There’s no denying the fact that preparing for and taking the SAT isn’t any fun; we’re not going to bother trying to convince you otherwise. Unfortunately, it’s still an important part of the college application process for many students. Earning a high enough SAT score can make a strong application stand out even more, qualify you for merit scholarships, or open up the opportunity for athletic scholarships. So if you’re going to need to take the SAT as part of applying to colleges, we want to make sure you’re armed with all of the most important information about how SAT scores are calculated, what constitutes a “good” SAT score, tips for improving your SAT score, and more. Let’s get started.
Why is a Good SAT Score Important?
Why SAT Scores Still Matter in 2023
The COVID-19 pandemic saw a significant number of US colleges and universities implement test-optional admissions policies due to a lack of access to in-person testing opportunities. Many of these policies are still in effect: FairTest.org lists over 1700 institutions that are partially or entirely test-optional at the time of writing. This fact has led many students to ask me whether they should even take the test at all if scores aren’t necessary for admissions. Though the answer can change from student to student, the reality is that SAT scores can still be a powerful admissions tool.
How Your SAT Score Impacts Your College Chances
The first thing to understand is that test-optional is not the same thing as test-blind. A test-optional admissions policy means that schools do not require test scores to be submitted with your application, and that you will not be penalized or judged more harshly if you choose not to submit them; however, if you do choose to send ACT or SAT scores, they will be considered as another data point alongside the rest of your application. Test-blind, on the other hand, means that a school does not require the submission of test scores with your application and will not consider them even if you do submit them.
According to FairTest, there are approximately 80 schools in the US that are entirely test-blind. If you are applying only to schools from that list, then congratulations—achieving a good SAT score truly does not matter to you whatsoever in the application process, and you should stop reading this post and go do something more interesting.
If your schools are test-optional, however, then it’s important to remember that submitting scores can still help you. A test-optional policy means that test scores will be treated as one part of your larger application to help schools gain as full a picture as possible of who you are as a student and what you’re capable of. Because of that, a good SAT score is another opportunity to impress them, much like taking a bunch of AP classes or playing three sports. My general advice to students is that if you can achieve an SAT score that is at or above the median score for a particular test-optional school, you should submit it. This score, though not required, gives the admissions team another piece of evidence that you’ll fit in as a member of their student body.
How SAT Scores Affect Scholarships
As I alluded to earlier, there can be scholarship implications attached to SAT scores as well. On the athletic side, some schools may require an SAT score of a certain level before extending a scholarship offer, as this can help them confirm that the student will be competitive academically as well as athletically. Please note that this is not a process with which I’m intimately familiar, as I was jusssst below the athletic level necessary to start attracting serious interest from college scouts.
Actual footage of me playing high school sports
More seriously, though, if you are interested in pursuing an athletic scholarship, make sure to ask your counselors and coaches about the academic requirements in addition to the athletic requirements.
SAT scores are also relevant for some non-athletic scholarships. Many scholarships are not merit-based, which means that there are no GPA or test score requirements for applicants; some, however, such as the National Merit Scholarship, require students to achieve a baseline test score in order to be considered. Make sure that you’re incorporating scholarship research into the process of deciding whether or not you will be taking the SAT! Talk to your college counselor about scholarships for which you may be eligible; College Board’s BigFuture tool is also a great resource for independent research.
Should I take the SAT in 2023?
If you’ve been paying attention so far, you can probably anticipate that there isn’t going to be an easy, universal ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer to this question, and indeed, the way you answer this question for your particular case depends on all of the things we’ve covered above. Here’s a summary of the sub-questions to consider:
- Do you need SAT scores to be eligible for athletic or merit-based scholarships?
- Do any of the schools to which you’re considering applying require the submission of SAT scores?
- Do you have the time to dedicate to preparation for the SAT in order to make it more likely that you’ll earn a score which will stand out on your application to any test-optional schools?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then the answer to the question ‘should I take the SAT in 2023’ is probably also yes.
Understanding Your SAT Score
How the SAT is Scored
Scoring on the SAT is reasonably complex, but understanding how it works can help you decide where to focus your time and effort while you prepare for the SAT. Here’s what you need to know.
