Last Updated on April 20, 2023
Gearing up to take the SAT? You’re probably wondering what kinds of SAT scores test-takers commonly earn. In this article, we’ll answer the following common questions about SAT scores:
- How is the SAT scored?
- What is the average SAT score?
- What is a perfect SAT score?
- What is considered a good SAT score?
Here are all the topics we’ll cover:
- How the SAT Is Scored
- What Is the Average SAT Score?
- What Is a Good SAT Score?
- What Is a Perfect SAT Score?
- Key Takeaways
- What’s Next?
First, let’s review how the SAT is scored.
How the SAT Is Scored
When test-takers receive their SAT scores, they actually receive 3 different scores:
- A score of 200 to 800 for the math section.
- A score of 200 to 800 for the Reading and Writing section.
- A total score, which is the sum of the 2 section scores
As we can see, both the Math and Reading and Writing sections have the same score range. The lowest possible score on either of those sections is 200, and the highest possible score is 800.
Furthermore, since the total score, sometimes called the “composite score,” is the sum of your section scores, your total score can be anywhere from 400 to 1600.
The exact way that section scores are calculated is not public knowledge. (The makers of standardized tests generally like to keep that type of information under wraps.) That said, there are a few key aspects of SAT scoring that we do know.
How Scores Are Calculated
Your SAT section scores are initially based on the number of questions you answer correctly. However, those “raw scores” are adjusted to account for variations in difficulty among different versions of the exam in order to produce the “scaled scores” you ultimately receive. So, you will never actually see your raw scores — nor will any schools. Your scaled scores are the scores provided on score reports.
Again, no one other than the College Board, the test-maker, knows exactly how the score adjustments are made. But the important point is the adjustments allow the scores of people who took the test at different times to be fairly compared.
For instance, say one test-taker sat for the SAT in 2022, while another takes the exam in 2025. Even if those two test-takers see different versions of the exam, we should still be able to compare their exam performances in a fair way. So, if the 2022 test-taker scored 1300 on the exam, and the 2025 test-taker scores 1350, we should be able to compare those performances in the same way we would two test-takers sitting for the SAT in the same year.
One bit of good news about SAT scoring is that points are not deducted from your raw scores for incorrect answers. Of course, the more questions you correctly answer, the higher your raw scores will be. But it’s comforting to know that your raw scores aren’t reduced each time you select an incorrect answer.
SAT scores consist of a Math score and a Reading and Writing score, each with a score range of 200-800, along with a total score that is the sum of those two section scores.
Let’s discuss one more important aspect of how the SAT is scored: score percentiles.
SAT Score Percentiles
Every SAT score you receive is associated with a percentile ranking. Score percentiles allow you — and schools — to compare your performance on the SAT to that of your peers.
For example, according to the score percentiles published by the College Board in 2021, a 1290 total score will put you in the 85th percentile. That percentile ranking means that 85% of test-takers scored at or below 1290. Another way to look at that ranking is that 1290 puts you in the top 15% of test-takers.
SAT score percentiles are based on actual scores of students who took the SAT, but not all students throughout history. Rather, the College Board updates the rankings every few years, so that they reflect the performance level of recent test-takers. According to the College Board, the 2021 rankings are based on the scores of students in the previous three graduating classes of high school.
SAT percentiles allow you — and schools — to compare your SAT performance to that of other students who recently took the SAT.
Now that we understand how the SAT is scored, let’s discuss what the average SAT score is.
What Is the Average SAT Score?
As you might imagine, the College Board calculates average SAT scores by adding up the scores of all SAT test-takers in a certain year, and then dividing that sum by the number of test-takers. For examples of average SAT scores, we can consider the averages from 2021.
Average Composite Score
According to the College Board, for the graduating class of 2021, the average composite score on the SAT is 1060. This score is ranked in the 52th percentile, meaning that approximately 52% of test-takers scored at or below 1060.
According to the College Board, the average composite score on the SAT is 1088.
