What's a Good SAT Score?

November 30, 2018

If you're embarking on a rigorous SAT course of study, more than likely, you are scratching your head wondering, "What on earth is a good score?" This is only natural, particularly when faced with a dense and seemingly complicated standardized test that can pave the way forward to your education and career. Have you made your shortlist of colleges and universities you wish to attend? Are you aware of the percentile averages of each school? If so, how does that relate to your own score? These are just a handful of many questions you must continue to ask yourself.

No one has a magic bullet on how to get to a perfect score of 1600, but many will give you their own insights and opinions in how to enhance your test day performance. Before focusing so much on test-taking strategies, let's examine what makes a "good" SAT score by looking at it from various angles. Thankfully, the College Board publishes a plethora of data on the test, which helps paint a larger picture of what to expect and anticipate as you proceed to immerse yourself with multiple choice questions and dense reading passages.

SAT Scores From a Glance

There are two sectional scores for the SAT—Verbal and Math. Each section's score ranges from 200-800 points. According to the College Board, the average score for each section is 500 points with an average composite score of 1000. The lowest you can get on the SAT is 400; the highest is 1600.

In order to better understand what goes into a good SAT score, we must look at national and school-specific averages. In doing so, it's imperative to understand these through percentiles, which of course help institutions separate students' scores and applications by level of proficiency. First and foremost, let's examine SAT scores on a national level in terms of average scores: 90th, 73rd, 50th, 25th, and 10th percentiles. All of these statistics are drawn from the College Board's recent 2017 publication. College Board is the maker, innovator, and administrator behind the SAT.

Also, please note these scores are based on the revised 2016 SAT, which is on a scale from 400 to 1600 for both the Reading/Writing and Math sections. 

PercentileReading/WritingMathTOTAL
90th percentile (excellent)6706801340
73rd percentile6005901180
50th percentile5305201050
25th percentile460450910
10th percentile (very poor)400390810

Does anything surprise you about this data? It should—and it's good news, too! The highest percentile has an average composite score of 1340, which doesn't even break 1400. (Remember—the highest "perfect" score you can get is 1600.) This should make you feel better about the elusive "1600 ideal score," particularly when applying to elite schools that prefer a student population with scores in the upper percentiles.

While it may not be pertinent to your course of study, it's worth featuring data that the College Board published in 2017 which detailed average scores compared to gender. Naturally, these are only averages and exceptions can always be made, but it's worth noting, particularly in schools that value a diversity of demographics and even male-to-female ratios. 

GenderReading/WritingMathTOTAL
Male5325381070
Female5345161050

While it may be an ardent mission of educational professionals to close the gap between standards of SAT performance with men and women, the stats are all too clear that males, in fact, do have a 20-point national average over females, despite lacking somewhat in the Reading/Writing portion. Let's take a look at further data on ethnicities published by the College Board as it relates to SAT performance. The exam gives you the option of providing your ethnicity/race, which is where the bulk of this information comes from. 

Ethnicity# of studentsReading/WritingMathTotal
American Indian/Alaska Native7,782486477963
Asian158,0315696121181
Black/African American225,860479462941
Hispanic/Latino408,067500489990
Hawaiian/Pacific Islander4,131498488986
White/Caucasian760,3625655531118
Two or more races57,0495605441103
No response94,199475485961
Total1,715,4815335271060

In addition to gender and race, how SAT scores are influenced by specific high school educations can also inform your performance. Of course, like with anything, there are always exceptions, but finding your type of high school here can help you better understand your test-taking process through these national averages. Also, please note that these statistics come from 2016 and use the old SAT and its scoring rubric in College Board's Total Group Profile Report. However, conversions have been done on these numbers so as not to create scoring-related confusion! 

Type of SchoolMathReading/WritingTotal
Public5205401060
Religious5605901150
Independent5605901150
Other/Unknown5205501070

Through this table, it's evident that students at independent schools have the highest national averages. Of course, another main priority for many educators from a public policy perspective is to increase scores of students in public schools. With hard work and determination, you can beat and exceed your school-specific national average.

Averages By School

Doing the proper research to determine the average SAT score for each of your chosen universities is relatively easy to find online. Many universities publish these statistics openly, which is beneficial in revealing the competition pool as well as setting exam standards. Do you know the averages of the undergraduate programs to which you're applying? Keeping a list of them handy is ideal when studying for the SAT—not so much to intimidate you, but to keep a number in the back of your mind that helps you to reach further and further towards your goal. These averages have been accumulated based off published data from each featured university in the 75th percentile scores.

UniversityAverage SAT Score Range
Brown1410-1570
Cornell1390-1550
Columbia1460-1580
Dartmouth1440-1580
Harvard1480-1600
University of Pennsylvania1440-1570
Princeton1470-1600
Yale1480-1600
Princeton1400-1590
MIT1470-1590

The Takeaway

In order to enhance your SAT score, it's best to really comprehend your mistakes. These can be best understood through practice exercises, as well as mock diagnostic exams. SAT errors typically fall into four categories: time pressure, question comprehension issue, careless error, and content weakness. Cataloging your incorrect answers in an "error log" can assist you in returning back to them in the future, hopefully under the expert guidance of a private tutor or SAT teacher at Manhattan Review or another reputable academic services firm.

All in all, you must decide the best course of study for you, catering to your strengths and weaknesses. Be prepared to sit for the SAT more than once, particularly if you're aiming for a 90th percentile score. Elite scores pave way for admission to elite institutions, but the process itself takes time. Be patient with yourself as you strive to better understand your performance on the SAT and the role it plays in the lives of prospective undergraduates.