First, you’ll receive a raw score for each of the four sections on the SAT; each raw score is simply equal to the number of questions you answered correctly in that section. This is the part of the post where I remind you that no penalty is applied for incorrect answers on the SAT, so you should always always always answer every question, even if it’s a total guess. If you don’t at least guess, you’re functionally leaving a quarter of a point on the board for every multiple-choice problem you don’t answer.
It’s important to note that your raw scores for the two Math sections will be added together to produce a single overall Math raw score. So although there are two separate Math sections on the SAT, you’ll only see one Math score on your final score report.
Equating / Scaled Scores
After your raw scores are tabulated, the College Board will use a process called ‘equating’ to convert them into scaled scores, which range from 200 to 800 for Math and from 100 to 400 for each of the other two sections (Reading and Writing & Language). These scaled scores take into account the difficulty level of the sections that you completed relative to the difficulty levels of sections that previous test-takers have completed over the last several years; this allows colleges to be sure that your Math score of 720 means the same thing as your older brother’s 720 from a few years ago.
Finally, your three scaled scores will be added together to produce an overall composite score that ranges from 400 to 1600. This score is the best single measure of your performance on the test, and it’s the score that colleges will primarily look at when reviewing your application.
What’s Considered a Good Score on the SAT?
Now that you have a firm grasp on how to interpret SAT scores, let’s return to the central question of this post: what’s a good SAT score?
As you might expect, the answer to this question varies from student to student. If your heart is set on MIT, for instance, you should be aiming to get approximately a 1580 on the SAT in order to be in the 75th percentile of first-year undergraduate applicants. On the other hand, if your dream school is in the University of California system and is therefore test-blind, a good SAT score for you is no SAT score at all! So the easiest way to answer this question in something approaching a universal fashion is simply to say that a good SAT score is one that makes you a competitive applicant to the school(s) you’d be interested in attending.
What does this look like for you specifically? A good way to start figuring that out is to generate a list of schools you’re interested in and then research score statistics for each. Test scores are one piece of information that applicants can use to sort their prospective future academic homes into the three categories beloved by college counselors everywhere—reach schools, target schools, and safety schools. Most schools provide data regarding the test scores of at least their most recent admitted class on the admissions portions of their website, so that’s a great place to start.
If you’re looking for answers to specific questions about SAT scoring, read on for more information.
What’s the highest score you can get on the SAT?
The maximum scaled scores that you can achieve in Reading and Writing & Language are 400 in each section, for a total of 800 in the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing half of the test (which I’ll refer to going forward as ‘Verbal’ because that’s much quicker to type). Likewise, the maximum score you can earn in the Math half of test is also an 800. Since your SAT composite score is simply a sum of your three scaled section scores, the highest score you can get on the SAT is a 1600.
What’s the average score on the SAT?
If you want to get a general picture of where your scores stand relative to those of other students, check out the College Board’s most recent data on nationwide score percentiles. Or, if you don’t feel like analyzing a table, here are some selected benchmark composite scores and their associated percentiles (relative to SAT score data from August 2021 to June 2022) to give you a rough sense of how the numbers shake out overall.
- 1600: 99th percentile (duh)
- 1500: 98th percentile
- 1400: 93rd percentile
- 1300: 86th percentile
- 1200: 75th percentile
- 1100: 60th percentile
- 1000: 43rd percentile
Though this isn’t enough information to calculate a specific nationwide average score on the SAT, we can say that the median, or 50th percentile, score is somewhere between 1000-1100. This means that if you score a 1050 or so on the SAT, you’ve likely done as well as or better than roughly half of the people who have taken the test in the past three years.
What are the average SAT scores for top colleges?
The answer to this question depends largely on your definition of a “top” college. When many students ask this question, they’re thinking of schools like Harvard or Brown. And this is where I typically give a piece of unsolicited advice.
Look, the Ivy League is comprised of fantastic schools. There’s a reason names like Harvard, Yale, and Princeton are used as benchmarks of academic excellence. And if you absolutely have your heart set on one of those illustrious institutions, feel free to skip this portion of the post.