Average Section Scores
The average score on the Math section is 528. (For reference, 530 is a 54th percentile score.)
The average on the Reading and Writing section is slightly higher at 533. (For reference, 530 is a 51st percentile score.)
So, students taking the SAT perform slightly better on average in Reading and Writing than in Math.
According to the College Board, the average SAT math score is 528 and the average verbal score is 533.
Now, you may be wondering, are average SAT scores good enough? What is a good SAT score?
What Is a Good SAT Score?
What is considered an above average SAT score or a good SAT score really depends on which colleges and universities you’re interested in.
The more competitive a school is, the higher the average SAT score of admitted students at the school is likely to be.
So, at some schools, many admitted students may have SAT scores around the average national SAT score. At other schools, especially highly ranked schools, many students may have scores that are significantly higher than the average.
Thus, figuring out what a good SAT score is for YOU will take some research into the schools you’re interested in applying to, because you’ll want to set your target SAT score to be in line with the scores of accepted students at those schools.
TTP PRO TIP:
Set your target SAT score to be in line with the scores of accepted students at the schools you’re interested in applying to.
Do Your Research
A good place to start researching school SAT data is the College Board website BigFuture. There, you can search for any college to learn basic stats such as the GPAs and SAT scores of admitted freshmen (and ACT scores, in some cases), which standardized tests are required for admission, and more.
Those pages also link to the individual college websites. I recommend checking those individual websites to confirm the information you find on the College Board’s site, if you decide you’re really interested in a school. After all, we don’t know how often College Board updates its site, and you want to be sure you get the most current student data.
Even if you don’t yet have a complete list of all the schools you’ll apply to, as long as you know a few schools you’re interested in, you can get a solid idea of the type of SAT score that may be expected. After all, schools of a similar character or similar rankings will probably have similar expectations when it comes to SAT scores.
TTP PRO TIP:
Set your score goal before you start your SAT prep, so you can chart a realistic course of study and stay motivated.
Now that you know what average and good SAT scores are, you may be wondering whether you need a perfect SAT score to be a competitive applicant to schools. Let’s discuss.
What Is a Perfect SAT Score?
Many students beginning their SAT prep want to know, “What is the highest SAT score possible?” As we touched on earlier, the highest SAT score a test-taker can earn is 1600. A 1600 score means that the test-taker earned perfect SAT scores of 800 on both sections of the exam.
Now, some students can get pretty wrapped up in the idea of earning a perfect SAT score. The thing to keep in mind is that perfect scores aren’t necessary for entry to colleges and universities — even to top schools.
Remember, your SAT score is just one aspect of your college application. So, while it’s commendable to aim high, make sure you’re not putting undue pressure on yourself to earn a perfect score.
Furthermore, make sure you’re not neglecting other aspects of your college applications in pursuit of a perfect SAT score. Many, many students gain acceptance to their dream schools without perfect SAT scores. In fact, less than 1% of all SAT test-takers earn a perfect score on the exam.
TTP PRO TIP:
Perfect SAT scores aren’t required for entry even to top colleges and universities. So, don’t neglect other aspects of your applications in pursuit of a 1600.
As you embark on your SAT journey, keep the following points in mind:
- The SAT Math and Reading and Writing sections each have a score range of 200 to 800.
- The composite score on the SAT is the sum of the two section scores. So, the lowest possible composite score is 400 and the highest possible is 1600.
- Per 2021 data, the average SAT score is 1050. The average section scores are 520 in math and 530 in Reading and Writing.
- What is considered a good SAT score varies from school to school.
- Base your target SAT score on the scores of accepted students at the schools you’re interested in applying to.
- Set your target SAT score before you start your test prep.
- SAT scores are just one aspect of your college applications. So, it’s not wise to neglect other aspects of your applications in pursuit of a perfect score.
Now that you know the average SAT score, you may want to know what score you’ll need for Ivy League schools.
Just beginning your SAT prep? Check out this helpful guide with 5 steps to start your SAT studies off right.