You’ve gotten through almost three years of high school, have been picking colleges, scheduled your SAT test date, and now you wonder—what is a good score on the SAT? In this article, we aim to answer this question (spoiler: it’s different for everyone!), determine how to adequately gauge an appropriate SAT score goal, and discuss the preparation necessary to achieve this goal. Read on for a roadmap to personal SAT success!
What is the SAT, and Why Take It?
The SAT is a standardized college admissions test that high schoolers take prior to applying for college; it helps colleges see exactly where potential students rank academically and cognitively. There are three sections to the SAT:
- Writing and Language
Some states and schools require students to take the SAT to graduate. All sections are multiple choice. There is no penalty for guessing answers when taking the SAT.
Note on Recent Changes to the SAT
If you were wondering, “Only three sections? What about the essay?”, that’s because until recently, there was indeed an optional fourth, essay section on the SAT. But starting in 2021, the College Board has discontinued the SAT Essay section. Additionally, the College Board no longer offers SAT subject tests. Only the core 3-section SAT remains.
For colleges, the SAT gives them an easy-to-compare set of data about potential candidates, which in turn suggests how they may fit into the school and their particular class. Note that every college takes a different approach to the SAT:
- Some colleges require the SAT.
- Test-optional schools do not require the SAT, but will still accept scores and take them into account when making admissions decisions.
- Test-blind schools will not look at scores, even if you send them in.
For students (like you), the SAT offers an opportunity to show choice colleges exactly what you can do. It also gives you a chance to demonstrate your academic prowess compared to the other students in your class nationwide. As long as your choice schools are not test-blind, it’s best to take the SAT. Even if the schools you apply to do not require a college entrance exam, these scores will help you stand out above the fray. Additionally, taking the SAT also opens the doors for potentially thousands of dollars in academic scholarships.
Wondering about taking the ACT instead?
Check out our fabulous ACT resources, and get answers to crucial questions like “Should I Take the SAT or ACT?” or even “Should I Take Both the SAT and ACT?” You can also explore our complete guide to the differences between the SAT and ACT.
Should You Aim for a Certain SAT Score?
Before going further into what is a good score on the SAT, this is an important point to consider. Should you try to get a certain SAT score? Or, should you just take it and hope your score will get you into a good college?
The short answer is yes, you should have a specific goal in mind.
Some high school students take the SAT only because their state or school requires them to do so, because all of their friends are taking it too, or because their parents are encouraging (or pressuring) them to do it. These students may think of taking the SAT as a box to be checked, and walk in on test day hoping for the best. They take the SAT without a goal, and without understanding exactly what a great score may mean for them.
If they prepare for the SAT beforehand, they do so without a strategy. They might glance at some study materials, but not in a focused or directed way. These students take the test, receive their scores, and then wonder if they did alright. They may not get into their favorite college, or lose out on scholarship money, all because they didn’t have a goal or a plan to meet it.
To get a good SAT Score, you need a strategy, as well as a goal to aim toward. Choose a few colleges you are interested in, and look up their test requirements. If they do require the SAT, check which scores they accepted in the last year. Use this to pick a goal, and aim for this goal as you prepare for and take the SAT. Instead of wondering about your SAT score afterward, you will know exactly how you did in relation to your goal, and can better plan your next steps. We’ll talk about this more later in this article.
If you have already taken the SAT, and did so without setting a goal first, never fear. You can still retroactively do the kind of research described above. If you received a score less than what you wanted, read on to find out how Piqosity can help you achieve your goals.
How is the SAT Scored?
To understand exactly what is a good score on the SAT, you need to understand how it is scored. Let’s break this down by explaining the numbers and graphs on the score report you received after taking the SAT, which probably looks something like the below.
SAT Score Reports can be confusing, since they present a lot of data. We’ll go through the most important points below. Each numbered explanation corresponds with the circled red number in the image above.
- Total SAT Score. Your total SAT score may fall anywhere between 400 and 1600—it is calculated by adding the scores (between 200 and 800 points each) you receive for the combined evidence-based Reading and Writing sections and the Math section.
- Percentile Ranks. Your total SAT score is followed by two percentile rankings, each between 1 and 99. Percentile ranks tell colleges how you scored in relation to other students. The percentile rank on the left estimates how well you are performing to all other students across the country, even those who are not taking the SAT; the percentile rank on the left compares you only to other SAT test-takers. Our example student is performing better than half of her peers nationally, but only better than 41% of fellow test-takers.
- Section Scores. This one’s easy—your scores here show you the points you earned on each section of the SAT. These scores are also accompanied by percentile ranks, which function identically to the ones described above.
- Benchmarks. The SAT uses your scores to estimate your readiness for college-level coursework. If your score meets or exceeds a benchmark, it will be accompanied by a green checkmark; if it is lower than the benchmark score, you will see a yellow or red mark indicating that this is an area of weakness.
- Test Scores. Similar to Sections Scores, these scores (between 10 and 40) give you a clearer indication of how you performed on each of the three main sections. Math scores are calculated to the nearest half-point, while Reading and Writing scores are calculated to the nearest full point.
- Cross-Test Scores and Subscores. Cross-Test scores (between 10 and 40) offer insight into how you scored in subject areas not explicitly featured in sections of the SAT—for instance, though there is not a “Science” section on the SAT, it still still tests your science knowledge across the other sections. Similarly, Subscores (between 1 and 15) offer detailed analysis of your skills in various skills areas. All of this data gives colleges a clearer look into your academic strengths and weaknesses.
