Achieving a Good Score on the SAT: How the Test Works and Tips for Success

What Is a Good SAT Score?

Achieving a Good Score on the SAT: How the Test Works and Tips for Success

Published December 12, 2023

What Is a Good SAT Score?

The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a standardized test administered by the College Board. U.S. colleges widely use it as one piece of their admissions processes, along with GPA, course rigor, letters of recommendation, essays, special talents like athletics and music, and other factors. 

Achieving a good score on the SAT can make you a competitive applicant for top universities, increase your chance of acceptance, and improve your scholarship chances. So, even though some schools are test-optional, taking the SAT can still help your application stand out.  

But how do you determine what a “good” score is and whether your score will help you get into your desired school?

If you’re preparing for the SAT, this guide will help you understand the SAT scoring and how to determine what a good SAT score is for you and your college goals.

What Is a Good Score on the SAT?

A “good” score on the SAT depends on your college goals. You’ll want an SAT score that meets or exceeds the standard needed for the colleges you wish to attend. That might be 1000, or it might be 1500 or more. 

For instance, a 1400 composite score may be a quality score for some schools but too low for other, more competitive colleges. Typically, the higher your score, the greater your chance of standing out. A perfect score is 1600, but less than 0.1% achieve that in any given year. 

Mathematically, a total score of at least 1200 is often a “good” score because this should place you around the 75th percentile. However, more competitive schools may require higher scores.

So, it’s essential to know what is considered a good score for the universities you’re interested in attending to help you judge your performance and set your exam goals. Higher scores can also increase your chances of qualifying for some scholarships or additional financial aid.

What’s an Average SAT Score?

The average SAT total score for the 2023 graduating class was 1028, compared with 1050 for the  2022 graduating class. The average Math score for 2023 was 508, and the average Evidence-based Reading and Writing (ERW) score was 520.

To calculate the national average SAT score, the College Board adds the scores for each graduating class and divides the total by the number of test takers. 

The national average SAT score is helpful as a rough gauge of your performance. However, the SAT percentiles show you the percentage of test takers who performed the same or lower than you, providing a better understanding of your score and performance. 

Another average to know is the average SAT score for the colleges you’re interested in attending. Most schools publish the average score of admitted students, giving applicants an idea of where they stand in the admissions process. Knowing the average score range for colleges you’re interested in can help you judge what type of scores you’ll need to be a competitive applicant. 

SAT Scores for Incoming Freshmen at Selected Colleges

Knowing the range of SAT scores for the schools you’re interested in helps you identify whether your score is competitive. Ideally, you want your SAT score to meet or exceed the range of scores for the last admitted class. Scores can vary from year to year but generally stay in the same range. Here are scores for a selection of 50 colleges to get you started.

School25th Percentile ScoreAverage Score75th Percentile Score
American University129013601420
Baylor University117012701360
Brigham Young University128013601450
Brown University*150015401580
Caltech*151015401570
Chapman University122013001380
College of William and Mary137514601520
Cornell147015201550
Dartmouth144015301560
Drexel University124013301420
Duke145015101570
Emory University145015001530
George Washington University134014101470
Harvard University*146015201580
Miami University117012701350
Michigan State University111012101320
New York University145015001550
North Carolina State University127013351410
Northwestern University145014951540
Ohio State University126013401420
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State)122013001380
Stanford144015051550
Syracuse University126014101480
Temple University113012451360
Texas A&M University116012701380
Tufts University146015001540
UC Berkeley*130014151530
UC Davis*114012701400
UCLA*149015301570
United States Military Academy (West Point)123013501430
University of Alabama109012101370
University of Arizona114012401360
University of Chicago147015201570
University of Cincinnati117012601350
University of Florida132014001470
University of Georgia122013101400
University of Maryland, College Park129013801460
University of Miami133013901450
University of Michigan*134014301520
University of Pittsburgh128013701470
University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin)123013701500
University of Texas at Dallas118012901410
University of Virginia136015001530
University of Washington132014201500
Wake Forest University140014501500
Washington and Lee University*143014701510
Wellesley College144014901540
West Virginia University105011501240
Williams College149015201550
Yale147015401560
* These schools are test blind or test-optional. However, some schools may change that status in future years.

Source: R2C Insights

Use R2C Insights to Find College SAT Scores and Much More

You can find the SAT scores on individual schools’ websites. But you might find it more convenient to use R2C Insights, which offers side-by-side comparisons in one place. R2C Insights is a college comparison tool that allows you to sort through all kinds of college data, make lists and find your best fit. You can try it for free by registering with your email.

How SAT Scoring Works

The paper-based and digital versions of the SAT use the same scoring scale to ensure consistent feedback and comparisons across assessments.

