When you’re hitting the books in high school, part of your preparation will include getting ready for the SAT. The College Board administers the Scholastic Aptitude Test several times a year, and just about every college undergraduate program will look for your SAT score as part of the college admissions process. In fact, it’s so popular that the majority of universities will actually require you to get your SAT score first before you’re even qualified to apply.
The college admission panels will then use your SAT score to determine if you have what it takes to be part of their incoming freshman class. Your SAT score will also influence the amount of financial aid you get.
The SAT tests your readiness for the academic rigors of college. Score low here, and you’re telling the college admission folks that you’re not just ready for college just yet.
How Is the SAT Scored?
Before you aim for a particular SAT score, you need to know how the SAT scoring system works. This scoring system recently changed in 2016, so be careful when you’re reading other articles regarding the SAT scoring. You may be getting outdated information.
Your total SAT score can range from 400 to 1600 (a perfect score). You can score anywhere from 200 to 800 on each of the two sections: EWR (Evidence-based Reading and Writing) and Math. These are your “scaled” scores, after converting the raw scores on the test.
The conversion of the raw scores into the scaled scores help in keeping the scores fair. Each version of the test may differ depending on the day you take it, but you won’t get any particular advantage on a day the test is “easier”. Your raw scores are compared and adjusted to the scores of the other students taking the test.
When you get your SAT score report, you actually get a lot more detail than just your ERW and Math scores and your total score. You’ll also get your score (ranging from 10 to 40) for Reading, Writing and Language, and Math.
You then also have two Cross-Test scores, which will be based on selected questions in the Reading, Writing and Language, and Math sections. These scores are for Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. These scores give admissions officers a better idea of your ability to analyze texts and solve problems that are related to the History/Social Studies and Science topics. Again, you get 2 scores here ranging from 10 to 40 points for each.
Then you have the SAT Subscores, which range from 1 to 15 points for each subsection:
ERW (4 Sections)
- Command of Evidence. The questions for this section require you to find the parts of the text that prove, support, or are related to another idea or question.
- Words in Context. This is part of the Reading section, and you’re required to interpret how the meanings of certain words can change, depending on the context of the passage the words are in.
- Expression of Ideas. You’re required to improve the text, based on cohesion, logic, accuracy, topic development, and general use of the English language.
- Standard English Conventions. This checks your skills as related to sentence structure, grammar, and proper punctuation.
Math (3 Subsections)
- Heart of Algebra. These questions test how you solve and create linear equations and inequalities using variables.
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis. These questions check how you use your math skills to solve real-world problems. These questions may require you to use rates, proportions, ratios, and different units.
- Passport to Advanced Math. These questions evaluate your readiness for college-level math. They measure how you understand and analyze the structure of expressions, and how you manipulate and rewrite the same expressions.
There’s also an essay portion of the SAT, but this is an optional section. The scoring is subjective, with 2 different people awarding points (1 to 4 points) for each dimension of the essay portion. You’re then given points on how well you understood the essay prompt (including the particular details and the overall theme), how well you use evidence and provide arguments to support your ideas, and your skill in using the English language to create a cohesive essay.
Each scorer can therefore give you a score of 1-1-1 up to 4-4-4. These points are then added, so that you can get up to a perfect score of 8-8-8.
What are the average scores by school?
We all know that certain schools are much more selective in their admissions process. It’s not surprising that the average SAT scores for the students in schools such as Harvard are higher than the average SAT scores in lower-ranked schools.
Here are several colleges and universities, and the SAT range of their students. We’ve noted both the 25th and the 75th percentile, to give you a broad idea of what SAT scores are needed.
