What is the Average SAT Score Over Time (And Why Does it Matter)?

March 13, 2024

average sat score over time

If you’ve just received your SAT score results for the first time, you might be wondering how your score compares. Alternatively, you might be preparing to take the SAT this upcoming year and want to know what to expect. Looking at average SAT scores over time can give you a firm sense of the big picture as well as what a “typical” score might look like. Moreover, it gives you the opportunity to assess whether overall scores are dropping, consistent, or on the rise. In today’s blog, we’ll look at the national average SAT score (and why it matters) as well as SAT trends in certain U.S. states.


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What is the average SAT score over time?

Before diving into average SAT scores over time, let’s first look at 2023’s SAT data. College Board’s SAT Suite of Assessments Annual Report, typically released each September, compiles the average SAT score. It also provides information about students’ ethnicity, test-taking history, school location, and more.

Some quick stats:

  • A majority of SAT test takers in 2023 were female students (51%), which is equivalent to approximately 966,726 students.
  • White students (39%) made up the largest ethnicity of test takers this year at approximately 752,632 students.
  • Hispanic/Latino (24%) students were the next largest ethnicity at approximately 462,186 students.
  • Suburban schools made up the largest percentage of school locations (40%), with over 700,000 students reporting.
  • In 2023, over 1.9 million students took the exam at least once. That’s a higher number than 2022, with an increase of about 200,000 students!

The data below will reflect the College Board’s most recent 2023 findings. Let’s start with how many students scored within specific percentiles.

2023 Score Percentiles

1400-1600 1200-1390 1000-1190 800-990 600-790 400-590
7% 17% 29% 31% 16% >1%

What was the average SAT score in 2023?

In 2023, the average SAT score was 1028. Interestingly, this means the average SAT score was slightly lower than in 2022, when the average was 1050. While this number isn’t dramatically different, the percentage of students who met the benchmark for their math and reading scores on the SAT dropped this year. However, these numbers may be influenced by the lingering effects of the pandemic, so it’s difficult to accurately predict what future trends might look like.

However, we can see how past trends look. Let’s compare the average SAT score for 2023 to earlier decades. We compiled this information using data from the National Center for Education Statistics and College Board Top Profile data.

It’s also important to remember scoring system updates. Before 2005, the test was scored out of 1600. From 2005 to 2016, the test was graded on a sliding numeric scale from 600-2400, and section scores were graded on a sliding scale of 200-800. Since 2016, the test has been scored on a sliding numeric scale that ranges from 400-1600.

The below averages were calculated based on the national average reading and math scores.

What is the Average ACT Score – 1972-2005

Year Average SAT Score (Reading) Average SAT Score (Math)
1972 530 509
1973 523 506
1974 521 505
1975 512 498
1976 509 497
1977 507 496
1978 507 494
1979 505 493
1980 502 492
1981 502 492
1982 504 493
1983 503 494
1984 504 497
1985 509 500
1986 509 500
1987 507 501
1988 505 501
1989 504 502
1990 500 501
1991 499 504
1992 500 501
1993 500 503
1994 499 504
1995 504 506
1996 505 508
1997 505 511
1999 505 512
2000 505 514
2001 506 514
2002 504 516
2003 507 519
2004 508 518
2005 508 520

When looking at this data, the most striking trend is that while math scores continued to improve, reading scores decreased. In fact, between the lowest and highest point of the average SAT score for math, there was a jump of 28 points. Conversely, the average score for reading continued to steadily decrease. Between the lowest and highest point of the average score for reading, there was a drop of 31 points.

Most noticeably, the biggest drop from year to year happened between 1974 and 1975 when the average score for reading fell 9 points. However, this graph demonstrates an upward trend in the average SAT Reading score by 2005.

The next graph will compare average SAT scores starting from 2006-2016. The difference? This graph includes average writing scores, as 2006 was the first year that the Writing section was offered. Additionally, this graph will include the final years of the former grading scale, with a possible perfect score of 2400.

What is the Average SAT Score – 2006-2016

Year Average SAT Score (Math) Average SAT Score (Reading)  (Writing)
2006 519 503 497
2007 514 501 493
2008 514 500 493
2009 514 499 492
2010 515 500 491
2011 514 497 489
2012 514 496 488
2013 514 496 488
2014 513 497 487
2015 511 495 484
2016 508 494 482

Like the previous graph, this one also shows a trend in consistently lowered average SAT reading scores. Interestingly, over this 10-year span, the same can be said for the average SAT math scores. In all columns and subjects, the average score drops each year.

Most noticeably, in the writing portion of the SAT, the score drops 15 points over 10 years.