Both versions have two main section scores: Math, and Reading and Writing. Each section of the SAT uses a scale of 200–800. The College Board adds these scores to create a final total score of 400–1600. The higher the score, the better your performance.

The Reading and Writing section score for the paper-based version is structured differently from the digital version, even though the scoring scale is the same. It’s called the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section score on the paper-based version. It combines the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test.  

The New Digital SAT and Adaptive Testing

The College Board is gradually phasing out the paper SAT in favor of the new digital SAT. International students began taking the new digital SAT in the spring of 2023. All U.S. students will use the digital SAT version starting in spring 2024

Overall, the digital SAT continues to assess the same general knowledge and skills that matter for college and career readiness. However, the actual test format significantly differs from the paper-based version. For instance, the digital SAT takes less time (2 hours and 14 minutes instead of 3 hours) and has fewer questions (98 versus 154). 

One of the biggest changes is multi-stage adaptive testing at the section level. Now, each main section has two equal-length modules that together make up the section’s total score — 2 Math modules and 2 Reading and Writing modules. Your performance on the first module of each section will impact the questions you will get in the second module. 

This design means you’re less likely to have questions that are too easy or hard in the second module, resulting in a better testing experience and score accuracy. Additionally, the multi-stage adaptive design still allows you to move back and forth between questions while in the same module.

Differences Between the Digital SAT and Paper SAT   

Here’s a summary of the differences between the digital and paper SAT – what to know about the digital SAT so you can prepare and do your best.

NEW DIGITAL SATOLD PAPER-BASED SAT
Total Number of Questions98154
Overall Testing Time (not including breaks)2 hours 14 minutes3 hours
Question Selection ProcessUses adaptive testingQuestions are preset and the same for all students taking the test on that day
Test Format & Tools Needed*Digital format,
*Need an electronic device,
*Install the Bluebook app
*Paper format,
*Need a calculator,
*Need #2 pencils
Types of Sections*Now called Modules,
*Reading & Writing Module 1,
*Reading & Writing Module 2,
*Math Module 1,
*Math Module 2
*Was called Sections,
*Reading,
*Writing & Language,
*Math with No Calculator,
*Math with Calculator
Number of Questions for Each Module or Section*Reading & Writing Modules = 27 questions each,
*Math Modules = 22 questions each
*Reading = 52 questions,
*Writing & Language = 44 questions,
*Math with No Calculator = 20 questions,
*Math with Calculator = 38 questions
Time per Module or Section*Reading & Writing Modules = 32 minutes each,
*Math Modules = 35 minutes each
*Reading = 65 minutes,
*Writing & Language = 35 minutes,
*Math (No Calculator) = 25 minutes,
*Math (Calculator) = 55 minutes
Total Time per Module or Section*Reading & Writing = 64 minutes,
*Math = 70 minutes
*Reading = 65 minutes,
*Writing & Language = 35 minutes,
*Math = 80 minutes
Additional Differences in the Reading & Writing Portion*Shorter reading passages,
*One question per reading passage
*Longer reading passages,
*Multiple questions per reading passage
Additional Differences in the Math Portion*Can use a calculator during both modules,
*Test platform has a built-in graphing calculator, or you can bring your own,
*Shorter, more direct word problems
*Can only use a calculator during one specific math section,
*No built-in calculator,
*Longer word problems
In-Test Features*Built-in graphing calculator,
*Annotation to leave a note to yourself ,
*Mark for review feature,
*Testing timer,
*Math reference sheet,
*Can still use scrap paper
*Can use scrap paper

Understanding the SAT Score Report

The SAT score report provides a wealth of valuable information, so it’s important to understand what each score means so you can use the feedback to assist with your college preparations.

Both versions of the SAT will provide you with:

  • 1 Total Score: The sum of the two section scores, which ranges from 400-1600. The higher your score, the better your performance. 
  • 2 Section Scores: These are Math, and Reading and Writing, with each section score ranging from 200-800.
  • Percentiles for your Total Score and Section Scores: You’ll see a percentile beside your scores. This number represents the percentage of SAT takers who scored the same or lower than you in the past three years. 
  • Section Benchmark performance: The benchmark score helps you gauge if your section score meets or exceeds the score typically needed to indicate college readiness for that subject area. The Math benchmark is 530, and the Reading and Writing benchmark is 480. (You may need to log into your account to see this information.) 

Source: The College Board

These pieces of information help you evaluate your performance, college readiness, and whether your score will help you achieve your goals, such as being eligible for a scholarship or meeting your desired school’s requirements.

But, the SAT score reports also have some different information depending on the version you took. For instance, the digital SAT will no longer provide the three test scores, two cross-test scores, or seven subscores provided by the paper-based version. 

