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What is a Good, Bad, and Excellent SAT Score?

What’s a good SAT score? The answer is more complicated than you might think. A good SAT score isn’t an objective numerical answer. While we can tell you what scores put you in the range of top scorers, a good SAT score varies by student–a “good” score is the one that helps you achieve your academic goals.

To figure out what score you should aim for, look at the average or median test scores of the colleges you want to apply to. To be a competitive applicant, you want a score higher than those numbers. A high score doesn’t guarantee you’ll be admitted, but it does mean that you’re less likely to be rejected for a below-average score. In fact, some more selective schools may use academic cutoffs, so an impressive test score is one way to increase the chances of your application being read.

Rather than tell you what’s a good SAT score, our goal is to give you an idea of what to aim for. With that in mind, we’ve included the SAT score ranges for some top schools later in this post. It’s important to remember, however, to build a balanced profile. For example, colleges also give great weight to your GPA and extracurricular involvement. To learn more about the factors that admissions officers consider, check out our post on how college applications are evaluated.

How SAT Scores Work

The most common way people approach SAT scores involves the total score and the section scores.

There are two section scores—one for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and the other for Math. Each section ranges between 200 and 800, and the sum of these scores gives you your total score.

But the SAT also has three tests within it: a Reading test, Writing and Language test, and Math test. The Reading test and the Writing and Language test combine to form your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score, while the Math test is converted to your Math Section score. Each test is scored from 10 to 40.

The SAT also includes two cross-test scores which evaluate how well you did on certain questions from all three tests. The two cross-test scores are the Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science, which are also scored from 10 to 40.

Each of the two sections has subscores. The subscores range from 1 to 15 and focus on your performance for a particular subset of questions. The subscores include:

  • Reading Test, and Writing and Language Test: Words in Context and Command of Evidence

  • Writing and Language Test: Standard English Conventions and Expression of Ideas

  • Math Test: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, Passport to Advanced Mathematics

What is a Good SAT Score?

Most people mean “competitive” when they ask what a good SAT score is. Getting a score in the top 5-25% of scorers gives you an edge over other applicants, but these scores don’t guarantee acceptance. They’re more of a guideline to ensure your application is as strong as possible.

According to the College Board’s Annual Report on Understanding SAT Scores, these are what the top scores look like:

  • Top 5%: 1410+ total score

  • Top 25%: 1200+ total score

What is an Average SAT Score?

Based on the results in College Board’s 2019 Annual Report, the average total score of all test takers is 1059, with an average Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score of 531 and average Math section score of 528.

The SAT also shares the averages for the test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores. Here are those averages:

SAT Test Score Averages

  • Reading Test: 27

  • Writing and Language Test: 26

  • Math Test: 26

SAT Cross-test Score Averages

  • Analysis in History/Social Studies: 27

  • Analysis in Science: 27

SAT Subscore Averages

  • Words in Context: 9

  • Command of Evidence: 9

  • Expression of Ideas: 9

  • Standard English Conventions: 8

  • Heart of Algebra: 9

  • Problem-Solving and Data Analysis: 9

  • Passport to Advanced Mathematics: 9

What is a Bad SAT Score?

SAT scores reflect a sliding scale of academic skills, so defining a “bad” score is a little subjective. The SAT College and Career-Readiness Benchmarks are used by many state schools as minimum scores: 480 for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and 530 for the Math section.

Scoring below these benchmarks will decrease your chances of acceptance; however, you should also note that the average SAT Math score of 527 is lower than the benchmark score of 530, so scoring below the benchmark doesn’t mean you can’t get into college.

Like the driving test, you can always retake the SAT, and in between test sittings you’ll want to practice the concepts you’re shaky on. Unlike the driving test, which is pass/fail, the SAT represents a continuum of academic ability. And while the number of times you take the road test doesn’t matter, the number of times you take the SAT does. The Common Application asks for how many test sittings you’ve completed, and some colleges ask for all past score reports.

The bottom line? Prepare for each test administration seriously to ensure you perform your best. More information about our SAT courses here!

When should I retake the SAT?

Depending on how you scored your first time around, you may not need to! Compare your score to the score range of the schools you are considering. Remember, the answer to what’s a good SAT score is a score that helps you achieve your academic goals. If your score meets or exceeds their average score, there’s no need to retake the test. If it’s below their average, or the College and Career Readiness Benchmarks, you may want to retake the SAT.

We recommend students take the SAT at least once in the fall of your junior year. This way you have time to study and improve before retaking the test in the spring of junior year, if you need to. Starting earlier will help you avoid having to test during fall of senior year, when there are so many other things to worry about.

Don’t wait too long between retakes, though. The College Board takes about 3 weeks to send your official score report, so plan ahead if you need to meet deadlines. We compiled a list of all the SAT test dates and registration deadlines to help you get started.

Can I still get in with a low score?

It is still possible to get in with a lower score than that in the middle 50% range. Remember that 25% of students score below the first number in that range, the 25th percentile! That said, it will be harder to gain admission if your scores are lower, especially if the school is selective. Most schools use what’s called the Academic Index (AI) to compare their applicants academically. This metric usually represents the strength of a student’s test scores and transcript. If your AI is below a certain threshold, you may get rejected automatically.

The bottom line is that it’s uncommon to be accepted if your scores are lower. If you have a special circumstance, however, colleges might be more forgiving when it comes to a low score. Students with special circumstances include those with exceptional talents, those who experienced an illness or family death, those from a low-income background, or those from underrepresented minority groups (among other situations).

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