What is a High SAT Score?
So, what is a high SAT score? Ultimately, there’s not one clear answer. While there are a set of scores people will often say are “high,” there are no official standards to go by. When looking at your SAT scores, it’s more important to consider how they fit into the range of scores commonly accepted by your prospective colleges.
That probably seems a little confusing right now, but we’ll go more into detail soon. Keep reading to find out what a “high” SAT score is, what score you should aim for, and how you can boost your score!
What is the highest score you can get on the SAT?
The highest score that you can get on the SAT is a 1600, and receiving this score would require you to score a perfect 800 on both the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section.
On the other hand, the lowest score you could receive on the SAT is 400 (200 per section), which can occur only if you 1) miss every question or 2) don’t answer any questions.
Luckily, there is no penalty for wrong answers on the SAT. Instead, you are only awarded points for questions answered correctly, and simply receive 0 points for incorrect answers or skipped questions. Thus, we highly recommend you answer each question on the SAT, even if you’re unsure about your answer (or if it’s a complete guess).
Interpreting Your SAT Score(s)
Now that we have the basics covered, how do you interpret your SAT score? It’s first important to note that each section (Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math) is scored between 200 and 800. This is where the 400 minimum and 1600 maximum on the test come from.
When you receive your scores, you will also receive a set of subscores for each section. Namely, for the Reading and Writing section, the subscores will include: Command of Evidence, Words in Context, Expression of Ideas, and Standard English Conventions. Similarly, for the Math section, the subscores are: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. For each of these subscores, you can receive a minimum score of 1 and a maximum of 15. These scores are simply telling you how well you performed in specific subcategories of each test section, so don’t worry too much about these (except to see what you may need to practice if you want to re-test).
Lastly, you may notice Cross-Test Scores for “Analysis in History/Social Studies” and “Analysis in Science.” These scores can range from 10 to 40 and the scores are determined from questions throughout the entirety of the test.
If you need any more help interpreting your SAT scores, the College Board provides this handy guide to help you out: Interpreting Your SAT Scores.
What is a good SAT score?
So, you can interpret your SAT score now, but what’s a “good” score? Well, there’s no official threshold, but we can provide you with some percentiles to give you an idea of how you compare to other students. Alternatively, you should be able to find what percentile your score is on your scoresheet (under “Nationally Representative Sample Percentile” and “SAT User Percentile”). If you’re not sure how percentiles work, a percentile rank is simply a number between 1 and 99 that represents what percentage of students whose scores fall at or below yours. For example, a student in the 79th percentile of test-takers scored higher than or equal to 79% of test-takers.
If you are aiming for elite schools like Harvard, you will likely need a score at or above the 97th percentile (1460), as this is the 25th percentile for accepted students (for the 2019-2020 school year). If you are aiming for higher-tier schools (think Boston University, NYU, etc.), but not “Ivy League” schools or its equivalents, you will likely need a score around the 90th percentile (1350) or above.
Generally, the higher the acceptance rate for colleges, the lower SAT percentile rank you will need to meet. This is not always true, but is a good general rule to note.
However, do not think that you have to score above the 90th percentile to have a “decent score.” Any score above the 50th percentile (1050) means you have scored higher than the majority of test-takers. Keep in mind, though, that this score will likely not get you into more selective colleges. To be safe, we recommend aiming for around the 75th percentile (1200) or higher.
You may have noticed that we skipped over mentioning essay scores in the “Interpreting Your SAT Score(s)” section – there’s a reason for this. This is because after June 2021, the SAT Essay portion will largely be discontinued.
After that, the SAT essay portion will only be available in select states when included in SAT School Day administrations. Check with your school if you’re curious about whether the essay will be part of your SAT school day.
In the case that you do end up taking the SAT with the essay included, though, what’s a good score? Well, for each section (Reading, Analysis, and Writing), you can receive a score anywhere from 2-8. So, a perfect score would be a 24, but what’s a “decent” score?
