What’s a good SAT score? If you’re trying to figure out your SAT score goal for 2018 admissions, you’ll want to look at the SAT averages for the schools to which you’re applying. There are great resources like the College Board where you can search for averages at a wide variety of colleges.
The new SAT is based on a 1600-point scale, with two sections—Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing—scored between 200 and 800, and the optional essay evaluated separately. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so your raw score is the sum of the number of questions you answer correctly. Raw scores are converted to scaled scores, which are used to determine percentile ranks. The percentile indicates how well you did compared to other test takers. For example, if you score in the 72nd percentile, you did better than 72% of test takers.
What does this mean for you? Here’s what you need to know about your SAT score:
These scores will put you in the top 10% of all test takers
EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING: 660 – 800
MATH: 680 – 800
These scores will put you in a highly competitive place in admissions (top 25% of all test takers)
EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING: 590 – 650
MATH: 610 – 670
Above Average Scores
These scores put you ahead of the pack (50%+), but won’t be as advantageous when applying to highly competitive programs
EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING: 510 – 580
MATH: 520 – 600
Below Average Scores
These scores may be enough to get into a wide variety of college programs, but will be below average compared to the testing population
EVIDENCE-BASED READING AND WRITING: 500 or lower
MATH: 510 or lower
Your answer sheet is scanned, and your raw score is calculated by the College Board system. Because there’s no penalty for guessing for the New SAT test, your raw score is the number of questions you answered correctly. Raw scores are converted to scores on a scale of 200 to 800 using a process called equating. This process ensures that your score is not affected by different forms of the test or other test-takers’ ability levels. This scaled score is what you see when you get your scores.
The SAT is scored on a 200-800 scale in each section in 10 point increments. The two sections (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math) will have scores provided separately. This relatively small scale means that small improvements in your score can make a big difference in your percentile ranking (sometimes, a ten point increase in your score can boost your percentile ranking by 5 points).
Remember that on the new SAT, you are NOT penalized for wrong answers. Understanding the scoring and knowing how to approach each section is important part of doing your best on test day.
SAT Essay responses are scored using a carefully designed process:
- Two different people will read and score your essay.
- Each scorer awards 1–4 points for each dimension: reading, analysis, and writing. 4 will be Advanced, 3 Proficient, 2 Partial and 1 Inadequate.
- The two scores for each dimension are added.
- You’ll receive three scores for the SAT Essay — one for each dimension — ranging from 2–8 points.
Remember that your SAT score is not the only factor that will be considered. Whether or not you are admitted to a college program (and whether or not you receive scholarship money) can depend on several factors. In addition to focusing on achieving the best SAT score possible for you, you should also work on obtaining the best GPA possible, writing a spectacular personal statement, taking a challenging course load and, and rounding out your application with extra-curriculars.
Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it: the new SAT scoring system is extremely confusing. There are subscores, cross-test scores, an optional essay score and much more. Because I don’t want you to be uncertain about something as important as your SAT scores, I’m here to dispel any confusion and answer your questions.
I’ll talk about all of the different scores: what they mean, SAT score ranges, what SAT scores you need for top colleges, and how everything ties together.
Now let’s get into anything and everything relating to SAT scores and the SAT score range.
Table of Contents
SAT Scoring Basics
- You’ll receive two scores, one math and one verbal (combined from the reading and writing sections).
- Each of these scores is on a scale between 200 and 800 points.
- The total maximum, composite (combined) score you can earn on the new SAT is 1600 points.
- The lowest sectional score you can get on either the reading/writing or the math section is 200 and the highest is 800.
This makes the overall SAT score range (combining Reading/Writing and Math) 400-1600.
Understanding Your SAT Scores
If you’re with me so far, it’s time to talk about average SAT scores: the average score on each section is 500 points. The average overall SAT score is 1000. These are theoretical averages but the real averages tend to be within about 20 points, plus or minus, of 500 points.
Now, this is where things are going to get a little more complicated. On the new SAT there are at least three different types of scores. So hold onto your seats.
