Average SAT Scores for the New SAT
The SAT is a standardized test. I know, this is hardly big news. But when we are talking about average SAT scores, it’s a big deal. The whole point of a test is based on the idea of a bell curve. The exact middle of the point scale should correspond to the 50th percentile, meaning exactly half the students get higher than this score, half get lower.
Things don’t always work out perfectly. On the old SAT, which was phased out in March 2016, the math mean was slightly higher than 500 (the projected mean score) and slightly lower for the writing and reading. But the total score was close enough to 1500, which was the middle.
Remember, though, that the new SAT is out of 1600, not 2400.
The most recent nationwide data on average SAT scores we have access to was collected by The College Board from students who took the SAT in 2016, after the new test was phased in.
The average score on the new SAT in 2016 was 1010. The 25% (meaning you score only better than 25% of test takers) was 880 and the 75% was 1160.
Of course, what is average nationwide and what is average at a given school are two completely different things. For instance, the average 2016 Harvard SAT score was 1515, which is 505 points higher than the national average.
The bottom line: For any SAT score range, you should aim to score as close to the 75% mark as possible, unless you have something that is very compelling about your transcript.
Not all SAT average scores are created equally
Above, I gave you what is called a composite score. Some schools, however, won’t just be looking at the composite score. To give you an example, imagine you are on the college admissions board of a prestigious university that focuses on engineering. You will be focused on the math score.
So if you get two students with a 1400, but one has a perfect 800 in math and the other has only a 600 math, you are probably going to lean towards the first candidate, all other things being equal.
SAT cross-section and subscores
The example with the math and verbal scores was pretty straightforward. The crazy thing is those aren’t the only scores schools might be looking at, and I’m not talking about the optional essay.
These extra scores aren’t optional; they are built into the verbal and math sections.
First off, you have cross-section scores, which refer to concepts that are tested over several sections. For instance, there is an analysis of science cross-section question type. This might include the graphs you encounter in both the reading and the writing sections.
The cross-section scores are based on a range from 10-40. These scores can influence admissions decisions if you are applying to a specific program in which the scores are relevant. For instance, if you are applying to MIT for a science-based major, the score on the analysis of science cross-section is likely to be more important.
Additionally, you also have subscores, which are for a concept within a section. In the writing section, there are separate scores for Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. For Math, Heart of Algebra and Passport to Advanced Mathematics will have a separate subscore.
Some subscores, such as Relevant Words in Contexts and Command of Evidence straddle the verbal section, popping up in both the reading and the writing sections (remember: the reading and writing sections are lumped together in one verbal score, which is out of 800).
The subscores range from 1-15. Colleges rarely release averages for subscores and cross-test scores for their admitted students; they are just there to give a little bit more information should admissions officers really want to dig deeply, or for you to better understand your own scores.
What does the average SAT score really tell you?
The answer is a resounding “not much.” This is the average SAT score of every single person who takes the SAT. Think about where those 3 million people are coming from. The average SAT score at your school might be drastically higher or lower than the universal average. In fact, the average SAT score in your state might be a whole lot higher or lower.
And even if that doesn’t throw your perspective off a bit, here’s another thought: throughout most of the middle of the U.S., the students who take the SAT vs ACT are generally those applying to the most exclusive schools. So there’s this huge number of kids who are scoring much higher than the “average student” would theoretically score, and that skews the balance a bit. Needless to say, they’re not overly concerned with the SAT Score Choice—they’ve got it in the bag.
And let’s add to that some even further complications. Some students have to take the SAT as a requirement and don’t care what score they get. Others, worse still, are forced to take it by parents who fear their children face a life of serving burgers and fries down the street if they don’t get a degree (although I hate to break their hearts, a B.A. doesn’t actually prevent a McJob).
So just going by your SAT score vs. the national mean, you don’t really get a lot of helpful information.
Your goal SAT score
Sure, the national average would be important if you were in direct competition with your one-million-plus future college friends, but the truth is you aren’t. Some of those nice folks might be headed to a big state school in Ohio or California, while you may have a tiny liberal arts college in Podunk, North Carolina or upstate New York in mind.
The people you’re in competition with, those students whose scores you need to care about, are the ones applying to the same schools as you. Nobody else matters — not that kid who wears cargo pants every day and says he’s shooting for a perfect score, not that really quiet girl who you heard already did get a perfect score, not the kid who can’t figure out how he got a “700%” (That’s like… an A++, right?), and definitely not Kobe Bryant.
The only thing that counts is what score students accepted to your dream schools are averaging. It’s not always easy to hunt down that info, but do your best to get it. You can almost always find this information on your prospective school’s admission’s website. Then use that average as your metric, and aim for the 75th percentile. Nevermind the universal average score.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in June, 2013 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.