Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it: the new SAT scoring system is extremely confusing. There are subscores, cross-test scores, an optional essay score and much more. Because I don’t want you to be uncertain about something as important as your SAT scores, I’m here to dispel any confusion and answer your questions.
I’ll talk about all of the different scores: what they mean, SAT score ranges, what SAT scores you need for top colleges, and how everything ties together.
Now let’s get into anything and everything relating to SAT scores and the SAT score range.
Table of Contents
- SAT Scoring Basics
- Understanding Your SAT Scores
- Old SAT Scores vs. New SAT Scores
- SAT Percentiles
- Good SAT Score Ranges by Grade Level
- SAT Score Ranges for College Admissions
- SAT Score Ranges and Other Tests
- How to Improve Your SAT Scores
- Diagnostic Quiz: How Will You Score on the SAT?
SAT Scoring Basics
- You’ll receive two scores, one math and one verbal (combined from the reading and writing sections).
- Each of these scores is on a scale between 200 and 800 points.
- The total maximum, composite (combined) score you can earn on the new SAT is 1600 points.
- The lowest sectional score you can get on either the reading/writing or the math section is 200 and the highest is 800.
This makes the overall SAT score range (combining Reading/Writing and Math) 400-1600.
Understanding Your SAT Scores
If you’re with me so far, it’s time to talk about average SAT scores: the average score on each section is 500 points. The average overall SAT score is 1000. These are theoretical averages but the real averages tend to be within about 20 points, plus or minus, of 500 points.
Now, this is where things are going to get a little more complicated. On the new SAT there are at least three different types of scores. So hold onto your seats.
1. Test Scores
Okay, so the new SAT lumps the separate reading and writing sections into one 800 score. But the College Board still wants to give colleges a better idea of how to understand your SAT scores: how you did on the reading section and how you did on the writing section.
That makes sense, but for good measure, they figured they’d throw math in as a test score. So the three “test scores” are as follows:
- Reading Test Score
- Writing and Language Test Score
- Math Test Score
Each one of these tests will be scored on a range of 10 to 40. This score will correspond to how many questions you missed on each section and is adapted to fit the score range.
The two scores, one from the reading test and one from the writing test, will be combined to give you a verbal score on the 200-800 range. The math score on the 10-40 scale will be converted to a final score from 200-800. Add these together and you’ll have your overall SAT score.
How important are these “test scores”? Honestly, they just give people looking at your score report a way to compare your scores to students who took different versions of the SAT. This relates to an idea called equating, which allows the SAT to compare scores between different tests. But it’s pretty technical and the statistics folks over at College Board take care of this–you just have to look at your score.
What is important for you–and what colleges will likely look at if they want to get a better sense of your performance–is how you did on the reading section and how you did on the writing sections. After all, you could do very poorly on reading yet thrive in writing and can get the same verbal score as somebody who was average on both sections.
2. Cross-Test Scores
So the new SAT doesn’t have a science section like the ACT does, but it does have “cross-test scores.” Essentially, there are questions that are science related, whether they are in the math section, the reading section, or the writing section (hence the name “cross-test”).
There are also cross-test scores related to history/social studies.
Here’s how the College Board terms the cross-test sections:
- Analysis in History/Social Studies
- Analysis in Science
Each score will be on a scale of 10-40.
The College Board wants to give college admissions officers as much information as possible. That gives us (I promise) our final set of scores for the required sections of the SAT. There are seven of these scores, the first two relate to reading comprehension, the next two relate to writing and the last three relate to math.
- Command of Evidence
- Words in Context
- Expression of Ideas
- Standard English Conventions
- Heart of Algebra
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis
- Passport to Advanced Math
Each of these subscores is on a scale of 1 to 15.
4. Optional Essay Scores
Last, and perhaps least (for those not taking the essay), you’ll have three scores based on the 55-minute writing sample you’ll have to cough up after working on the test for three hours.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Two graders will be scoring your essay.