If you’re here because you’re doing initial research, though, or even just because you’re curious, I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to say this: there are so many phenomenal schools outside of the Ivy League. No, really—higher education does in fact exist outside of the Northeastern United States. I promise.
The best advice I can give to anyone in the early stages of the college search process is to start as broad as possible. Think about more than the name on the front of the building. Consider location, size, cost, and the specific strength of the school’s academic programs in any particular areas you already know that you’re passionate about. This country has an incredible number of places where you can get a fantastic education (as do other countries!), and the vast, vast majority of them aren’t Ivy League schools. Don’t be so focused on applying to the “best” schools that you miss out on the best school for you.
With all of that being said, if you’re curious about SAT score data for a particular school or group of schools, the IPEDS database, provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, is a great place to find that information.
What is a good SAT score for Ivy League schools?
Despite all of the prefacing that I did above, many students are still curious about the admissions requirements for those fabled Ivy League schools. Everybody knows that one kid who got a 1560 on the SAT or a 35 on the ACT without even doing any prep—what doors did that open for them? What are the average SAT scores that it takes to get into an Ivy League school like Harvard or Columbia?
Below is a list I’ve compiled of SAT composite score ranges for Ivy League schools. The first number is the sum of the 25th percentile scores for Verbal and Math (so the composite score that would place you at or above the level of a quarter of the admitted students that year), while the second is the sum of the 75th percentile scores. All numbers come from the IPEDS database mentioned above and represent the stats for the application class of Fall 2021.
- Brown University: 1460-1570
- Columbia University: 1470-1570
- Cornell University: 1450-1560
- Dartmouth College: 1440-1560
- Harvard University: 1480-1580
- University of Pennsylvania: 1480-1570
- Princeton University: 1460-1570
- Yale University: 1480-1580
The trend is pretty consistent, and the takeaway is clear: if you want Ivy League SAT scores that are competitive with the Yale median or the Harvard median, you’re aiming for roughly a 1530. Median scores for some of the other Ivies are slightly lower, but you should still expect to be pursuing a score in the 1500s.
What’s a good SAT score in 2023 compared to previous years?
Each year, the College Board releases data on the SAT performance of the graduating class for that year. Below is a summary of mean composite SAT scores, as reported by College Board, for each year since the SAT’s redesign in 2016.
- 2017: 1060
- 2018: 1068
- 2019: 1059
- 2020: 1051
- 2021: 1060
- 2022: 1050
As you can see, the average SAT score has stayed reasonably consistent over the past six years, with the overall trend being a very slight decline. This also holds true for the 75th percentile composite score, which has hovered right around a 1200 for the last several years.
Based on the data, a good SAT score in 2023 is very similar to that of previous years. And don’t forget: your goal for an SAT score should be dictated largely by what schools you’re interested in attending.
What’s considered a low SAT score?
As I mentioned above, your biggest concern when evaluating your SAT score should be how it compares to the statistics for incoming freshman at schools in which you’re interested. My general advice for students is that if you’re below roughly the 50th percentile score for a school to which you’re looking to apply, you should either not submit SAT scores with your application or, ideally, work to raise your score through practice.
How can I improve a low SAT score?
We’ll cover this topic in more detail later in the post, so read on for a more detailed answer. As a quick summary, however, I would boil SAT score improvement down to three primary steps:
- Practice both content and strategy.
- Make sure that you’re getting in plenty of reps with full timed sections.
- Review your mistakes.
How to Check Your SAT Scores
To check your SAT scores, you’ll first need to log into your College Board account. Once you’re in, simply select ‘My SAT’ from the menu near the top of the page and then scroll down. You should see a section titled ‘My Scores’ right below the portion of the page that shows your upcoming test dates. Here you’ll be able to see your composite scores for all the SAT administrations you’ve sat for, as well as information about section scores, cross-test scores, and college readiness benchmarks.
SAT College Readiness Benchmarks
The SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmarks are a set of scores which (College Board claims) demonstrate a high likelihood that the student earning those scores will earn an above-average grade in related first-semester college courses. College Board’s website gives more details:
Students with an SAT Math section score that meets or exceeds the benchmark have a 75% chance of earning at least a C in first-semester, credit-bearing college courses in algebra, statistics, precalculus, or calculus.
