle chunk of the chart. This means that it is likely easier to jump from, say, the 31st percentile to the 58th, but that it is harder to improve from the 96th percentile to the 98th or 99th.
If you are looking for a general baseline for how your score shapes up, you can use the chart (keeping in mind that the average score is around 1059) to see if you fall above or below the average and what percentile that places you in.
Now that you have a good idea of how the scoring and percentile system work, we can focus on the next big question you may be thinking: What should my target SAT score be?
As we noted earlier, it depends on what schools you are looking to apply to and how competitive they are in terms of the scores that they are likely to accept. If you are just getting started with the college preparation process and don’t have any colleges in mind yet, fear not! We have divided up the process for determining your target SAT score into 3 easy steps.
For some students, this is the most difficult step. Not only does it involve a lot of reading and research, but it requires you to ask yourself many questions, such as:
-What do I want out of my college education?
-What am I interested in? What areas might I want to study?
-What type of school do I want to attend - big or small, city or suburb?
-Where do I want to go to school - locally or further from home?
Once you have come up with a list of schools that you might be interested in applying to, it will be necessary for you to do some further, more in-depth research on each school individually. Things you should look for in your search are:
-Average SAT Score, including 25th and 75th percentiles (MOST important!)
If you are unsure of where to go to find this information, the easiest place to start is directly on the college or university’s admissions page. If you haven’t taken the SAT yet, it is especially important during this step in the process that you keep your options open to a wide variety of schools in terms of acceptance rates and average test scores. Without a baseline SAT score to go off of, leaving yourself with a wider range is better than not!
PRO-TIP: At this stage, students often find it helpful to create a chart (like the one we have inserted below) to keep all of your notes organized.
Once you have gathered all of this information in your spreadsheet, you will then be able to identify your target score! Because the sky is the limit (or in this case, 800 is!) you should highlight the highest score in the 75th percentile column on your chart and aim for that. If you aim for this score, even if you do not score quite as high, you will still be leaving yourself with other options.
Remember what we said earlier about percentiles when interpreting your score results; scoring in the 75th percentile or above means that your score was better than 75% of other test-takers. This is a great goal to set for yourself and, if you accomplish it, will make your chances of getting into a given school strong.
When you do take the SAT and you receive your score, the chart you have created for yourself will be a great point of reference so you can see where you stand in terms of the goals you set.
To sum everything up that we have discussed, a good SAT score will vary greatly depending on the schools that you are applying to and how competitive they are. If you are applying to top schools that require scores in the highest percentile, scoring at or close to the mean will likely not be to your advantage. However, if you are aiming for schools that are less competitive with their scores, an SAT score at the mean could be exactly what you need!
At the end of the day, a good score is going to be one that gets you where you want to be. Now that we have provided you with the information and tips you need to succeed, get out there, and hit those goals!