Recently, standardized tests have been under scrutiny, with questions arising on whether or not they fairly and accurately predict college readiness.
On top of this, COVID-19 has posed a challenge, as the possibility and safety of taking in-person exams are called into question.
The future of standardized tests on the college admissions process is in flux.
While adopting test-optional policies has been a growing trend, most colleges will still accept and review a student’s test score, if submitted.
The SAT is a college entrance exam that consists of Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.
Colleges place importance on this exam because it is a standardized measure of the knowledge a student gained from their high school courses as well as their level of college readiness.
Having an understanding about this test and knowing what the implications of certain scores would be is something you and your student should know.
Understanding the SAT Score Report
Each section of the SAT has a score range of 200 to 800. The total SAT score ranges from the lowest possible score of 400 to the maximum score of 1600.
Your child’s score report provides a great deal of feedback. Mean scores, benchmarks, and percentiles are part of their score report that can help put their score into perspective.
This can help them to identify their strengths and weaknesses and to determine what skills need more practice. Subscores and cross-test scores are also part of their score report.
The mean or average scores show the scores typically earned by US test-takers per grade level. Meeting or going above the SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmarks shows that the test-taker is on track and ready for college.
A percentile rank ranges from 1 to 99 and shows how they scored in comparison to other test-takers, or rather, the percentage of students whose scores fall at or below their score.
For example, in the 59th percentile, their score was equal to or higher than 59 percent of test-takers. The higher the percentile, the better.
There are two percentiles on their report. The Nationally Representative Sample percentile compares their score to those of typical 11th and 12th-grade students in the US, while the User Percentile compares their score to actual recent high school graduates.
Understanding What Makes an SAT Score Competitive
To determine what makes a score competitive to prospective colleges and universities, first look at the score in comparison to other test-takers.
In 2019, the national average SAT score was 1059. SAT scores follow a normal distribution in that most people will score around the halfway point between 400 and 1600, which is 1000.
A score below 1059 would be below average, a score at 1059 would be average, and anything higher would be above average.
What is most important, however, is how the score factors into your child’s goals and schools of choice.
To determine this, look at the standardized test requirements of the schools on their wishlist, as well as the average test scores of incoming freshmen.
Both of these factors differ based on the schools. For instance, a 1250 means one thing at Arizona State University where the average score is 1245, and another at Johns Hopkins where standards are higher and the average is 1485.
Keep in mind that the SAT is just one factor used to make college admission decisions.
Other important components are GPA, the strength of the curriculum, extracurricular activities, recommendation letters, entrance interviews, and college essays.
These factors are taken into account alongside SAT scores for admission.
What Is a Good SAT Score for Top Schools, like Harvard?
Students entering highly selective colleges typically have SAT scores near the top, and usually along with other high-quality admission facets.
Aside from a perfect SAT score of 1600 which will open the possibility of applying to just about any college of your student’s choice, which specific high score is needed?
As an example, the average SAT for Harvard is 1515 and the 75th percentile SAT score is a 1580. Looking at these scores, a student interested in applying to Harvard should have a minimum of the average SAT score. Students accepted with test scores below the minimum usually have other “hooks” that make then desirable admits for Harvard.
To review standardized test requirements for other schools, you can refer to the college’s Admissions section on their website or check out College Insights, Road2College’s search tool that makes finding and comparing colleges quick and easy.
How to Improve an SAT Score
Does the word SAT automatically evoke fear? For many students, it can.
Many students will find they will not do as well as they would like the first time they take the SAT despite preparation, or their scores simply do not align with their course grades.
Don’t worry! Their first SAT will provide them with a base score, allowing them to hone in on areas they need to improve on and familiarizing them with the exam.
This can incentivize them to buckle down and figure out how to alter their SAT prep plan so they can do better the second or third time.
In fact, many students take the SAT three or more times. Lauren Gaggioli, of Higher Scores Test Prep, recommends “students plan to take the exam at least 2 times after some preparation but to attempt to take the test no more than 4 times total.”
Prep books and private tutoring can also help. Additionally, there are specific strategies that can significantly improve a score like knowing when to guess or skip an answer and the best way to tackle reading comprehension questions.
SAT Scores vs. ACT Scores: Where Each Score Matters
Which test is better for your child, the SAT, or the other popular standardized exam, the ACT?
Have they taken the PSAT or practice SAT and wondered how it differs from the ACT, or if they would perform better on one over the other?
The exams are different and despite misconceptions, colleges do not favor one over the other. Ideally, it is a good idea for students to take practice exams for each and decide which one is right for them.
There are certain differences between the two exams. The SAT does not contain any science, but it does have two math sections for which a calculator may not be used.
Also, the wording of the SAT may seem tricky to test-takers.
It is important to note that students who are more linear in personality may do better with the ACT as opposed to creative or intuitive individuals who can better deal with the “curve balls” or tricky questions that the SAT throws at them.
The SAT is notorious for being a daunting part of the college admissions packet. With good preparation, it is actually not as scary as it seems.
The key is knowing what your personal standard is according to your goals and schools of choice.
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