1. Test Scores
Okay, so the new SAT lumps the separate reading and writing sections into one 800 score. But the College Board still wants to give colleges a better idea of how to understand your SAT scores: how you did on the reading section and how you did on the writing section.
That makes sense, but for good measure, they figured they’d throw math in as a test score. So the three “test scores” are as follows:
Each one of these tests will be scored on a range of 10 to 40. This score will correspond to how many questions you missed on each section and is adapted to fit the score range.
The two scores, one from the reading test and one from the writing test, will be combined to give you a verbal score on the 200-800 range. The math score on the 10-40 scale will be converted to a final score from 200-800. Add these together and you’ll have your overall SAT score.
How important are these “test scores”? Honestly, they just give people looking at your score report a way to compare your scores to students who took different versions of the SAT. This relates to an idea called equating, which allows the SAT to compare scores between different tests. But it’s pretty technical and the statistics folks over at College Board take care of this–you just have to look at your score.
What is important for you–and what colleges will likely look at if they want to get a better sense of your performance–is how you did on the reading section and how you did on the writing sections. After all, you could do very poorly on reading yet thrive in writing and can get the same verbal score as somebody who was average on both sections.
2. Cross-Test Scores
So the new SAT doesn’t have a science section like the ACT does, but it does have “cross-test scores.” Essentially, there are questions that are science related, whether they are in the math section, the reading section, or the writing section (hence the name “cross-test”).
There are also cross-test scores related to history/social studies.
Here’s how the College Board terms the cross-test sections:
- Analysis in History/Social Studies
- Analysis in Science
Each score will be on a scale of 10-40.
The College Board wants to give college admissions officers as much information as possible. That gives us (I promise) our final set of scores for the required sections of the SAT. There are seven of these scores, the first two relate to reading comprehension, the next two relate to writing and the last three relate to math.
- Command of Evidence
- Words in Context
- Expression of Ideas
- Standard English Conventions
- Heart of Algebra
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis
- Passport to Advanced Math
Each of these subscores is on a scale of 1 to 15.
4. Optional Essay Scores
Last, and perhaps least (for those not taking the essay), you’ll have three scores based on the 55-minute writing sample you’ll have to cough up after working on the test for three hours.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Two graders will be scoring your essay.
- Each grader will give your essay a score (1-4) for each of three different criteria.
- The three criteria are:
- reading (how well do you understand the passage)
- analysis (how well do you describe how the writer is persuading his/her audience)
- writing (how well do you write)
In theory, this gives us a total of 24 possible points. However, the scores from each grader will NOT be added up into a composite score, but will instead be added to the other grader’s scores in each area. Thus, you’ll be presented with three scores, on the following scales:
- a 2-8 range for reading
- a 2-8 range for analysis
- a 2-8 range for writing
So a possible SAT essay score might look something like this: 7 reading/5 analysis/6 writing.
What’s the Deal With All These Different SAT Scores?
Why oh why is the SAT even coming up with such a complex scoring system in the first place? The SAT wants to give schools a lot better breakdown of your skill set. On the old, pre-2016 SAT, there were just three section scores. Now, colleges that want to know the difference between two very similar candidates in terms of SAT scores can learn a lot more with the subscores and cross-test scores.
At the same time, colleges don’t want to be inundated with all this information for each of the thousands of candidates they look at. That way they can start with the general score and if they want to dig deeper, they can look at these other scores.
Old SAT Scores vs. New SAT Scores
How do we compare new SAT scores to old SAT scores? The two tests are very different; a student who scored in the 95% on the old math section might not even crack 80% on the new one, or vice versa.
But we have to be able to compare scores. Otherwise, we can’t know how students who took only the old test did in comparison to those who took the new test.
With a table to show which score on the old SAT corresponds to which score on the new SAT, colleges can get a real sense of how the new test stacks up to the old one.