- Each grader will give your essay a score (1-4) for each of three different criteria.
- The three criteria are:
- reading (how well do you understand the passage)
- analysis (how well do you describe how the writer is persuading his/her audience)
- writing (how well do you write)
In theory, this gives us a total of 24 possible points. However, the scores from each grader will NOT be added up into a composite score, but will instead be added to the other grader’s scores in each area. Thus, you’ll be presented with three scores, on the following scales:
- a 2-8 range for reading
- a 2-8 range for analysis
- a 2-8 range for writing
So a possible SAT essay score might look something like this: 7 reading/5 analysis/6 writing.
What’s the Deal With All These Different SAT Scores?
Why oh why is the SAT even coming up with such a complex scoring system in the first place? The SAT wants to give schools a lot better breakdown of your skill set. On the old, pre-2016 SAT, there were just three section scores. Now, colleges that want to know the difference between two very similar candidates in terms of SAT scores can learn a lot more with the subscores and cross-test scores.
At the same time, colleges don’t want to be inundated with all this information for each of the thousands of candidates they look at. That way they can start with the general score and if they want to dig deeper, they can look at these other scores.
Old SAT Scores vs. New SAT Scores
How do we compare new SAT scores to old SAT scores? The two tests are very different; a student who scored in the 95% on the old math section might not even crack 80% on the new one, or vice versa.
But we have to be able to compare scores. Otherwise, we can’t know how students who took only the old test did in comparison to those who took the new test.
With a table to show which score on the old SAT corresponds to which score on the new SAT, colleges can get a real sense of how the new test stacks up to the old one.
Though the tests are pretty different, another way to compare the two is by using SAT score percentiles. If a score of 800 used to correspond to the top 1%, then the same should apply to the new test. (Of course, I’m just using a vague answer here. It’s actually a lot more complicated than this—some of the statistics involved is Ph.D level stuff!)
If you’re confused about SAT percentiles on top of everything else, I definitely don’t blame you! The College Board’s most recently released SAT percentiles are in a confusing format. So let’s break down what their terms mean, and then take a look at the percentile tables.
Terms to Know
First of all, if you look at the College Board’s document, you’ll see that they give you two percentiles: the “Nationally Representative Sample” and the “SAT User.” You want to focus on the SAT User percentiles, which are what we’ve provided below.
- The Nationally Representative Sample scores are actually based on research the College Board did about how 11th and 12th graders would score on the new SAT…including those students who aren’t actually taking it. (Confusing, right?) But because students who are actually taking the SAT are more likely to be applying to college, they are also those who would generally score higher on the test anyway. In short, this sample lowballs the percentile.
- SAT User percentiles aren’t perfect—after all, the College Board only has data from March 2016 to present to base their percentiles on—but they are based on the actual scores of actual users (those graduating in 2017). And they’re going to be the percentiles colleges are more interested in.
Whew! With no further ado…your new SAT percentile tables.
SAT Percentiles (Composite)
|Total (Composite) Score||Percentile|
SAT Percentiles (Math)
|Total Score (Section)||Percentile (Math)|
SAT Percentiles (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing)
|Total Score (Section)||Percentile (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing)|
Good SAT Score Ranges by Grade Level
A question I get a lot is from parents wondering whether their child should take the SAT as a junior, or wait until senior year.
Their thinking is that if the student does well enough on the SAT for a junior, then they don’t have to worry about taking the SAT as a senior. The thing is, colleges don’t give preferential treatment to those who take the SAT at a younger age. You can take the SAT in 6th grade, get a 1200, and then never take the SAT again. That 1200 actually isn’t any different from a senior’s 1200.
Yet it might not be quite so simple. Given that, at least on average, students become more intellectually mature in an extra year of schooling—vocabularies enlarge, a sense of proper grammar becomes more fine-tuned, the ability to concentrate increases slightly—a senior might expect to see a 50-point increase in an SAT score. That might not seem like much, but going from a 1450 to a 1500 does look like a big deal on paper.