- Score Ranges, Raw Scores, and More… The basic version of your SAT score report is not the end of it: you will also be able to view an online score report, which contains far more detailed information, including your estimated score ranges and a raw score for each section of the SAT.
Now that you know how to read it, you can use your SAT score report as a tool to figure out where to focus your further test preparation. Or, compare it to your colleges’ requirements and decide which colleges to apply to and which may be unrealistic.
This should also help you make sense of un-nuanced questions like “Is 1200 a good SAT score?” (it depends) or even, “Is 700 a good SAT score?” (if you’re referring to a Section Score, yes, it generally is; if you’re referring to a Total Score, no, it’s not).
What is the highest SAT score possible?
The highest SAT Total Score possible is a 1600, indicating a 99th percentile rank or higher. The lowest possible Composite Score is a 400, indicating a 1st percentile rank or lower. As with most standardized tests, most students score somewhere in the middle, so this is where most competition lies within percentile rankings.
So…What SAT Score Should You Aim For?
As you’ve gathered by now, this is a loaded question, and the answer is going to be different for everyone. You will need to take into account both your post-secondary educational goals and the performance of your peers, which changes yearly. For instance, if your goal is to score “above average” in 2022, you will want to aim higher than the average 2021 score, which was a 1060.
Of course, if you want to attend a very prestigious school, you will have to aim even higher than just “above average.”
What is a Good SAT Score for College Admissions?
The answer to this question depends a lot on which college(s) you are hoping to attend. In general, a good rule of thumb is to aim for a score that is higher than the average score of the previous year’s admitted students (this data is readily available online).
Since so many people ask about it, let’s look briefly at the scores you might want to aim for for Ivy League admissions.
- To be accepted into Harvard, you will want to aim above the average score of the other students who have recently been accepted. This means you will at least want an SAT score above 1520. Note that currently, Harvard requires applicants to take either the SAT or the ACT.
- Similarly, if you’re hoping to attend Yale, a good goal would be to score higher than their current average score of 1515. Currently, SAT or ACT scores are not required to get into Yale, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t submit them.
- Like Yale, Princeton is currently test-optional, but submitting test scores will make your application more competitive. The SAT score to aim for here is above 1505.
As you can see, the scores for these prestigious colleges are well above the national average. If your scores are significantly below these marks, you may want to reconsider whether you are a good fit for these institutions. That said, it never hurts to apply, and remember: these schools also look at other parts of your college application to determine if you are an attractive candidate.
Setting Your SAT Score Goal
How can you go about this? We suggest researching your schools of choice. You will be able to find out if your school requires a college entrance exam, if they are test-optional, or if they are test-blind.
You should also check to see what your state requirements are. Currently, juniors in these states will have to take the SAT:
- Idaho (Idaho offers the SAT free for high school juniors)
- Indiana (must take SAT in order to graduate high school)
- New Hampshire
- Ohio (high schoolers must meet threshold scores on either ACT or SAT to graduate)
- Oklahoma (either ACT or SAT, determined by school district)
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina (either ACT or SAT, determined by school district)
- Tennessee (either the ACT or SAT)
- West Virginia (unless taking the West Virginia Alternative Summer Assessment)
Once you know the facts about your specific college and state, get a feel for your SAT prospects by taking a diagnostic skills test designed to highlight your strengths and weaknesses in a concrete way. Choose a realistic score that aligns with your goals, and aim for that score.
I’m an ESL/ELL Student—how does that affect my SAT score goal?
If English is not your first language, you may worry that your SAT score will be lower since it is not presented in your first language. Check out our guide to SAT prep for ESL students to learn more about the accommodations that may be available!
What to Do If You Don’t Reach Your SAT Goal
Remember, if you don’t reach your SAT score goal, it’s not the end of the world, or of your college dreams! There is much more that goes into the college application process than tests. Even if your SAT isn’t exactly where you’d like it to be, you can also bolster your application with:
- wonderful letters of recommendation,
- a great high school GPA,
- portfolios of creative work,
- résumés, and
- other showcases of your impressive talents and experiences
Keeping this in mind may help if the idea of taking the SAT again overwhelms you, or your personal situation does not allow time for you to prepare for and take the SAT a second time.
However, we highly recommend retaking the test if possible (even if you did well the first time). In the Class of 2018, two-thirds of students who took the SAT more than once increased their SAT scores.
Retaking the SAT does not have to break your wallet!
Are you worried about the cost of the SAT? Did you know that certain students are eligible for fee waivers? Learn more in our deep-dive into SAT costs and fee waivers.
If you choose to retake the test, you won’t be alone, and your chances of improving your score (even by a little bit) are good. Taking the SAT again (and earning a higher score) may allow you to receive more scholarship money and get the “big envelope” from the school of your dreams!
Use Piqosity to Prepare for the SAT!
Wondering how to take that diagnostic test we mentioned above? Whether you’re in the process of preparing for your first SAT or you’ve already received your score report and want to know how to improve your SAT Score, Piqosity has you covered.
Joining Piqosity is completely FREE (no credit card information required, no sneaky “free” trials). Start off with our mini diagnostic test to get a baseline score, and set realistic goals for your SAT success.
Then, figure out a plan for exactly how you’d like to study. You can continue to use many of Piqosity’s unique features and valuable resources as part of our FREE Community package. But, if you’re ready for the next step, you can choose among several competitively-priced test prep packages, you will have access to up to 10 complete SAT practice tests with answers and explanations.
So, what is a good score on the SAT? The number is different for each individual, as each individual has their own strengths, weaknesses, and goals. It’s time to dig deep, and figure out what this means for you. Join Piqosity today for free, and you will be well on your way to SAT and college application success!
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