However, the digital SAT does give additional information about your performance in the Knowledge and Skills section. This section highlights eight content domains measured on the SAT. It is designed to help students understand their strengths and weaknesses to prepare them better for retaking the SAT. 

In this section, students receive a color-coded spectrum ranging from red to green for each content domain to indicate whether it is a relative strength (green) or weakness (red). You’ll also see the approximate number of questions in that area and the percentage of the main section that specific content domain represents. 

 The four Reading and Writing content domains are:

  • Information and Ideas
  • Craft and Structure
  • Expression of Ideas,
  • Standard English Conversions

The four Math content domains are:

  • Algebra
  • Advanced Math
  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis
  • Geometry and Trigonometry

What Are the SAT Score Percentiles?

The SAT score percentiles make it easy to compare your performance to other test takers. Your percentile rank shows the percentage of students who scored the same or less than you. For example, if your SAT total score was at the 50th percentile, 50% of the students received the same score or lower.

Score percentiles have the same meaning regardless of the SAT version. However, the official score report for the digital SAT will only show the “All Tester Percentile” for the total score and section scores. The All Tester Percentile is essentially the “User Percentile” on paper-based SAT score reports. This percentile is based on the scores of students who took the SAT in the past three graduating classes.

You can get additional percentile insights through the expanded report in your College Board student account. There you can see the percentile ranks comparing your score for:

  • Country
  • State
  • All testers (international and the U.S.)  

Here are the scores needed to achieve certain percentile thresholds based on 2023 data. The exact scores for each percentile can change slightly from year to year. 

PercentileTotal ScoreReading & Writing Section ScoreMath Section Score
99th+1570-1600780-800800
99th1530-1560760-770790
90th1350-1360680690
76th1210610600
50th1030520510

Source: The College Board

What is a Good Score for Top Schools like Harvard?

Students accepted into highly selective colleges like Harvard typically score in the 99th percentile or higher on the SAT. 

Additionally, these students usually have other high-quality admission elements, such as an unweighted GPA of at least 3.9, graduating at or near the top of their high school class, and extracurricular activities that align with the school’s values. 

For example, Harvard’s latest average SAT score was 1520, and the 75th percentile was 1580. These specific scores can vary slightly each year but remain in the 99th and above percentiles. Students scoring lower than these scores often have other elements that make them stand out as desirable candidates.

That said, some highly competitive schools, including Harvard, have chosen to make standardized testing optional. For instance, Harvard has a testing-optional policy for the upcoming classes of 2027-2030. But, having a highly competitive SAT score can still help since it shows your academic ability.

What Makes Your SAT Score Competitive?

Typically, a competitive SAT score is one that places you near or above the 50th to the 75th percentile of that school’s applicants or SAT requirements. The higher your score, the more competitive it is.

When determining how competitive your SAT score is, you’ll want to compare it to each school’s specific requirements or the average score of that school’s incoming freshmen instead of using the nationwide SAT percentiles as your gauge. Because, as discussed, score expectations vary widely from school to school. 

For instance, a total SAT score of 1210 places you around the 75th percentile of all test takers in 2023. But, a 1210 would be well below the 25th percentile of incoming freshmen for the University of Michigan, making a 1210 a less competitive score for that school.

 But remember that the SAT is only one factor used to make college admission decisions. Your GPA, extracurriculars, recommendation letters, college essays, and entrance interviews are also components. That’s especially true since many universities currently have a test-optional policy, meaning your SAT or ACT scores aren’t required but, in many cases, are still recommended.

How to Improve Your SAT Score

Many students will find they didn’t do as well as they’d like on the SAT, especially the first time they take it. 

If your SAT score doesn’t fall in a competitive range for the schools you want to attend or doesn’t align with your course grades and GPA, don’t worry. You can retake the exam to improve your SAT score. 

In fact, many students take the SAT three or more times. 

To improve your SAT score, you’ll want to understand what areas of the test were strengths and weaknesses. You can evaluate your section scores, benchmark performance, and Knowledge and Skills information. 

These give you insights into what types of questions or areas of knowledge you did well on and what portions you may need to practice more. This allows you to focus your preparation better, so you’re learning the specific skills and areas of knowledge that can help you improve your score.

Preparing for the SAT

Preparing for the SAT doesn’t have to be stressful or expensive. Many free SAT resources can give you the assistance you need to achieve the competitive score you want.

To help prepare, you’ll want to set a realistic SAT prep plan and schedule so you have ample time to prepare for the next test date.

Additionally, you can prepare by:

  • Using prep books, online resources, or online tutors
  • Identifying test-taking tips that can help you perform better on test day
  • Taking multiple practice exams
  • Reading books in your downtime
  • Learning memorization and mnemonic tactics    

How Does the SAT Scoring Differ From PSAT Scoring?

