SAT Benchmarks

Part of your score report will show a benchmark for each section of the SAT. These benchmarks represent “college and career readiness.” If you score at least the benchmark score on both sections, you are deemed “college ready.” The benchmark scores are given for both sections and are 480 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 530 for Math, for a total of 1010.

SAT Score Percentiles

Your total score corresponds to a percentile ranking, or what percent of students you scored better than. So, if you score in the 75th percentile, you scored better than 75% of test takers, but worse than 25% of test takers. While not a part of your score, it is important to know how you scored in comparison to other students.What Is A Good SAT Score?

Well, the short answer is that it depends.

A 1060 is about average, so anything above that is above average, and might be considered a good score.

A good score will be different for each student. A good score for you is based on the schools you want to go to. Generally, the higher ranked a school is, the better score you need to get in.

It also depends on the other pieces of your application. If you have a near perfect GPA, your SAT score can be a little lower to still be competitive.  Schools also look at your letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, background, and admissions essays.

For most colleges, a score of 1300 (88th percentile) and up will make you a competitive applicant. And a 1500 or higher pretty much opens the door to any institution in the country.

But, what really makes a “good” SAT score is an SAT score that makes you competitive at the schools you are interested in attending. That same 1300 would make schools like Stanford, Harvard, and Cornell out of reach, and would not be considered a good score if you wished to attend those schools. However, it would be a solid score for schools like Cal Poly  and Northwestern.

How Do I Know if My SAT Score Is Good Enough For My Dream School?

Fortunately, most colleges publish their average SAT scores and GPAs of incoming freshman on their websites, so it is pretty easy to see where your score needs to be for your dream school. The schools will usually show the scores that range from the 25th to the 75th percentile of the new class.

Fortunately, for most schools, you don’t need a perfect SAT score. Your target score should fall between the 50th and 75th percentile of scores for your chosen school.

Sometimes the overall SAT percentiles are misleading. Take, for example the University of California system. They publish their overall SAT statistics, but because they prioritize in state students, their scores are usually lower than out of state students. Also, different programs within certain schools have different requirements and averages. The engineering program at MIT is one such example. Incoming students there have an average SAT score of 1350, but with a heavier weight and expectation placed on the math section of the exam.

Check with the schools you are considering for information on their average SAT scores as well as their GPA averages. Take a look at this list for averages for schools across the country. From here, you can determine what a good score is for you. If you aren’t sure about different score priorities, call the admissions officers at your school of choice or work with your counselor to find out.

4 Steps to Achieving a Good SAT Score:

For most students, getting a good SAT score is an attainable goal, with the right amount of preparation, strategy, and experience.

The key to a near perfect SAT score (or at least one that will get you into your dream school) is a personalized study plan that takes your existing knowledge into account and works to improve your weaknesses. It also involves time, dedication, and work.

  1. Start with either a practice test, the PSAT, or the actual SAT. From there, you will be able to determine how much of an improvement you need in order to get your SAT target score.
  2. Stick to a study schedule. It is near impossible to get a good SAT score without studying. Yes, we’ve all heard stories of kids who wake up one morning, take the SAT without ever practicing or studying, and get a near perfect score. This is extremely rare (and do you really want to take the chance that you might be one of these students?) and usually involves students who have been preparing for the SAT without actually being aware that they are preparing for the SAT, like those with extensive vocabulary and math skills. For most students, it is impossible to get a good SAT score without dedicating a significant amount of time and energy to studying.
  3. Learn from experts. The SAT questions are usually simple problems, worded in more complex ways. They ask questions you already know how to solve, but figuring out what they are asking is what makes it more difficult. Take a prep course to learn SAT strategies for deciphering and simplifying questions from SAT experts. 
  4. Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for preparation when it comes to the SAT (and many things in life). Take as many practice tests as possible, while trying to simulate the real test as much as possible. Build practice tests into your study plan.

Improving your SAT Score

What if I get a Bad Score?

There are very few things that cause more anxiety for 11th and 12th graders than the SAT. Although it does carry a lot of weight in the college admissions process, a low SAT score will not prevent you from getting into a good college.

There are a few things you can do if your SAT score isn’t quite where you hoped it would be:

  1. Retake the SAT. Depending on your application timelines and when you took the SAT, you may be able to take it again. Of course, retaking the SAT, without additional prep work, likely won’t help at all. So, take a look at a few top SAT courses, and continue to practice.
  2. Beef up other areas of your application. If your SAT score isn’t great, find other ways to make yourself stand out from the competition. This could include improving your SAT writing section, making sure your academic record is strong, and perfecting your application essays.
  3. Take the ACT. The two tests are remarkably different. The SAT is designed to measure your reasoning and verbal skills, while the ACT is designed to measure what you’ve learned in school. You may be better suited for the ACT, and most schools will take both. If you’re considering taking the ACT, review our in-depth articles to amplify the effectiveness of your studies.
  4. Find a school that doesn’t take or require the SAT. There are over 800 colleges that don’t require test scores, and an increasing number that won’t even look at your scores if you send them. They recognize that your academic record may be a better predictor of your potential college success than a standardized test.
  5. Find a school where your bad score is a good score. Different schools have different average SAT scores for their incoming students. If you find yourself in a position with not enough time or energy to improve your score, do a little research and find a school where your score is within the average SAT score range.

Every student’s college application package is unique, and the SAT is just one part of it (although one important part). Determining what a good score for you, based on your dream school, then making a plan to get that score and practicing and studying as planned is the best way to ensure that you get a good score. Getting additional help when needed is one of the best ways to develop a plan, stick with it, and use your time and energy to the best of your ability.

What is your target SAT score? How did you determine it? And if you have already taken the SAT, how did you do? What did you do to get the score you wanted?