Students with an SAT Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW) section score that meets or exceeds the benchmark have a 75% chance of earning at least a C in first-semester, credit-bearing college courses in history, literature, social sciences, or writing classes.
These benchmark scores were generated based on a predictive study that was conducted in cooperation with 15 four-year colleges and universities, and they are as follows:
- Verbal: 480
- Math: 530
If you’re interested in reading a bit more about the methodology that College Board used to arrive at these benchmarks, you can do so in their educator brief. The study was conducted in 2014, and the data doesn’t appear to have been reexamined since then; fortunately, the world of higher education hasn’t changed at all in the intervening 10 years, so the numbers are guaranteed to still be accurate.
More seriously, though, I typically tell students not to worry about these numbers at all. At the end of the day, they’re simply attached to your SAT section scores, which make up the composite score that’s more or less the only thing colleges care about. If you’re putting in the work and raising your composite score, you’ll naturally meet those readiness benchmarks along the way.
How to Set an SAT Score Goal for 2023
One of the best things you can do prior to starting your SAT prep is to set a target score. Knowing what score you’re aiming to attain can clarify your approach to the prep process. For instance, if you need a 1400 to be a competitive applicant to your target schools, you can get there with a 750 in Math and a 650 in Verbal or vice versa; which area of the test you choose to focus more on will likely depend on your strengths and weaknesses. On the other hand, if you need a 1550 to stand out from the crowd of applicants, you’re going to need to be very close to perfect in every section of the test.
The first step to setting an SAT score goal, then, is creating a list of schools to which you’re planning to apply. Which leads us nicely to…
Making a List of Schools You Want to Attend
I am neither an admissions expert nor a college counselor, so the first thing I’ll say here is that you should absolutely talk to the counselor(s) at your school, or an independent Educational Consultant, to get information on and help with generating this list. Here are some of the biggest things that I recommend students think about as they start to sort through all of the college options available to them, however.
- Size: Are you looking for a school where you regularly recognize people while walking around campus or one where you’re guaranteed to encounter someone new every day?
- Location: Close to home or farther away? Warm-weather school or cold-weather school?
- Setting: Do you want to step out of your dorm and be in the middle of a bustling city, or would you prefer a school with its own campus and a quieter surrounding environment?
- Academic Specialty: Does the college or university specialize in an academic area you already know you’re passionate about? Or are you still figuring out your interests and want to make sure you have plenty of options?
- Social Culture: Is everybody at the football game on a Saturday? Do 85% of students participate in Greek life? How does this line up with your social preferences?
- Likelihood of Being Accepted: Based on the school’s admissions percentages and the strength of your application, is this a reach school, target school, or safety school for you?
Your college counselor or EC can provide you with a ton of resources to help you answer these questions, and they’ll also talk through the process with you—there’s no need to go it alone.
Determining Those Schools’ SAT Score Requirements
Once you’ve started to assemble your list of schools, the next step is to get information on the way each one uses the SAT in admissions. Here are the questions you should be answering for each institution:
- Is the school test-optional, test-blind, or test-required?
- Does the school superscore if you submit results from multiple SAT administrations?
- What are the 25th and 75th percentile composite scores for admitted students?
Most if not all schools have this information on the admissions portion of their websites. If you don’t see it, talk to your college counselor or contact that school’s admissions department directly.
Tips and Strategies to Achieve Your Target SAT Score
Okay, so you have your list of schools, you know generally what composite score you need to hit, and you’re ready to start preparing. What are some of the things you should be focusing on as you start working towards getting a high enough SAT score to meet your college needs?
Taking Practice Tests
Earlier, I mentioned the importance of getting in timed reps with the test material, and I really can’t stress this enough. The structure and timing of the test are part of the challenge of the test, and it’s essential that you get comfortable with both before test day. Practice tests provide an opportunity for you to practice the content and strategy you’ve been working on in the context of full test sections, and they also give you a benchmark score that you can use to measure your progress.