What Is a Good SAT Score in Senior Year?
A good SAT score for a senior really depends on the schools you are applying to, your current GPA, and a host of other factors, such as your essay or extracurricular activities. 1200 is a pretty good score; 1300 is clearly a good score and 1400+ is a great score.
What Is a Good SAT Score in Junior Year?
Provided that you continue to pay attention in school and you continue to do some SAT prep in your spare time, you will probably do a little bit better as a senior, but not by too much.
A good SAT score for a junior, therefore, is about 50 points less than what a good SAT score is for a senior.
If you are a junior and you have enough time to study, then getting close to 1400 is a good score.
What Is a Good SAT Score for Sophomores and Freshmen?
We highly recommend that you take the PSAT rather than the SAT if you are a sophomore or a freshman. You don’t have to include the score on your college apps, and it puts you in the running for National Merit Scholarships!
With that said, if you take a (good) SAT practice test before your junior year…1300+ is a great score for a sophomore, while 1200+ is a fantastic score for a freshman. But that’s only if you’re willing to continue to put in work on the SAT as you progress through your coursework! Otherwise, you’re more than likely to see your score stagnate pretty seriously.
SAT Score Ranges for College Admissions
Now that you know the general SAT score range to aim for, what is a good SAT score for your dream school, or to earn some scholarship dollars? Let’s take a closer look.
What SAT Score Range Do I Need for the Top 100 US Universities?
Just to make things a little easier on you, we’ve put together this table of SAT score ranges for the top 100 universities in the United States. The numbers are from the middle 50% score range (meaning 25% of admitted students had lower scores and 25% had higher scores).
Expand the table by choosing a number of entries from the drop-down menu, or type the name of your chosen school in the search box to find its the middle 50% score range!
What SAT Score Range Do I Need for the Ivy League?
We’ve also put together a table showing the middle 50% score range for Ivy League schools. Enjoy!
|University||Old SAT Score Range||Projected New SAT Score Range|
|University of Pennsylvania||2050-2330||1440-1570|
For more information on a few of these top schools’ scores, you can check out the following posts:
What Is a Good SAT Score for Scholarships?
Well…it depends. Let me break it down for you.
First of all, many colleges around the country have what are called guaranteed scholarships. These scholarships are automatically awarded to accepted students who have earned a certain SAT score. The cool thing about them is that you don’t even have to fill out a separate application. When you’re researching colleges, keep your eyes open for what guaranteed scholarships are out there.
A larger number of colleges also have general merit scholarships. These scholarships have the same SAT requirements, but you are in competition with other accepted students for a limited number of awards. These scholarships may require a separate application, along with a personal or themed essay. In short, read those directions closely!
So…what’s the score I should aim for?
I’m getting to that. Because every scholarship’s requirements are different, you have some work to do: get out there and find some scholarships!
Many colleges and universities have specific scholarships available for their current and incoming students, so if you have a list of schools you’re interested in, a simple Google search for your top college choices along with the search term “merit scholarships” is all you need.
Scholarships based on academic merit often have minimum SAT scores provided in their descriptions. Take note of any SAT score requirements you find during your research, then average all those scores. The result is your minimum SAT score goal.
Here’s a ballpark estimate, to give you an idea of what you’re dealing with: At private institutions, such as Baylor University, one scholarship awards approximately $41,000 per year with a minimum SAT score of 1390. At William Woods University, you could receive four years of full tuition, room, and board with a minimum SAT score of 1360. (There are other requirements for these scholarships beyond your minimum SAT score, so again: don’t forget to read those directions.) The amount of scholarship money available varies widely between schools, but if you’re looking at private colleges and universities, you’re likely to see these kinds of numbers.
