Updated: December 31, 2018
The SAT, or Scholastic Assessment Test, is one of two tests that are almost universally accepted and often required for admission to colleges and universities around the world. It is administered by the College Board. There are a few test-optional schools or test-blind schools, but these are the exception, not the rule. Most schools demand to see either your SAT or ACT scores, so you will want to take one or the other in order to keep your options open. If you’re not sure which test to take, read our SAT vs ACT breakdown.
The SAT is designed to help schools determine your college readiness.
After taking the SAT, you will likely wonder when you will receive your scores, how to get them, what do the scores mean, and how to read your score report. You will also probably wonder, “Is this a good score?”
Receiving Your SAT Scores
SAT scores are available within 2 – 6 weeks after taking the test. The score release schedule for the 2018 – 2019 school year is available here.
The SAT offers several ways to receive your score report. If you have created a College Board account, you are able to receive your online score report, by logging into your account. If you haven’t created an account and registered for the SAT by mail, you will receive your report by mail. You can also get your report by phone, but there is a fee.
Sending Your Scores:
Most colleges require at least one entrance exam, and want an official score report sent directly from the test administrator.
When you register for the SAT, you can choose up to four schools to send your score reports to, for free. After you’ve taken the test, you can still send the four free score reports out, if you log into your account within nine days of taking the test.
If you’d like to send your scores to more than four schools, you can sign into your College Board account and send them directly to the schools, with a fee.
You may be expecting one total score, out of 1600, but there are a total of 18 distinct scores on your score report. While potentially confusing, they can be helpful to you and to the colleges you send them to, by giving you more specific details about your performance.
You will see the following scores on your SAT score report:
|Total Scores||400 – 1600 points, in ten-point increments|
|Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Section Score||200 – 800, in ten-point increments|
|Math Section Score||200 – 800, in ten-point increments|
|Test Scores||3 individual scores, 10 – 40 points each|
|Essay (optional)||3 individual scores, 2 – 8 points each|
|Cross-test score||2 individual scores, 10 – 40 points each|
|Subscores||7 individual scores, 1 – 15 points each|
How Is The SAT Scored?
The SAT has two sections, which are further divided into two subsections each. The two sections, Evidence-Based Reading (divided into Reading, and Writing and Language) and Math (divided into two sections, one using a calculator and the other without a calculator) are each awarded between 200 and 800 points, adding up to your total overall score, with 1600 as the highest SAT score and the SAT score range between 400 and 1600. There is an optional essay which is scored separately, and does not factor into the overall score.
The SAT is a paper and pencil test. Your answer sheet is scanned, and your raw score is calculated for each section. The raw score is based simply on the number of answers you get correct. There is no penalty for wrong answers, so if you don’t know an answer, you should guess. There are 52 questions in the Reading test, so the maximum raw score is 52. It is 44 in the Writing and Language test, and 58 in the Math test. The 13 grid-in questions are valued the same as the multiple choice questions in the Math sections. There is still no penalty for wrong answers on these.
Raw scores are converted to scores on the 200 – 800 point scale. There are slight differences in the difficulty among different versions of the test, so the scaled score reflects these differences and results in scores that are consistent across all test forms. The scaled scores is what you see when you get your overall and section scores. These determine your percentile ranking, or how well you did compared to other test takers.
How are the Individual Test Sections Scored?
On the score report, you’ll notice three scores called “Test scores.” These are essentially the scaled version of your raw scores in each category, Math, Writing and Language, and Reading. Once the scanner determines your raw scores in these categories, it converts them to scaled scores, from 10 – 40.
For Writing and Language, and Reading, you can add your two test scores together, and multiply by ten to get your total Evidence-Based Reading and Writing Score (out of 800).
For Math, take your test score, multiply by two (once for the calculator portion and once for the no-calculator portion) and then by ten, for your total Math Score (out of 800)
How is the SAT Essay Scored?
The Essay is optional, although recommended, and is scored separately. If you are trying to decide whether or not to write the essay, and how much study time to devote to it, refer to your school of choice. Some schools value the essay quite a bit, others completely ignore it. For most schools, it can set you apart from other applicants if you do well, and won’t hurt much if you don’t.
Each essay is read and scored by two different people.
You will receive a score based on three dimensions:
- You are scored based on your understanding of the essay prompt, including overall theme and important details.