You can find eight free, official practice tests on the College Board’s website. Once you’ve exhausted those, you’ll need to move on to third-party books, such as Princeton Review. These third-party materials are generally lower quality than the official tests, since it’s very difficult to perfectly replicate the feel of the real thing; however, they’re good enough to provide useful preparation, and they’re your only real option unless you want to trawl the internet for “unofficial” official test documents.
Enrolling in an SAT Prep Course
One preparation option to consider is the SAT prep course. These can take many different forms, from a library of instructional videos that you work through on your own to a virtual or even in-person class with a live instructor, and they cover a wide range of prices: I’ve seen some that were $100 or even less, while others are priced in the thousands of dollars. The difference in cost is usually due to the amount of included material and the number of included hours with an instructor.
Prep courses can be a good option for students who want to work independently and structure their own time (in the case of the self-paced video library courses) or for students who perform better in a structured environment and with the input of others (in the case of the classroom courses). Regardless of the format, most courses will involve some form of content and strategy instruction, followed by drills designed to reinforce the concepts covered. There are many choices out there, so make sure you do your research to determine the best option for you!
Partnering with an SAT Tutor
Oh hey, it’s the part of the post where I try to write objectively about my job. My favorite.
Let’s start with the benefits of a 1:1 tutor versus a prep course. For most students, personalized instruction is simply a more effective way to learn. Having someone who can answer your questions on the spot and walk through in detail any concepts you’re struggling with is a huge benefit. Additionally, any tutor worth their salt will tweak their approach as needed to cater to your individual strengths and weaknesses, which typically makes prep more efficient.
The downside to partnering with an SAT tutor is pretty simple: cost. Most tutors charge by the hour as opposed to charging a flat fee, and depending on the hourly rate, you will almost always be on the hook for significantly more of a financial outlay than you would if you opted for a prep course. Many tutors will work with families to devise a prep plan that is as efficient as possible in order to optimize the cost-to-results ratio, but there’s no getting around the fact that tutors are expensive.
As a final note, one middle ground that you can investigate is the hybrid course. These prep courses consist mainly of classroom or independent work but include a certain number of 1:1 instructional hours within the initial cost; this creates a more financially feasible option that still provides some amount of personalized instruction.
Retaking the Test
As we discuss in the FAQ section below, most students perform better when sitting for the SAT multiple times. Taking the test more than once ensures that you’re familiar with the pressure of the test-day atmosphere, which is impossible to replicate outside of an official test administration. It also gives you the option to tailor your future prep based on your results: since many schools superscore SAT results (explained in full in the FAQ), you can lock down a great Verbal score on one administration and then focus heavily on Math for the next test.
Additionally, College Board offers a Question-and-Answer Service (QAS) option for certain test dates. Ordering the QAS report if it’s available will provide you with access to the actual questions from your test, as well as detailed information about which problems you missed and their correct answers. This is a fantastic way to review your mistakes from the day of the test and determine what you need to focus on when preparing to retake the SAT.
Though retaking the SAT is a powerful weapon in your prep arsenal, note that for most students there is a point of diminishing returns after three or so tests. You’ll likely start to run out of high-quality material to practice with, which can make improvement harder to come by. If you’re working with a tutor, budgetary constraints are a real factor. And finally, it’s important to remember that test preparation is work; at some point, students are better off focusing on other parts of their applications if they are hitting a plateau after multiple rounds of testing. Remember, it is not merely your test scores that determine whether you are granted admission to a given college. The application process is a holistic one: admissions officers also weigh your grades, extracurricular activities, and volunteering experience, and those should not be neglected in favor of a single-minded emphasis on testing.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is “superscoring”, and how does it work?
“Superscoring” refers to the process of combining individual section scores from multiple different test dates to obtain your maximum composite score. The SAT itself does not superscore; however, if you have taken the test multiple times but don’t want to send all of your scores with your application, you can pick and choose which test dates’ results you submit using the College Board’s Score Choice feature.
