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What Are Good SAT Scores?

Instructor: Jessica Keys
When it comes to the SAT, what counts as a good score will depend on your personal goals. However, colleges and universities often base admissions requirements around student averages, and having a good understanding of these averages can help you reach your goals. Read on to find out more about SAT scoring and how to set a target score that's right for you.

SAT Scores Defined: So What's Good?

The current version of the SAT consists of a math section and a verbal (reading and writing) section, each with a maximum score of 800 points. This means that (as of 2016) the highest score you can get on the SAT is 1600.

Now there's no doubt about interpreting a score of 1600; it doesn't get better than that! However, if your score is somewhere in between, you may be wondering how to best interpret it. A good way to start is by comparing how your scores rate against those of other test-takers. Incidentally, when you receive your SAT results, you'll also get to see how your scores rank on a national level.

The Nationally Representative Sample is included on your paper and online results, and it holds your scores against the calculated performance of all 11th and 12th graders, including populations of students who don't normally take the SAT. Your online score report will also include an SAT User Percentile - National percentile which represents the population of students who take their final SAT in 11th or 12th grade and plan on going to college.

Percentiles Explained

For example, here's a selection of some current (as of 2016) national percentiles:

Score Nationally Rep. Sample % SAT User % (National)
1520 99+ 99
1290 90 85
1190 80 71
1120 70 58
1060 60 46
1010 50 36
960 40 27

Source: SAT Understanding Scores 2016 - The College Board (May, 2016)

This means if you scored an 1190, you scored better than 80% of the nationally representative sample population, and 71% of the national SAT user population (the SAT user percentile tends to be more competitive, as this population only includes college-bound students who have taken the SAT). Not bad!

While this rubric is useful for getting a general idea of how you did in relation to the rest of the country, if you have your eyes on a specific college or major, you may want to do some more digging.

SAT Scores and College Averages

Most colleges and universities collect their own SAT score averages from incoming freshmen; when considering your application, an admissions rep may compare your SAT scores to those of the current student body. It's a good idea to research the average SAT scores of the schools you want to attend and base your personal best score on this data.

Where Can I Find These Scores?

The College Board's BigFuture website has a handy college comparison tool that will allow you to plug in up to three colleges for a side-by-side look at admission rates and requirements, tuition and boarding costs, environment and more. Included are the average SAT scores of the incoming student body, broken down into sections (Math, Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and the Reading test).

Note: For the next few years, most colleges will likely still accept SAT scores on both the old 2400-point scale and the current scale. Likewise, BigFuture's college reports will show you each institution's averages in both formats. If you still need to convert an old score to the new system (or vice versa), The College Board also has its own SAT Score Converter online/mobile app, which you can access directly from your online score report or from The College Board's official SAT website.

Your Own Good Score

Ultimately, what counts for a good score will be as unique as each test taker. Every student has different goals. Think about your own goals: Where do you plan to go to college and what do you want to study? For example, a high math score may not be as important to a theatre major as it would be for an engineering major. Or, if your dream college is in the Ivy League, you may be contending with very high score ranges in general. To illustrate, let's compare the average SAT score ranges for a couple of popular state schools versus Harvard College:

School Math Reading & Writing Reading Test
University of Virginia 650 - 760 670 - 750 33 - 38
City University of New York (City College) 550 - 660 510 - 640 25 - 31
Harvard College 750 - 800 740 - 800 37 - 40

It's important to remember that the SAT is only one part of your personal admissions package. Submitting a slightly disappointing score does not mean that you will be instantly rejected from your college of choice. Colleges will be looking at other things during the admissions process, from your GPA to extracurricular activities and more. While a higher SAT score may open more doors for you, a good score does not have to be a perfect one!

Preparation is Key

Are you a first-timer? Hoping to give your next score a boost? Breezing through the verbal section but math is still turning your score into a submarine (or vice versa)? Set your sails to Study.com and check out our fun and friendly Prep & Practice courses in:

Totally online and totally self-paced (that means you can study whenever and wherever you want to study), each course is subdivided into lessons that cover every subject area you will encounter on the SAT. You'll also learn about what kinds of questions you can expect and how to answer them correctly--valuable preparation that eliminates confusion and lets you focus on the actual questions during the test!

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