So, what is a good SAT score? This is a difficult question to answer, as SAT scores are just one of many factors that colleges consider when making admissions decisions and what a good score is really depends on your goals. For example, if you are applying to highly selective schools, you will likely need a higher SAT score than if you are applying to less selective schools. SAT scores are still an important part of the college application process and doing well on the SAT can help you get into your top choice colleges.
Many top colleges and universities conduct a holistic admissions process, meaning they will also consider elements like your GPA, the rigor of your curriculum, extracurriculars, your essay, and more.
What is the Average SAT Score?
Your SAT score is calculated on a scale of 400 to 1600. It is a combination of two subscores, each on a scale of 200 to 800: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (consisting of two tests, Reading and Writing & Language) and Math. Your subscores are added together for a total score.
Each SAT score correlates to a percentile. For example, if you earn a 1600, that would put you in the 99th percentile, meaning your score was higher than 99 percent of test-takers.
For the class of 2021, the average scores were:
• ERW: 541
• Math: 538
• Total: 1088
The College Board also provides a full report detailing average scores by state, gender, race/ethnicity, and other demographics.
What are the Middle 50th Percent Scores for top Colleges?
The best way to figure out your target score is to look at the average scores at the schools on your college list. Most colleges provide a middle 50% SAT and ACT range, showing you the profile of their admitted freshman class. A middle 50% range of 1500-1570, for example, means that students who earned a 1500 were in the 25th percentile, SAT-wise, of the admitted class, while those who earned a 1570 were at the 75th percentile of the class. To be a competitive candidate for admission, assuming you are an “unhooked” student, you should aim to earn a score near the 75th percentile — the upper end of the middle 50% range.
Here are SAT score ranges for the 25th-75th percentile at some of the top colleges in the US:
• Harvard University: 1480-1570
• Stanford University: 1450-1560
• Princeton University: 1430-1600
• Massachusetts Institute of Technology: 1440-1590
• Yale University: 1450-1600
• UC Berkeley: 1380-1540
• UCLA: 1280-1500
Remember, these are just averages and there will always be students who are admitted with SAT scores above and below these ranges.
For example, the SAT score range for the 25th-75th percentile at Harvard University is 1480-1570, so if your SAT score is in this range, you’re doing well. However, there are nuances you must consider when reviewing this data. The lower range of scores at any university or college are likely scores earned by “hooked” applicants. Assuming you are an “unhooked” applicant, your score should be closer to the 75th percentile.
The most important thing is to focus on the category of applicant you are, what your goals are, and how you can improve your SAT, if necessary.
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What Defines a Good SAT Score?
There is no blanket definition of a “good score.” For some students, achieving a score higher than the national average is “good.” Others may see it as earning a score that puts them in the 85th, 90th, or 95th percentile.
One of the most important factors in determining a score that’s good for you is where you want to go to college. If you’re aiming for the most competitive colleges and universities in the country — like the Ivies and others in the top 20 in the U.S. News and World Report rankings list — then you will be aiming for a much higher score than students planning to attend less selective schools.
But remember that your target schools are not the only factor in evaluating your scores. SAT scores are important for other reasons aside from admission. For example, some schools, particularly public universities, award scholarships based on established score thresholds. Sometimes, you could even earn a full ride if you achieve a high enough score.
What About Going Test Optional?
Some colleges adopted a test-optional policy decades ago, giving applicants the choice as to whether they would submit standardized test scores. Since the onset of the pandemic, the majority of colleges and universities across the country adopted a test-optional policy, in light of College Board test administration cancellations and unsafe conditions. Most of these policies are still in place.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the test. If you do take the SAT, it’s a good idea to submit your scores if they are within the middle 50% range at your target schools. While in theory, colleges will only consider your scores if you send them, in practice, if admissions committees have two identical candidates, one of whom submits decent scores and the other of whom does not submit scores at all, the student who submits scores will have the edge.
Based on the outcomes of unhooked students, those who submit competitive test scores seem to have an advantage over those who do not.
Remember, though, that test-optional is different from test-blind. Test-blind means that the college will not consider your SAT or ACT scores at all, whether or not you submit them. Some top colleges and universities, including the entire University of California and California State University systems, the California Institute of Technology, Hampshire College, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, are currently test-blind.
Again, SAT scores can still be used for additional purposes, such as course placement and scholarships, so it’s still a good idea to take the test if you can do so safely. Plus, chances are, other schools on your list are not test-blind.
How can you Improve your SAT Score?
You can take the SAT multiple times to improve your score since the majority of colleges and universities allow you to super score your results which means choosing the best sub scores from two different exam dates. (Bear in mind, however, that the data shows you’re unlikely to improve much after 2-3 attempts.)
In order to achieve a higher score, the best strategy is to practice. In fact, before you start preparing to take the test the first time, you should take a practice test to know where you are and what areas you should focus on honing. Any preparation you do should involve taking frequent practice exams to track your progress.
There are plenty of resources to help you study, such as the free Official SAT Practice on Khan Academy. Online you can also find old SAT tests called “QAS” tests that are readily available for download. There are also paid tools, including books and io1600.
MedEdits favorite SAT resources are as follows:
- Official SAT practice tests
- QAS tests
- Erica Meltzer books
- College Panda Math book
- io1600 online resource
Some students hire tutors to assist with preparation — whether that’s a good option for you depends on your study style, motivation, and personal preferences.
SAT Changes on the Horizon
For international students taking the SAT, keep in mind that the SAT is changing to a computer-based format in the fall of 2023. This change will take place in the spring of 2024 for US-based students.
The SAT is an exam that a committed student can master. Practice, practice, practice, and you can reach your targets and goals.