When you get your SAT score back, it can be hard to tell whether you've earned a good SAT score. And, because good is a relative term, whether or not your SAT score is considered good is going to vary depending on your academic strengths and weaknesses as well as the admission and scholarship score requirements at the colleges you're interested in attending.
My philosophy on testing and SAT prep is never one-size-fits all. We have to take each student's unique situation into account.
Here are 3 simple questions you can answer to determine whether your SAT score is strong enough that you can feel comfortable putting the #2 pencil down. Read on to discover if your testing journey should be at an end or if there's a little bit more work to be done before you can walk away from the SAT for good.
1. Based on your academic performance, what SAT score can you reasonably expect to achieve?
SAT scores are an important piece of a student's college application. While they aren’t the sole determinant of admission, one of their important functions is to verify that a student has actually acquired the knowledge that has helped them earn their grades in school.
Please don’t misunderstand me. The SAT is by no means a perfect measure of a student's abilities. But, within some fairly wide parameters, there are certain scores I expect a student to achieve after preparation based on his or her performance in school.
First, though, here’s a quick review of how the SAT is scored.
How the SAT Is Scored
The SAT has 2 main sections, Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math, that are each scored on a scale of 200-800.
Those 2 scores are then added to create a total score falling between 400 and 1600.
Using the percentiles from a College Board publication, we can see that the average section score based on SAT users is roughly 530 points in Reading & Writing and 520 points in Math for an average total score of 1050.
Here are 2 ways to determine if your SAT scores are in the ballpark of a reasonably expected score…
Anticipated SAT Score Using GPA
Based on a student’s GPA, I would expect the following total scores after SAT prep...
GPA | Total SAT Score
Over 4.0 | 1450 - 1600
3.5 - 4.0 | 1300 - 1450
3.0 - 3.5 | 1200 - 1300
2.5 - 3.0 | 1000 - 1200
Anticipated SAT Score Using Grades
Using a student’s English class performance as a guide, here’s what I would expect from the verbal section scores...
Strong (A’s and high B’s) Honors/AP Students + Strong Readers | 650-800
Strong (A’s and high B’s) Students in Regular English/B-Level Honors/AP Students | 600-650
B Students in Regular English/C-Level Honors/AP Students | 550-600
All Others | 450-550
On the math side, once a student has taken Algebra 2, I would expect the scores to come out as follows…
Strong (A’s and high B’s) Honors/AP Students | 650-800
Strong (A’s and high B’s) Students in Regular Level Math/B-Level Honors/AP Students | 600-650
B Students in Regular Level Math/C-Level Honors/AP Students | 550-600
All Others | 450-550
These are, of course, loose guidelines. I use them to get a sense of how far off the mark a student may be from what she can reasonably hope to achieve, but they are by no means hard and fast rules.
Some students outperform these estimates even without prep. Others come in well below the mark on their first testing efforts.
If you are disheartened by your SAT scores so far, I can tell you that under-performing on the SAT as compared to your academic progress is very common. It's something I help students of all ability levels surmount on a daily basis.
The great news is that it doesn’t take thousands of practice questions or hours and hours of tutoring to overcome.
About 4 hours of prep is often all it takes to nudge those previously lackluster SAT scores toward much stronger, better representative numbers.
2. What are the average SAT scores for accepted students at 3-6 of your favorite prospective colleges?
Once you’ve considered the scores listed above, you should check in with prospective colleges regarding their average SAT scores for admission.
Most colleges list the middle 50% of the range of accepted scores, eliminating the very high and very low score outliers from the accepted applicants the previous year. In order to be considered a strong applicant in the following year, you'll want to target the upper half of this range.
If your scores fall in this upper half or above, you can breathe easy and continue to hone the other aspects of your application to make yourself an even more competitive applicant.
If your SAT scores aren't quite within that range yet, you'll want to come up with a game plan for preparation that will help you get into that range.
3. What are the score requirements for merit aid at your favorite colleges?
You may be tempted to skip this question if you feel you aren't the kind of student who will qualify for scholarships.
That would be a serious mistake - one that can cost you thousands of dollars in free tuition dollars down the line.
The time to research paying for college is at the same time that you are selecting the colleges you're going to apply to because, if you know where to look, you can find colleges that will pay you to attend, even with 50th or 60th percentile SAT scores.
You don't have to be a 99th percentile scoring, 4.7 GPA earning student to earn 4- and 5-figure scholarships to a great college. You just have to know where to look to find the money.
So, at the same time that you are researching admissions averages, you should also look into the score requirements for merit aid which is sometimes referred to as academic scholarships on college websites.
While getting in to a college is important, many families overlook the financial aid impact of their SAT scores.
Just a few SAT points can make the difference between earning nothing and having thousands of dollars in free tuition money in your pocket. Without doing scholarship research early, you run the risk of walking away from testing when you are incredibly close to earning seriously impactful tuition awards.
Here’s what one of my online SAT prep clients had to say…
Our son David began his SAT prep just weeks before his final attempt to raise his score. He raised his score by 60 points! Those 60 points landed him an additional scholarship for $4,000! 5-star service! I'm a believer.
An additional 60 points led to an additional $16,000 in scholarships over 4 years.
Makes the investment in SAT prep worthwhile, don’t you think?
If this seems overwhelming, rest assured that you won't have to walk this path alone.
The link between higher scores and tuition dollars is the reason that all of my online SAT prep courses include my Cash for College workshop as a free bonus. I help students improve their scores and then help families understand what to do with those higher SAT scores to turn them into cash for college.
I've had students earn 4-, 5-, and 6-figure scholarships and I can help you do the same.
Your Next Steps...
So - what is a good SAT score? It's simply the score that helps you achieve your college admissions and scholarship goals.
The answer will be different for every student.
Once you’ve done the research and determined the difference between your current SAT score and the SAT score you need to be a strong applicant and contender for scholarships, you're either going to find that you are:
- within or above a competitive SAT score range and are done with testing, or
- falling a bit short of your desired score range and in need of some SAT prep.
If your score are in range to make you a super competitive candidate for admissions and scholarships, congratulations! You can put the #2 pencil down and move on with your life.
That said, most students land in the I Still Have Work To Do group.
Once you’ve named your score goals and assessed the gap between current performance and the scores you want, it’s time to come up with a game plan for preparing for success.
You can get started right now by accessing some of my favorite SAT prep resources here or download my free eBook, The Insider's Guide to the ACT & SAT, in which I share 35 of my top strategies for success on the college admissions exams.