Though the tests are pretty different, another way to compare the two is by using SAT score percentiles. If a score of 800 used to correspond to the top 1%, then the same should apply to the new test. (Of course, I’m just using a vague answer here. It’s actually a lot more complicated than this—some of the statistics involved is Ph.D level stuff!)
If you’re confused about SAT percentiles on top of everything else, I definitely don’t blame you! The College Board’s most recently released SAT percentiles are in a confusing format. So let’s break down what their terms mean, and then take a look at the percentile tables.
Terms to Know
First of all, if you look at the College Board’s document, you’ll see that they give you two percentiles: the “Nationally Representative Sample” and the “SAT User.” You want to focus on the SAT User percentiles, which are what we’ve provided below.
- The Nationally Representative Sample scores are actually based on research the College Board did about how 11th and 12th graders would score on the new SAT…including those students who aren’t actually taking it. (Confusing, right?) But because students who are actually taking the SAT are more likely to be applying to college, they are also those who would generally score higher on the test anyway. In short, this sample lowballs the percentile.
- SAT User percentiles aren’t perfect—after all, the College Board only has data from March 2016 to present to base their percentiles on—but they are based on the actual scores of actual users (those graduating in 2017). And they’re going to be the percentiles colleges are more interested in.
Whew! With no further ado…your new SAT percentile tables.
SAT Percentiles (Composite)
|Total (Composite) Score||Percentile|
SAT Percentiles (Math)
|Total Score (Section)||Percentile (Math)|
SAT Percentiles (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing)
|Total Score (Section)||Percentile (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing)|
Good SAT Score Ranges by Grade Level
A question I get a lot is from parents wondering whether their child should take the SAT as a junior, or wait until senior year.
Their thinking is that if the student does well enough on the SAT for a junior, then they don’t have to worry about taking the SAT as a senior. The thing is, colleges don’t give preferential treatment to those who take the SAT at a younger age. You can take the SAT in 6th grade, get a 1200, and then never take the SAT again. That 1200 actually isn’t any different from a senior’s 1200.
Yet it might not be quite so simple. Given that, at least on average, students become more intellectually mature in an extra year of schooling—vocabularies enlarge, a sense of proper grammar becomes more fine-tuned, the ability to concentrate increases slightly—a senior might expect to see a 50-point increase in an SAT score. That might not seem like much, but going from a 1450 to a 1500 does look like a big deal on paper.
What Is a Good SAT Score in Senior Year?
A good SAT score for a senior really depends on the schools you are applying to, your current GPA, and a host of other factors, such as your essay or extracurricular activities. 1200 is a pretty good score; 1300 is clearly a good score and 1400+ is a great score.
What Is a Good SAT Score in Junior Year?
Provided that you continue to pay attention in school and you continue to do some SAT prep in your spare time, you will probably do a little bit better as a senior, but not by too much.
A good SAT score for a junior, therefore, is about 50 points less than what a good SAT score is for a senior.
If you are a junior and you have enough time to study, then getting close to 1400 is a good score.
What Is a Good SAT Score for Sophomores and Freshmen?
We highly recommend that you take the PSAT rather than the SAT if you are a sophomore or a freshman. You don’t have to include the score on your college apps, and it puts you in the running for National Merit Scholarships!
With that said, if you take a (good) SAT practice test before your junior year…1300+ is a great score for a sophomore, while 1200+ is a fantastic score for a freshman. But that’s only if you’re willing to continue to put in work on the SAT as you progress through your coursework! Otherwise, you’re more than likely to see your score stagnate pretty seriously.
SAT Score Ranges for College Admissions
Now that you know the general SAT score range to aim for, what is a good SAT score for your dream school, or to earn some scholarship dollars? Let’s take a closer look.
What SAT Score Range Do I Need for the Top 100 US Universities?
Just to make things a little easier on you, we’ve put together this table of SAT score ranges for the top 100 universities in the United States. The numbers are from the middle 50% score range (meaning 25% of admitted students had lower scores and 25% had higher scores).
Expand the table by choosing a number of entries from the drop-down menu, or type the name of your chosen school in the search box to find its the middle 50% score range!