Once you do that, many schools will perform their own version of superscoring by combining the highest score for each section from the score reports that you submit in order to get a picture of your “best” performance on the SAT. Let’s say you take the test in December and get a 720 in Verbal and a 580 in Math (1300 composite), then test again in March and earn a 690 in Math but drop to a 650 in Verbal (1340 composite); you then decide to submit both sets of scores with your applications. Schools that superscore will take the 720 in Verbal from your December report and combine it with the 690 in Math from your March report, which means that they’ll consider you as having earned a 1410 composite score for the purposes of their admissions processes.
The benefits of this are clear: that 1410 is significantly higher than either of the composite scores you earned on the two individual test dates, which puts you in a better position to be competitive with other candidates. Knowing which of your prospective schools superscore and which don’t is an important part of figuring out what a good SAT score is for you, so make sure you’re doing your research. Remember that for the most accurate information about how an individual school handles superscoring, you should contact that school’s admissions department directly.
Can I take the SAT multiple times to improve my score?
Absolutely! You can, and many students do. In fact, there is no limit on the number of times you can sit for the SAT.
As a general rule, I recommend that any student test at least twice, for various reasons. The first and most obvious reason is simply that, statistically speaking, you are likely to score better on your second test. The College Board reports that 2 out of 3 students will perform better on a second exam. Furthermore, as we discussed above, many colleges will superscore the test, meaning that they will select your highest section scores from each test sitting and consider those for your admission decision.
When should I start preparing for the SAT?
Start by working backwards from your application deadlines. Remember that you want to allow room to take the test 2-3 times if necessary, and that it’s generally better to err on the side of allowing too much time for repeat testing (to a point) rather than not enough time. The SAT is offered roughly every other month, so it usually makes sense to plan for your first test date to be 6+ months before applications are due. I generally recommend that students aim to get in 8-ish weeks of prep before their first test date, so in total, you’ll probably want to start preparing for the SAT roughly 8 months before your first application is due. With early action and early decision deadlines typically falling in November, this means that students ideally want to begin the prep process no later than early spring of their junior year.
This timeline obviously isn’t the same for every student. At some schools, junior spring is an extremely hectic time; because of this, many students opt to prioritize the SAT earlier in the year (fall or winter) in the hopes that they can earn a good score before things at school get crazy. Similarly, students who are pursuing athletic scholarships may need to present test scores to their coaches earlier than the typical application deadline in order to lock down a scholarship spot. Talk to your college counselor about what specific timeline best fits your admissions needs.
Is the SAT Essay required in 2023?
No, the SAT Writing Section isn’t required for test-takers in 2023. In fact, it’s no longer even an option: in mid-2021, College Board discontinued the essay portion of the SAT entirely (aside from on SAT School Day administrations in certain states). So don’t stress about preparing for it, and put that time into raising your composite score instead!
What is the best way to prepare for the SAT?
With Inspirica Pros, of course.
No but seriously, while we obviously hope that you come work with us and let one of our tutors help you achieve a high SAT score, there are many ways to prep, and we’ve addressed a number of them earlier in this post. You can choose to work with a tutor, or you can opt to prepare by yourself using the many resources that are available. Whichever path you select, make sure it follows these key tenets:
- Look for a mix of content and strategy. There are many great (and sometimes free) options that will help you review the grammar and math concepts with which you may be struggling; Khan Academy is one example. Remember, however, that getting a good SAT score is about more than knowing the material—it’s about knowing the test, its patterns, and how best to attack them.
- There’s no substitute for timed practice. Make sure that your prep plan incorporates plenty of timed practice sections and full practice tests, particularly as you get closer to the date of the test.
- Review your mistakes. Practice alone isn’t enough. Make sure that you’re building in time to look back over your timed sections and review the questions you miss. In Verbal, ask yourself why your answer was wrong and what makes the correct answer better; in Math, try to locate the error in your work, then see if you can rework the problem correctly without time pressure.
Related SAT Resources
- How Much is the SAT? An Overview of Fees and Registration Costs
- Must Know SAT Grammar Rules for 2023
- Choosing Between Taking the SAT and the ACT
- An Overview of the SAT and SAT Test Prep
- SAT Prep and Khan Academy: What They Won’t Tell You
- 100 Ways To Increase Your Score on the SAT
- The Best Ways To Prepare Yourself for the SAT and ACT