There are also scholarships out there that aren’t affiliated any specific academic institute (the Burger King James W. McLamore WHOPPER Scholarship for example), so once you’ve exhausted your college list, try casting a wider net. Here are just some of the scholarships I discovered after a few minutes of online research:
- Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation
- American Fire Sprinkler Association Scholarship
- American Board of Funeral Service Education Scholarship
Having a specific score in mind will help you focus your SAT prep, but don’t forget that this score is a minimum – ideally you want to be scoring a bit higher than this number on your practice tests (and the real thing, of course!).
Once you’ve got a strong SAT score under your belt, you can shift your focus to the scholarship applications themselves, and any essays and/or personal statements that may be lurking within.
SAT Score Ranges and Other Tests
SAT vs ACT Scores
SAT and ACT score ranges are about as dry a topic as they come. But there’s actually some serious drama behind this. Right now, the ACT is pretty much fuming that the College Board decided to release an SAT to ACT score “translation” without consulting them. (“Hey College Board–why you no invite me to party?”)
So the information I’m about to share is somewhat provisional; it might change if the ACT decides to release its own concordance tables (spoiler alert: the College Board won’t be invited). That said, for now, this is what colleges will most likely go on: ACT to New SAT to Old SAT Score Conversion Chart.
As you can see from the tables on this score conversion chart, a perfect score on the ACT is a perfect score on the SAT. Though an ACT score of 35 works out to a 1540 on the SAT, remember that the ACT doesn’t have nearly as large of a score range as the SAT (36 increments from 1-36 vs. 120 increments for the SAT from 400-1600).
PSAT Score Range
Remember I told you how I was here to dispel confusion? Well, that’s very likely what we have around the PSAT, since there is no longer just one PSAT but three, depending on your grade level.
The main PSAT, the one for sophomores and juniors, has two primary functions: to see if you qualify for the National Merit Program and to give you a sense of what your likely SAT score will be. Unless, you aim to score in the top 2%, you shouldn’t worry about the scholarship. You should, though, take your PSAT score seriously because it will let you know how much you’ll need to prep for the SAT to hit your target score.
The big news is that a perfect PSAT score corresponds to a 1520 on the SAT. That’s right, because the PSAT is an easier test, it won’t—at the very high end—give you a sense of how well you’ll score on the SAT. But otherwise, your PSAT score—which ranges from 320-1520—will correspond to what you’d likely get on the SAT where you to take it right after the SAT (not as in the very same day, but you know what I mean).
However, you can improve your performance on the actual SAT by prepping and practice; or, if you slack off, your SAT score might be lower than what your PSAT score would suggest.
How to Improve Your SAT Test Scores
As I implied from the PSAT vs SAT bit above, your score has its own range–it’s not set in stone. How to study for the SAT is a huge factor, as is how well you perform on test day.
Establish a Baseline
This is the most important thing to do–and this goes for almost any point-based or time-based goal you want to set for yourself What that means is you should take an official practice test before doing anything else (these are available for free at Khan Academy or in the Official Study Guide for a little bit more). This will give you what is called your baseline score, or the score you get when you haven’t started preparing yet.
The goal is to increase that SAT score as you take subsequent practice tests. Brushing up on the fundamentals is the first order of business.
Improve How Well You Test
Believe it or not, this is a skill, too. Those who are good test-takers are often those who’ve developed this skill, and therefore get a good SAT score. What this means is you should learn how to:
- Pace yourself during an exam
- Remain calm when a question flusters you (often guess and move on is the best strategy)
- Avoid careless mistakes in the future. (Magoosh’s SAT study guide can help you do this!)
Improving on these three things will help boost your score. So next time you come to this post, when you look at the table above on SAT score ranges for top schools, you’ll be focusing on the higher end of the range and getting the best SAT score you can get.
Diagnostic Quiz: How Will You Score on the SAT?
Quiz Starts Here:
This quiz has one page for each SAT section (3 total): Writing and Language (“English”), Math, and Reading.
This quiz will take about 10-20 minutes to complete, so grab some scratch paper and a calculator, and do your best!
How did you do on the Diagnostic Quiz above? What else do you want to know about SAT score ranges? Let us know in the comments!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.