The PSAT and SAT are similar in many ways, allowing students to use the PSAT to gauge how they’ll perform on the SAT. 

However, the PSAT and SAT do have some differences. For instance, the PSAT is designed to help students prepare for the SAT and as a qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. The SAT is focused on assessing high school student’s readiness for college.

Additionally, the scoring is slightly different. PSAT scores range from 320-1520, while SAT scores range from 400-1600. This is because the PSAT is a slightly simplified version of the SAT since it’s geared toward juniors who may not have had the same information as students taking the SAT.  

However, your PSAT score is a useful indicator of how you’ll perform on the SAT. Also, since the content is similar, you can use your PSAT results to help you understand what areas you may want to focus on to improve your SAT score.  

How Does the SAT Differ From the ACT?

The SAT and ACT are both useful, and preparing for one can help you with the other. If the schools on your wishlist accept both tests, you may wonder how to choose between the ACT and the SAT.

To help, here are the main differences between the SAT and the ACT:

  • ACT math covers a wider variety of concepts than the SAT as the SAT math portion focuses heavily on algebra I.
  • The digital SAT is slightly shorter than the ACT, and students have more time per question on the digital SAT.
  • The ACT has a science section.
  • Currently, the ACT is only available as a paper-and-pencil test. However, the ACT is piloting a digital version in December 2023.
  • The ACT reading section has longer passages with multiple questions per passage, while the digital SAT has shorter passages with only one question. So, students who struggle with reading may prefer to take the digital SAT.

If possible, take a practice test for both the ACT and SAT to see which test you prefer. 

The Role of SAT Scores in College Admissions

While standardized tests are optional for many colleges right now, the test scores can provide helpful information for college admissions

For instance, SAT scores help college admissions:

  • Understand applicants’ readiness for college
  • Highlight candidates’ academic strengths and interests
  • Compare students from different high schools
  • Evaluate what level of college classes are right for the student

Additionally, if you decide to have your test scores shared with interested colleges, schools that are interested in you based on your scores and other shared information can reach out to you.

How SAT Scores Impact Scholarships

Colleges often use SAT scores to assist with awarding their scholarships. You can even get some scholarships automatically based solely on your standardized test score. 

Additionally, private companies and other organizations that award scholarship money often require standardized test scores as a part of the application process.

So, even if you’re applying to all test-optional or test-blind schools, taking the SAT or ACT can still be a good idea. Since getting a high test score can often increase your chance of being awarded or being eligible for some scholarships.

SAT Score FAQ

Is 1200 a good SAT Score?

A 1200 SAT score is considered good as it falls within the competitive applicant range for many colleges and places you around the 72nd percentile (above average range). It reflects academic potential and readiness for college and can help you secure some scholarships, although this score is in the lower range. With test preparation, students can improve their scores to target more competitive institutions.

Is 1400 a good SAT score for Ivy League?

A 1400 SAT score is a strong score, but at a few Ivy League colleges, it might be in the lower half of accepted students. Achieving 1400 reflects academic potential, enhancing college acceptance potential. With extracurricular activities, a 1400 score increases students’ chances of acceptance to Ivy League colleges. 1400 is a competitive score, demonstrating readiness for Ivy League education.

Is 1100 a good SAT score?

An 1100 SAT score places you around the 58th percentile and reflects college readiness and academic potential. It falls within the acceptable range for admissions to many colleges and universities. However, it may be harder to secure a merit-based scholarship.

What’s a good math SAT score?

A strong math SAT score is essential for competitive college admissions, enhancing students’ academic potential. A high math score increases the likelihood of acceptance to selective colleges and opens the door to scholarship opportunities and financial aid. A strong math score demonstrates readiness for college-level mathematics, making it an important component of the overall SAT score.

Is the digital SAT harder?

Many view The digital SAT as somewhat easier than the paper-and-pencil version. This perception is likely due to the digital version being 46 minutes shorter, having fewer questions, and having access to a calculator for all math questions. The adaptive testing approach also allows the digital version to adjust the difficulty based on your performance. However, students must still study and prepare to do their best. 

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Use R2C Insights to help find merit aid and schools that fit the criteria most important to your student. You’ll not only save precious time, but your student will avoid the heartache of applying to schools they aren’t likely to get into or can’t afford to attend.  

Other Articles You Might Like:

What Is a Good PSAT Score? Essential Guide to Scoring, Scholarships, and Prep

The Difference Between SAT and ACT

2024-25 FAFSA Application Guide: Latest Changes, Steps and Tips to Get the Aid You Deserve

 

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