What Is a Good SAT Score?
- A strong SAT score can raise your chances of gaining admission into a particular college.
- There's no such thing as a "passing" score, but you should aim to beat the median score.
- The SAT essay is scored separately from the Math and EBRW sections.
- Helpful SAT study tips include using official prep materials and focusing on your weaknesses.
For many students, getting into college is about more than just good grades and compelling personal statements — it's often about strong test scores. The SAT is one of two major college admission tests in the United States (the other is the ACT). While there's no score you need to pass the exam, a higher score can increase your chances of getting accepted into college.
Not all colleges require SAT scores though, so be sure that your target schools require or recommend taking the exam before you pay to sit for it. Additionally, be aware that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many universities to temporarily adopt test-optional policies, meaning they will not require SAT scores for the 2020-21 (and sometimes 2021-22) application cycle.
What SAT score should you aim for? And what counts as a "good" SAT score? We answer these questions and offer our best tips for preparing for this notoriously challenging test.
What Is a Good SAT Score Overall?
Your total SAT score, which ranges from 400-1600, is the sum of your two section scores for Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). Each of these sections uses a scale of 200-800 in 10-point increments.
The higher your score, the higher your percentile ranking. This ranking is the percentage of test takers (in that testing year) you scored the same as or higher than. For example, if you earned an SAT score in the 72nd percentile, that would mean you did better than 72% of test takers (and worse than 28%).
While there is no hard-and-fast cutoff for what constitutes a good SAT score, percentiles can be used to estimate how well you did overall compared with other students across the country. In general, any score above the 50th percentile, or median, is pretty good — this means you've performed better than the majority of test takers.
Total1050 out of 1600
Math520 out of 800
EBRW530 out of 800
Below are abbreviated percentile charts showing good overall SAT scores and good scores for the Math and EBRW sections individually. Note that the percentile rankings for scores may change slightly from year to year.
- Total SAT Score
Total SAT Score (Math + EBRW) Percentile 1560-1600 99+ 1520-1550 99 1420-1430 95 1350 90 1290 85 1240 80 1200-1210 75 1170 70 1130-1140 65 1100-1110 60 1080 55 1050 50 (median)
Source: College Board
- Math + EBRW SAT Score
SAT Math Score SAT EBRW Score Percentile — 780-800 99+ 790-800 760-770 99 740 710 95 690 670 90 650-660 650 85 620-630 630 80 600 610 75 580 590 70 560-570 570 65 550 560 60 530 540 55 520 530 50 (median)
Source: College Board
What Is a Good SAT Score Based on Your Target Schools?
Although percentiles can reveal a lot about how you performed on the SAT relative to other test takers, they don't tell you what specific score to aim for to get into the schools you're applying to.
Different colleges and universities maintain their own score expectations. Some highly selective programs and schools even have minimum required scores for admission. While not meeting an institution's SAT score threshold doesn't necessarily mean you'll get rejected, it doesn't bode well for your admission chances.
In order to raise your chances of getting admitted to your chosen schools, you should aim for an SAT score comparable to or higher than that of the typical admitted applicant at that school. In other words, if the average admitted first-year student earned a 1300 on the SAT, you should aim for around 1300.
The easiest way to figure out what SAT score to aim for is to determine the middle 50% of scores for each institution you're applying to. The middle 50% is a range that spans the 25th to 75th percentiles of admitted first-year students. Ideally, your goal should be to earn a score around the school's 75th percentile. However, if that's too challenging, you can aim for higher than the 25th percentile score.
The easiest way to figure out what SAT score to aim for is to determine the middle 50% of scores for each institution you’re applying to.
Many colleges provide SAT stats on their official websites. Search online for your school's name and the phrase "SAT score range." Alternatively, you can visit your college's official website to look for an incoming class profile page or a facts and figures page; this is often where institutions publish demographic information and data on recently admitted students.
For example, say you're applying to Emory University. On Emory's class profile page, you'll find the middle 50% of SAT Math and EBRW scores of admitted students for the class of 2024. (You can combine these to find the middle 50% out of 1600.) Now, you know that you should try to aim for around 760 on the EBRW section and 790 on the Math section — both incredibly high scores.
The exact SAT score you should aim for varies depending on the colleges you're considering. Less selective institutions admit applicants with SAT scores close to or below the national median, whereas highly selective universities often prefer near-perfect scores.
The table below contains the middle 50% SAT score ranges for students admitted in fall 2020 at 20 well-known U.S. colleges and universities.