- You are scored based on your understanding of the essays argument and how you support and develop your ideas and arguments, using evidence from the text.
- You are scored based on your ability to write a cohesive, organized, and precise essay, and your command of the English language.
Each of these sections will be awarded between 2 and 8 points. The score is the sum of both of the readers’ 1 – 4 ratings in each dimension. Your score will look something like this: 6 | 7 | 5.
The SAT Essay score does not give you a percentile ranking, so you are unable to compare yourself to the other test takers. However, most readers will score essays in the two to three range, with ones and fours much less common. This will result in most students earning scores between about four and six, in each category.
The New SAT Scores
Obviously, your total score and your section scores are the most important scores. In March 2016, the College Board added the cross-test scores and subscores to their reporting. While initially a little confusing, these scores can be valuable in determining your skills and knowledge.
Cross-test scores represent your performance across all sections of the test, and categorize your performance. The two skill areas they represent are Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. There are questions throughout the SAT that fall into these categories. These scores range from 10 – 40 and are designed to tell admissions officers (and you) how well you use your skills to analyze text and solve problems related to these two areas.
The subscores are also designed to measure your performance in certain skill areas. Unlike the cross-test scores, they only use information from within the sections. You will get three subscores for questions in Math and four subscores for questions in Evidence-based Reading and Writing. They are reported on a scale of 1 to 15.
The SAT subscores include the following three scores within the Math section:
- Heart of Algebra: these questions assess your ability to solve and create linear equations and inequalities, using variables.
- Problem Solving and Data Analysis: these questions assess your ability to use math skills to solve real world problems, like those using proportions, ratios, rates, and application of units.
- Passport to Advanced Math: these questions determine if you have the skills and knowledge necessary to move on to college level math, including the ability to understand the structure of expressions and then analyze, manipulate and rewrite the same expressions.
And the following four scores within the Evidence-based Reading and Writing section:
- Expression of Ideas: expression of ideas asks you to improve sentences or passages based on topic development, accuracy, logic, cohesion, and generally effective language use.
- Standard English Conventions: these questions ask about grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation.
- Words in Context: In the reading section, these questions ask you to interpret the meaning of a word based on the context of the passage it is in. Generally, the meaning is not the primary meaning of the word.
- Command of Evidence: these questions ask you to identify the section of a passage or text that supports the or provides the best evidence to answer another question or prove a theory.
These subscores are not only a method of evaluating your skills, but are also a hint into the topics and areas the SAT is scoring you on. Notice that geometry is not one of the subscores, but algebra is. This is because these three subscore topics make up 90% of the SAT questions. The remaining 10%, simply called Additional Topics, include geometry, basic trigonometry, and complex numbers.
So, What is A Good SAT Score?
Part of your score report will show a benchmark for each section of the SAT. These benchmarks represent “college and career readiness.” If you score at least the benchmark score on both sections, you are deemed “college ready.” The benchmark scores are given for both sections and are 480 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and 530 for Math, for a total of 1010.
SAT Score Percentiles
Your total score corresponds to a percentile ranking, or what percent of students you scored better than. So, if you score in the 75th percentile, you scored better than 75% of test takers, but worse than 25% of test takers. While not a part of your score, it is important to know how you scored in comparison to other students.
Percentiles for total scores, based on students taking the SAT in the graduating class of 2017:
|1050 – 1060||50|
|910 – 920||25|
From the College Board.
What Is A Good SAT Score?
Well, the short answer is that it depends.
A 1060 is about average, so anything above that is above average, and might be considered a good score.
A good score will be different for each student. A good score for you is based on the schools you want to go to. Generally, the higher ranked a school is, the better score you need to get in.
It also depends on the other pieces of your application. If you have a near perfect GPA, your SAT score can be a little lower to still be competitive. Schools also look at your letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, background, and admissions essays.
For most colleges, a score of 1300 (88th percentile) and up will make you a competitive applicant. And a 1500 or higher pretty much opens the door to any institution in the country.
But, what really makes a “good” SAT score is an SAT score that makes you competitive at the schools you are interested in attending. That same 1300 would make schools like Stanford, Harvard, and Cornell out of reach, and would not be considered a good score if you wished to attend those schools. However, it would be a solid score for schools like Cal Poly and Northwestern.
How Do I Know if My SAT Score Is Good Enough For My Dream School?
