What is a Good SAT Score?
May 19, 2023
The college application process includes many rites of passage, from conducting campus visits to selecting a personal statement topic. However, of all the admissions hoops students must jump through, none inspire more anticipation (or perhaps dread) than the SAT. A lot of students’ concerns about the SAT originate from anxiety about their performance. These fears lead many to questions such as: what is a good SAT score? Is a 1200 a good score? A 1300? A 1400?!
We have encouraging news: good SAT scores are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. In fact, a “good” SAT score will vary from student to student. In this post, we will discuss how the SAT is scored and what variables define good SAT scores, so that you can identify a target score for yourself!
What is the SAT?
Before we can figure out what is a good SAT score, let’s establish what the SAT is. The SAT is a standardized test that functions as an entrance exam for many colleges. This exam measures students’ readiness for college-level work by evaluating their knowledge of reading, math, and writing, as well as their ability to think analytically and problem-solve. SAT scores, in combination with a student’s GPA and transcript, provide admissions officers with a more comprehensive understanding of a student’s academic performance in comparison to other applicants.
While the composition of the SAT has evolved over the years, it is currently composed of two sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and the Math section. Each of these sections includes two subtests. Altogether, it takes three hours to complete both sections.
The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section includes tests on Reading, as well as Writing and Language. Students have 65 minutes to complete the Reading section’s 52 multiple-choice questions in response to written passages about literature, social studies, and the sciences. 35 minutes are allotted for students to complete the Writing and Language section comprising 44 multiple-choice questions. In comparison to the Reading section, which focuses on comprehension and close reading, the Writing and Language test asks students to identify corrections that will improve the clarity, organization, or accuracy of a passage.
The Math section also includes two subsections, one in which students can use a calculator and one in which cannot. The math test without calculators includes 20 multiple-choice questions and five free-response questions. Similarly, the subsection in which students can use calculators consists of 30 multiple-choice questions and 8 free-response questions.
Historically, the SAT has also included an essay section. However, it was dropped in June of 2021 in the majority of states and school districts.
How is the SAT scored?
The EBRW and Math sections of the SAT are each evaluated on a scale of 200 to 800. Together, these sections produce a cumulative score of 400 to 1600. In contrast to other exams, SAT scores are only based on the number of correct responses students provide. There is no penalty for incorrect answers. This means that it is in students’ best interest to answer all SAT questions, even if they have to guess.
Although many students fixate on earning good SAT scores, there is no such thing as a passing score. Instead, a student’s score report will include a percentile ranking, indicating what percentage of students scored the same score or below. For example, a student in the 80th percentile performed the same or better than 80% of other test takers. Below is a partial list of SAT scores and their corresponding percentile rankings from College Board:
|SAT Score||Percentile Rank Among SAT Users|
College Board also provides percentile rankings for EBRW and Math section scores.
What is a good SAT score?
The average SAT score for the class of 2022 was a 1050 according to College Board. Using that score as a baseline, one could argue that a “good” SAT score is anything above a 1050 (i.e. anything above-average). However, an above average score likely won’t cut it for many applicants, particularly those applying to selective colleges. This is because good SAT scores are contextual, depending on a student’s college list, as well as variables such as their prospective major.
For example, let’s say a student earns a 1400 on the SAT, placing them in the 93rd percentile. Objectively, that’s a pretty great score! However, that score’s mileage may vary depending on the student’s college list. This student is primarily applying to public universities in the Midwest, including the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) and the University of Iowa. They also want to apply to a few highly selective colleges like the University of Chicago. While this student’s SAT score is quite high, the admissions committee at each university will perceive it differently based on the SAT scores of their applicants.
What is a Good SAT Score (Continued)
Let’s start with UIUC. Looking at their First-Year Class Profile, the middle 50% of their first-year class, meaning students that fall within the 25th-75th percentile range, had SAT scores between 1330-1510. Based on that information, a 1400 would fall in the middle of that range around the 50th percentile mark. This ranking indicates this student’s SAT score is average at UIUC, making it a good target school for them. In comparison, the University of Iowa’s middle 50 percent SAT score range is 1130-1350. There, the student’s score is outside of that range. This places them in the top 25%, making the University of Iowa a good safety school for this student.