Average 25th %ile and 75th %ile SAT Scores for Reading and Math
|School||Reading, 25th %||Reading, 75th %||Math, 25th %||Math, 75th %|
|Carnegie Mellon University||700||750||750||800|
|The Ohio State University||590||690||650||760|
|UNC Chapel Hill||630||720||640||760|
|University of Florida||640||710||640||730|
|University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign||600||690||600||770|
|University of Michigan||660||730||670||780|
|University of Pennsylvania||690||760||730||790|
|University of Southern California||660||740||690||790|
|University of Virginia||660||730||670||770|
|University of Wisconsin||630||700||650||750|
Top Schools with Highest 75th Percentile SAT Scores
We took the 2020 data regarding the combined SAT scores of the 75th percentile of the students of each college, and this is the list of the colleges and universities with the highest SAT scores:
|College/University||SAT 75th% Scores|
|1. California Institute of Technology||1580|
|2. Harvard University||1580|
|3. Washington University in St Louis||1570|
|4. Duke University||1570|
|5. University of Chicago||1570|
|6. Stanford University||1570|
|7. Massachusetts Institute of Technology||1570|
|8. Yale University||1570|
|9. Princeton University||1570|
|10. Harvey Mudd College||1560|
|11. Johns Hopkins University||1560|
|12. Rice University||1560|
|13. Dartmouth College||1560|
|14. Vanderbilt University||1560|
|15. Columbia University in the City of New York||1560|
|16. Webb Institute||1550|
|17. University of Notre Dame||1550|
|18. Swarthmore College||1550|
|19. University of Pennsylvania||1550|
|20. Carnegie Mellon University||1550|
|21. Brown University||1550|
|22. Franklin W Olin College of Engineering||1550|
|23. Northwestern University||1550|
|24. Williams College||1550|
|25. Cornell University||1540|
|26. Pomona College||1540|
|27. Northeastern University||1540|
|28. Georgia Institute of Technology-Main Campus||1540|
|29. Grinnell College||1530|
|30. Carleton College||1530|
|31. University of California-Berkeley||1530|
|32. Tufts University||1530|
|33. Amherst College||1530|
|34. Haverford College||1530|
|35. University of Southern California||1530|
|36. Georgetown University||1530|
|37. Emory University||1520|
|38. University of California-Los Angeles||1520|
|39. Wellesley College||1520|
|40. Case Western Reserve University||1520|
|41. Jewish Theological Seminary of America||1520|
|42. Reed College||1520|
|43. Vassar College||1510|
|44. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||1510|
|45. Colgate University||1510|
|46. Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art||1510|
|47. Colby College||1510|
|48. New York University||1510|
|49. Hamilton College||1510|
|50. Bowdoin College||1510|
|51. Emory University-Oxford College||1510|
|52. Barnard College||1500|
|53. Boston University||1500|
|54. Macalester College||1500|
|55. Middlebury College||1500|
|56. Mount Holyoke College||1500|
|57. University of Virginia-Main Campus||1500|
|58. University of Rochester||1500|
|59. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute||1500|
|60. Claremont McKenna College||1500|
Keep in mind that the scores listed here aren’t the average combined SAT scores of the students. These are the scores of the top 75th percentile, which refers to the top ¼ of the students. The rest of the students were still able to get in these schools, despite having an average or even “low” SAT score (comparatively speaking).
What Is a Good SAT Score Goal for You?
For most students, a combined SAT score of about 1400 is generally considered a “good” SAT score. That is to say, it makes you a competitive applicant in the vast majority of colleges and universities in the US.
In fact, there are plenty of schools (hundreds of them, actually) which will likely accept you if you get an “average” SAT score. That’s a score of about 1050, combining the Reading and Math sections. Some schools are even test-optional, which means you don’t even need an SAT score at all to get accepted.
But if you want to get into a top-ranked school, your SAT score will definitely matter. You’ll need to aim higher. Aiming to be in the 75th percentile should give you a leg up over the rest of the applicants.
You need to understand that there’s really no pass or fail standard in the SAT. It’s all about getting the highest score you can manage and hoping that your score is higher than the other students.
If you’re still unclear as to what SAT score you should aim for, here are some steps to organize the process for you:
Consider Your Ideal College
It’s not enough that you merely consider the ranking and reputation of a college. You’ll need to check the tuition and other related costs.
Perhaps you prefer a big city vibe, and the mild small-town atmosphere bores you to tears. A climate you are unused to may even be a factor. If you’re interested in playing a sport you’ll want to check out the athletics program.
Consider the whole college experience, and not just the academics.
Check Out the Required SAT Scores
Technically, colleges don’t really have a definitive cutoff score for students to hurdle. It’s just that, at the very least, you’ll want to get the same SAT score as the “average” students in the class.
If you’re aiming to get into one of the top schools, like schools in the Ivy League or similarly ranked schools (Stanford, Caltech, MIT, etc.) then you’ll definitely need a top SAT score. An average score just won’t cut it.
Be realistic when you’re setting your SAT goal. The perfect SAT score of 1600 is rarely achieved, regardless of how hard and how long you may study. At the same time, plenty of good schools can accept you even with a lower SAT score.
Steps for Preparing for the SAT
So how do you prepare for the SAT and set a score to aim for? Here are the steps you ought to take.