- Class of 2024 SAT Scores for Admitted Students at 20 Popular Schools
School 25th Percentile SAT Score 75th Percentile SAT Score Boston College 1410 1520 Columbia University 1500 1560 Hamilton College 1450 1530 Indiana University Bloomington 1160 1370 Miami University 1180 1380 Pennsylvania State University 1240 1410 Tufts University 1420 1550 University of California, Berkeley 1330 1530 University of California, Davis 1260 1470 University of Georgia 1310 1460 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 1290 1490 University of Maryland, College Park 1330 1490 University of Michigan 1380 1550 University of Minnesota Twin Cities 1300 1460 University of Pennsylvania 1470 1550 University of Southern California 1410 1540 University of Texas at Austin 1230 1480 University of Washington 1240 1440 Villanova University 1370 1500 Wesleyan University 1450 1560
What Is a Good SAT Essay Score?
In addition to the Math and EBRW sections, the SAT offers an optional essay. You only need to complete this section if at least one of your colleges requires the SAT essay. Note that the SAT with the essay costs a bit more than the SAT without the essay ($68 vs. $52).
The SAT essay is scored separately from the Math and EBRW sections and uses a different scale. For this section, you'll get 50 minutes to write an essay that analyzes the author's claims and overall argument in a given passage.
For the SAT essay, two graders each assign you a score on a scale of 1-4 in three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.
Two graders will read your essay. Each will then assign you a score on a scale of 1-4 in three distinct categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. This means the total score range is 2-8 for each category. A perfect essay score is three 8's — that's earning a 4 from both graders in all three categories.
Most colleges don't require the SAT essay, and those that do don't always provide information about the typical scores achieved by admitted students. The College Board also doesn't report any percentiles for the essay, though it does provide the mean (average) scores for each category.
Generally speaking, a good SAT essay score is anything above these averages. So you should aim for a 6 on Reading, a 4 on Analysis, and a 6 on Writing.
For a more in-depth look at the SAT essay and how students score on it, refer to the charts below. These tell you what percentage of test takers in the 2019-20 school year earned each possible score on the three essay categories. This data should give you a clearer idea of what essay scores are commonly earned so you can know what to aim for on test day.
6 Tips for Hitting Your Target SAT Score
Make a Study Schedule
A big part of doing well on the SAT is developing an effective studying plan. Creating a daily or weekly study schedule helps you organize your time and diminishes the likelihood of cramming at the last minute. It's best to start preparing for the SAT at least a month before test day.
Figure out how much time you'll need to dedicate to studying subject-specific topics (like linear equations), taking full-length practice tests, reviewing your answers to practice questions, and trying out various tips and strategies. Then, put it all on a calendar to help you keep track.
Prioritize Official SAT Materials
In an effort to promote educational equity and equal access, the College Board has doubled down in recent years on providing free SAT study materials. These official resources are the best you can get, with questions that look and feel like those on the real SAT.
One excellent resource you can download (and print) for free is the College Board's Official SAT Study Guide, which contains tons of practice questions, answer explanations, and tips. You can also use the free website Khan Academy, a partner of the College Board, to access hundreds of official SAT practice questions and video explanations.
Get an SAT Prep Book
If you can, buy, rent, or borrow a highly reviewed SAT prep book to help guide your studies and give you extra practice and expert strategies not found in the Official SAT Study Guide. You can typically find quality SAT textbooks on Amazon or at your local library. Some examples of well-rated resources include "SAT Prep Black Book" and Barron's "SAT Premium Study Guide."
You can also use section-specific SAT books to help you home in on a particular subject, such as math or reading. Regardless of what books you end up using, make sure they reflect the current version of the SAT (which was redesigned in 2016).
Take Full-Length Practice Tests
You can't expect to ace the SAT if you've never sat for a multihour test. This is why SAT practice tests are so important. With these resources, you'll get a better feel for the timing of the test and learn how to pace yourself on each section. You can then use your results to see how close you are to reaching your target score.
Focus On Your Weaknesses
What many students don't realize is that they won't make much progress in their SAT studies if all they're doing is reviewing things they already know. To make the most of your prep schedule, shift your focus to improving the areas you're weakest in. For example, if you struggle with analyzing long reading passages, you could test out different strategies to see what works best for you, such as skimming the passage or reading the questions first.
Sit for the SAT More Than Once, If Possible
Most people perceive the SAT as a one-time deal — you take it and you're done. But the reality is that many students take the test at least twice. Why? Research has shown that retaking the SAT can lead to higher scores. This is normally because you know what to expect on the exam and have spent more time preparing for it and addressing your weaknesses.
Unfortunately, retaking the SAT means paying the entire test fee again. If you meet the College Board's requirements, however, you may qualify for a fee waiver.
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