Finally, let’s conclude with a graph of the average scores from 2017-2023. Starting in 2017, the Writing section was no longer offered, and the test was once again scored on a scale of 1600.

What is the Average SAT Score – 2017-2023

Year Average SAT Score (Math) Average SAT Score (Reading)
2017 527 533
2018 531 536
2019 528 531
2020 523 528
2021 528 533
2022 521 529
2023 508 520

Why do average SAT scores matter?

Knowing average nationwide, local, and college-specific SAT scores can give you a better sense of what to aim for on the exam as well as how to prepare. Moreover, staying on top of fluctuations in those scores can help you assess how competitive your score is relative to other test-takers.

For example, if you know that only 7% of test-takers nationwide scored between 1400-1600, that should signal to you that you’ll need to put in some serious preparation in order to earn a top score. Then, you’ll need to consider where your test score might fall relative to others at your school—at a private school like Phillips Exeter Academy, where the average SAT score is 1450, a score of 1400 may seem low to a college admissions office. On the flip side, if the average SAT score of your school district is 1200 and you submit a score of 1400, it could showcase your academic strength, preparedness, and potential relative to your peers.

The final step will be to look at the mid-50th percentile SAT ranges at your college(s) of choice. If you’re applying to highly selective institutions, you’ll often need scores much higher than the national average—and maybe even your local average—to be competitive. For example, in 2023, the mid-50th percentile score of accepted Harvard applicants was 1490-1580.

Where do most SAT test-takers live?

Let’s take a look at which states have the highest and lowest percentages of SAT test takers.

Coming in at the highest percentage is the District of Columbia, where 100% of students take the SAT. Other states with high percentages of SAT test-takers are Illinois (96%), Delaware (95%), Idaho (95%), and Rhode Island (95%). Interestingly, students on the coast take the SAT more than students in other parts of the country.

Some states with the lowest percentage of test takers are Arkansas (2%), Kansas (2%), Kentucky (2%), and Mississippi (1%). These states favor the ACT as a standardized testing method.

If you’re wondering what the average SAT score is for each state, let’s review some of the states with the highest percentages of SAT test-takers. For the purposes of this graph, we’ll pull data from states with at least 80% of students taking the exam. This graph uses 2023 data. As you review it, remember that the national average score for 2023 was 1028.

State Percentage of Test Takers Average SAT Score
Colorado 90 996
Connecticut 93 1007
Delaware 95 958
District of Columbia 100 969
Florida 90 966
Idaho 95 970
Illinois 96 970
Michigan 97 967
New Hampshire 82 1035
Rhode Island 95 958
West Virginia 90 923

As you can see, New Hampshire earned the highest average score in 2023. In fact, New Hampshire’s average SAT score is higher than the national average. Connecticut is a close second with an average SAT score of 1007—21 points away from the national average.

Has the SAT gotten harder over time?

Regardless of test format and scoring practices, SAT scores have stayed relatively consistent over time. This suggests that the SAT has not gotten harder. However, the general format or length of the exam may affect the overall average, as the average national score increased when the test was shortened in 2016.

Since 2024 is the first year of the new, shorter Digital SAT, we’ll be curious to see how the updated length and format impact the national average.

Has the content of the SAT changed over time?

Not significantly, other than instating (and then un-instating) the Writing section. Overall, the College Board tries its best to reflect the average student’s high school curriculum within SAT test content.

Who typically does best on the SAT?

Typically, students who do best on the SAT have better access to quality education and resources that help them properly prepare for the test. Access to SAT prep courses and materials can significantly affect one’s overall score. While private tutoring often leads to the highest score increases (sometimes of several hundred points), targeted studying using free, official resources can be extremely effective.

Furthermore, an interesting metric found that the higher the family’s reported median income, the higher the student performed on the test. For example, for students who reported family income in the Lowest Quintile ($0-$53,263), only 38% met the benchmark for the SAT reading score and only 16% met the benchmark for the SAT math score. Compare these numbers to reported family income in the Highest Quintile (>$113,341), where 83% of students met the benchmark for their SAT reading score and 64% met the benchmark for their SAT math scores.

Let’s look at the average of these two instances. When reported family income was in the Middle Quintile ($69,093-$86,073), 58% of students met the reading benchmark, and 33% met the math benchmark.

Final Thoughts — Average SAT Scores Over Time

During the college admissions process, being armed with as much useful knowledge as possible often reduces stress and increases confidence. In particular, understanding how your SAT score compares to national, local, and college-specific averages can help you pinpoint the score you’ll need to earn to be a more competitive applicant.

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