- Start with picking the right program that suits your skills and your interests. Even if you’re a bit young (such as when you’re a high school junior), you should already have at least a vague idea of which majors will be suitable or unsuitable for you.
- Do some research about the best schools that offer that college major. You may want to get into a certain school with a topnotch reputation, but make sure it also has a good reputation for the specific major you are looking at.
- Do additional research regarding the average SAT scores of the students of the schools you’re considering. These SAT scores will then provide you with a target SAT score you can aim for.
- Study long and hard for the SAT. Do this early, even when you’re not yet a senior. You can try finding the free SAT practice online when you’re a high school junior.
- Take the SAT the first time as early as you can. If you give yourself enough time, you can take the SAT a second, or even a third time. The first SAT you take can count as your “practice” test.
- After taking the SAT the first time, check your score report. That should give you a better idea of which sections you need to improve.
- Try to enroll in a formal SAT prep course if you can. That way, you have a study plan you can follow. You also have the materials you need to study. You can get drills and practice questions to hone your SAT test-taking abilities.
- In general, students who take the SAT a second time do better on the second try. There are plenty of reasons for this. You’ve had more time to prepare. Also, you’re not as anxious because you’ll be more familiar with the type of questions you will encounter.
How to understand your SAT score
When you take the SAT the first time, your score report can give you a very good idea of your SAT strengths and weaknesses. You need to check this report and identify the areas in which you need to focus more.
The subscore skill areas categorize certain types of skills that the SAT measures. If you don’t do well in a certain subscore skill area, then that’s the area you need to work. These subscore areas are more specific than just the general categories of Reading/Writing and Math.
Heart of Algebra
This area deals with linear equations, linear inequalities, and linear functions. You need to study these math topics more if you get a low score on this particular skill area.
Problem Solving and Data Analysis
These are the problems that tend to involve percentages, ratios, and rates. You’ll need to be able to study tables and scatter points and understand the information the data set is showing you.
Passport to Advanced Math
This time, the skill area includes quadratic equations, nonlinear expressions, and polynomials. The word problems here may involve exponential and quadratic equations. The graphs you need to interpret may involve nonlinear equations. A low score here means you need to boost your familiarity with these more advanced math concepts.
Expression of Ideas
These questions are generally found in the Writing section of the SAT. Usually, a question requires you to pick a word or to change a new sentence structure to improve a certain passage. That change you make should make the passage clearer or more impactful.
Standard English Conventions
These are also normally found in the Writing section. Basically, it tests your command of the English rules of grammar and punctuation. You may be asked about which proper word to use, or about the correct sentence structure.
Words in Context
This is generally found in the Reading and Writing sections. In the Reading section, you may have to give or interpret the meaning of a certain word or phrase. You may also be asked about how your choice of words can change the tone or the style of the passage.
In the Writing section, you may be asked to improve or clarify a sentence by changing a word or adding a new word.
Command of Evidence
This section is also part of Reading and Writing, and this time it’s about how words can be used to present an idea using evidence as support.
In the Reading section, you may be asked to read an article, and then you’ll have to explain how the author’s claims are supported in that article. You may also be asked to present evidence to support one of your previous answers in the test.
In the Writing section, these questions usually require you to enhance how a passage presents ideas and information. You may also be required to explain how an accompanying image is related to the text.
What If I Get a Bad Score?
If you get a bad score when you take the SAT for the first time, you really don’t have to be worried. That’s basically a practice test. It identifies the areas you need to work on more when you prepare for the next SAT.
That’s what you have to do—prepare. If you studied on your own the first time and got a lower score than you expected, you may want to consider getting into an SAT prep course.
If you still get a “bad” score after a lot of serious studying and preparation, it’s still not the end of the world. You may still be able to get into the school of your choice. You just have to emphasize other aspects of your college application that compensates for your “bad” SAT score. You may want to highlight your GPA or relate your personal story to demonstrate how you’ve overcome adversity.
You may also want to redefine what a “bad” score really is. Your SAT score may not be high enough to help you get into your first college choice, but it may help you get into your alternate choices. Plenty of community colleges are perfectly okay with “bad” SAT scores.
It’s true that the world won’t end if you get an SAT score that’s lower than what you were hoping to get. At the same time, it’s crucial that you realize just how important the SAT is. A high score can help you get into the school you want, while a low score can be a hindrance.
In the end, it’s all about preparing for the SAT. Prepare for the SAT as best you can, on your own or with the help of a prep course.