Based on the 2019-2020 averages, scoring a 5 on the “Reading” section, a 3 on the “Analysis” section, and a 5 on the “Writing” section means you scored at the 50th percentile. This is better than half of essay-writers, so good job.
However, with the discontinuation of the essay portion, it is unclear whether or not colleges will consider these scores. Therefore, if you didn’t receive the score you wanted, there’s no need to worry.
What SAT score should I aim for based on my schools?
Rather than just aiming for a score that is “generally” good, do your best. It makes most sense to aim for a score that falls within the range normally accepted by the schools you’re applying to.
Each university has a unique range of SAT scores that they usually accept. Usually, you can search for “*insert university name* average SAT.” What will typically show up is the middle 50% of accepted SAT scores for that college (think the 25th-75th percentile). If you’re set on that particular school, we highly recommend aiming for a score within this range (and on the higher end, if possible). While a score below this range does not mean rejection, it may lower your chance of admission.
Do you want more information about your dream college’s accepted applicants average stats (GPA, SAT, etc.)? Look up “*insert college name* student profile” and try to find the one for the most recent class. Here is an example of a student profile from Boston University. If you’re wondering why the average SAT is higher than what I mentioned before for BU, it’s likely because the university did not require all students to submit test scores for admission this year (2021). Thus, it’s likely only students who performed very well on the SAT who submitted their scores, which makes the “middle 50%” seem higher than it normally would be.
For those of you high-achievers, it’s now time to learn how to earn the highest SAT score possible (a 1600)!
Earning the Highest SAT Score
How many questions can you miss to get a perfect score on the SAT? As it turns out, not very many!
On both the Math (58 questions) and Writing (40 questions) sections, you cannot miss a single question if you want a perfect score. The reading section, however, is a tiny bit more lenient. For reading, you can miss one question (out of 52) for a perfect score.
We want to make it clear that getting a perfect 1600 is an extremely difficult feat – so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t. In fact, according to the 2020 SAT percentile ranks, only about 6% of SAT-takers get above a 1400.
Remember it’s most important to get a score that will get you into your prospective colleges, and remember, practice makes perfect! Also, thousands of students across the country and internationally do very well on the test each year (and you can too).
If you’re looking for some great SAT practice resources, check out these:
Superscoring your SAT
Perhaps, you’ve already taken the SAT, and more than once too. If so, we have a tip for you!
First, though, here’s an example. Let’s say on your first SAT that your Reading and Writing score is 60 points higher than on your second exam, but your Math section score is 30 points higher on your second exam. If you’re applying to a college which allows “superscoring,” these colleges will automatically take your highest scores for each section, even if they came from different exams. In the example, this would mean that they would take the Reading/Writing score from the first test and the Math score from the second, and combine them.
If you’re applying to colleges that allow superscoring, we definitely recommend that you submit all your SAT scores, so that they can consider your highest total SAT score when looking over your application. If you’re not sure whether or not your prospective colleges allow superscoring, we recommend checking out their admission websites, under the “application requirements” section.
By now, we hope all this has helped you figure out what a good SAT score is for you. If waiting for your SAT scores or the test itself is stressing you out, just remember that it is certainly not the only admission factor. Your GPA, extracurriculars, application essay, and a number of other factors are important as well.
With that, remember to practice, and good luck!
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you pass or fail the SAT?
Officially, no! There are no standardized “pass” or “fail” scores for the SAT. However, it may be helpful for you to create your own ideal “passing” score (based on the colleges you’re applying to), to give yourself a tangible goal to reach. Now, good luck on your exams, go practice!
What is the lowest SAT score to get into college?
Just like you can’t necessarily “pass” or “fail” the SAT, there is also no official “lowest score” you need to get into college. In fact, some schools don’t even require you to take the SAT (or ACT)! Ultimately, though, your ideal SAT score should lie within the 25th and 75th percentile (the middle 50%) for SAT scores of admitted students to the schools you’re applying to. To find out what these numbers are, you should be able to simply look up “*insert school name* SAT middle 50%.”