Fortunately, most colleges publish their average SAT scores and GPAs of incoming freshman on their websites, so it is pretty easy to see where your score needs to be for your dream school. The schools will usually show the scores that range from the 25th to the 75th percentile of the new class.
Fortunately, for most schools, you don’t need a perfect SAT score. Your target score should fall between the 50th and 75th percentile of scores for your chosen school.
Sometimes the overall SAT percentiles are misleading. Take, for example the University of California system. They publish their overall SAT statistics, but because they prioritize in state students, their scores are usually lower than out of state students. Also, different programs within certain schools have different requirements and averages. The engineering program at MIT is one such example. Incoming students there have an average SAT score of 1350, but with a heavier weight and expectation placed on the math section of the exam.
Check with the schools you are considering for information on their average SAT scores as well as their GPA averages. Take a look at this list for averages for schools across the country. From here, you can determine what a good score is for you. If you aren’t sure about different score priorities, call the admissions officers at your school of choice or work with your counselor to find out.
4 Steps to Achieving a Good SAT Score:
For most students, getting a good SAT score is an attainable goal, with the right amount of preparation, strategy, and experience.
The key to a near perfect SAT score (or at least one that will get you into your dream school) is a personalized study plan that takes your existing knowledge into account and works to improve your weaknesses. It also involves time, dedication, and work.
- Start with either a practice test, the PSAT, or the actual SAT. From there, you will be able to determine how much of an improvement you need in order to get your SAT target score.
- Stick to a study schedule. It is near impossible to get a good SAT score without studying. Yes, we’ve all heard stories of kids who wake up one morning, take the SAT without ever practicing or studying, and get a near perfect score. This is extremely rare (and do you really want to take the chance that you might be one of these students?) and usually involves students who have been preparing for the SAT without actually being aware that they are preparing for the SAT, like those with extensive vocabulary and math skills. For most students, it is impossible to get a good SAT score without dedicating a significant amount of time and energy to studying.
- Learn from experts. The SAT questions are usually simple problems, worded in more complex ways. They ask questions you already know how to solve, but figuring out what they are asking is what makes it more difficult. Take a prep course to learn SAT strategies for deciphering and simplifying questions from SAT experts. Take a look at our SAT prep course comparison to find one that might work for you.
- Practice, practice, practice. There is no substitute for preparation when it comes to the SAT (and many things in life). Take as many practice tests as possible, while trying to simulate the real test as much as possible. Build practice tests into your study plan.
Improving your SAT Score
What if I get a Bad Score?
There are very few things that cause more anxiety for 11th and 12th graders than the SAT. Although it does carry a lot of weight in the college admissions process, a low SAT score will not prevent you from getting into a good college.
There are a few things you can do if your SAT score isn’t quite where you hoped it would be:
- Retake the SAT. Depending on your application timelines and when you took the SAT, you may be able to take it again. Of course, retaking the SAT, without additional prep work, likely won’t help at all. So, take a look at a few top SAT courses, and continue to practice.
- Beef up other areas of your application. If your SAT score isn’t great, find other ways to make yourself stand out from the competition. This could include improving your SAT writing section, making sure your academic record is strong, and perfecting your application essays.
- Take the ACT. The two tests are remarkably different. The SAT is designed to measure your reasoning and verbal skills, while the ACT is designed to measure what you’ve learned in school. You may be better suited for the ACT, and most schools will take both. If you’re considering taking the ACT, review our in-depth articles to amplify the effectiveness of your studies.
- Find a school that doesn’t take or require the SAT. There are over 800 colleges that don’t require test scores, and an increasing number that won’t even look at your scores if you send them. They recognize that your academic record may be a better predictor of your potential college success than a standardized test.
- Find a school where your bad score is a good score. Different schools have different average SAT scores for their incoming students. If you find yourself in a position with not enough time or energy to improve your score, do a little research and find a school where your score is within the average SAT score range.
Every student’s college application package is unique, and the SAT is just one part of it (although one important part). Determining what a good score for you, based on your dream school, then making a plan to get that score and practicing and studying as planned is the best way to ensure that you get a good score. Getting additional help when needed is one of the best ways to develop a plan, stick with it, and use your time and energy to the best of your ability.
What is your target SAT score? How did you determine it? And if you have already taken the SAT, how did you do? What did you do to get the score you wanted?