However, this student has always dreamed of attending the University of Chicago, even though it’s a “reach” school for them. They confirm this fact when they look at the middle 50% of SAT scores for UChicago, which range from 1510-1560. This places this student in the lower quarter of SAT scores. While this doesn’t mean they will not or cannot be admitted to UChicago, it does signal that this college is a reach for them and admission is less likely.
What is a good score based on your prospective major?
While looking at the SAT scores of admitted students goes a long way in helping students determine what is a good SAT score, it doesn’t paint the full picture. It is also important to consider prospective majors when determining whether your score is “good” for a particular school. Let’s revisit our student with a 1400 SAT score. This student is considering careers as a software developer or STEM teacher. If they apply as an education major to UIUC, their SAT score would make them a more competitive applicant. This is because the middle 50 percent of SAT scores for students within UIUC’s College of Education range from 1170-1380.
However, this applicant’s score would be perceived differently if they apply as a computer science major to UIUC’s Grainger College of Engineering, where the middle 50 percent ranges from 1450-1540. Within that applicant pool, this student would be in the lower quarter based on their SAT score. Overall, this example shows how an applicant’s major can impact the perception of their SAT score. This student might be within the target score range for the general student population at UIUC, but their prospective major can make their score more or less competitive.
So, what is a good SAT score? As this example shows, there isn’t a magic number that will be “good” for all students or in all circumstances. Good SAT scores are those that help make you a competitive applicant, and that number may vary depending on your college list and prospective major.
What should my target SAT score be?
We know that there is no one definition of a good SAT score. However, as an applicant, you need to know your answer to “What is a good SAT score?” so that you can prepare accordingly.
To answer that question, you need to assemble a well-rounded college list that includes a healthy balance of target, safety, and reach schools. Once you know where you want to apply, it’s time to do some research! Collect information about the SAT score ranges of admitted students at each university on your list. We have made this part of the process easy with our searchable Entering Class Statistics table. If colleges provide major-specific scores, document the score range for students within your prospective major as well.
Once you’ve collected all relevant data, identify the highest 75th percentile score from all of your colleges. That is your target SAT score. Scoring at or above the highest 75th percentile score will make you a more competitive applicant among all of your colleges.
How can I improve my score?
Okay, you’ve found your answer to what is a good SAT score. Now, how do you actually get it? We have some suggestions:
- First, figure out your baseline score by taking a practice test. This will allow you to familiarize yourself with the SAT’s structure and composition.
- Once you receive your score, consider your strengths and weaknesses. Did you struggle with one test over the other? Was one type of question especially confusing? Did you struggle to respond to all of the questions in the allotted time? Reflecting on your experience and performance will help you identify what skills you should prioritize while studying.
- From there, assemble and stick to a study plan, focusing on your core improvement areas. Ideally, you’ll have several weeks, if not months, to prepare to maximize your odds of reaching your target score. Consult College Board’s website, which provides numerous resources to support SAT preparation.
- Finally, consider taking the SAT more than once if time and money allow. Doing so will give you more experience with the exam, as well as additional opportunities to improve through superscoring.
What is a Good SAT Score (Continued)
Hopefully, your diligent preparation will help you reach your target score. However, if you are unable to hit your target, don’t panic! Your SAT score is just one part of your college applications. If your SAT score is slightly below your target but other aspects of your application, like your GPA, are solid, then you’re likely still a competitive applicant. Even a more significant score differential won’t necessarily take you out of the running.
However, not meeting your target score, particularly by a significant margin, does signal that it would be worthwhile to reevaluate your college list. Schools that were originally in the target category may now be “reaches”. In this scenario, it is a good idea to play it safe by applying to additional schools in the target and safety categories. Doing so will ensure your college list is well-rounded and aligns with your SAT score and GPA.
Final Thoughts: What is a Good SAT Score?
Your performance on the SAT is an important factor in many college admissions decisions. Good SAT scores are contextual, depending on the schools you apply to as well as your prospective major. For this reason, it’s important to determine your target SAT score based on your college list. Earning an SAT score at or above the 75th percentile at a university can make you a more competitive candidate.
While your SAT score is important, it’s just one of the many factors that admissions officers weigh, including your GPA, the rigor of your courses, and your application essays, among others. Do your best on the exam, but don’t let it consume you or define your college admissions experience. There are many excellent colleges to choose from that admit students with a variety of SAT scores. By preparing for the test intentionally and engaging in thoughtful goal setting, you’ll end up at the school that’s right for you.
If you have additional questions about the SAT or standardized testing, consider consulting the following resources: