SAT Scores – What’s Good, What’s Bad and How Do You Calculate Them?

The SAT can be one of the most daunting tests of your high school career. Mainly because it determines the options you have for college. While there are some high-ranked colleges that don’t require test scores for admissions (Sarah Lawrence, The George Washington University, Bryn Mawr, and Wesleyan, to name a few), this option tends to be an exception and not the rule.

SAT scores aren’t used to determine if you are college-ready. Instead, admission officers use SAT scores to rank your academic performance in comparison to other students in the national applicant pool. It’s important to do your best and score as high as possible to increase your chances of getting into the college of your choice.

Understanding SAT Scores

Most colleges are judged by the public based on their SAT score ranges. Each year, they provide an admissions profile to the public of admitted freshman. The list includes the 25th and the 75th percentile of scores. This data is often used to determine the selectivity of the school, and the more selective a school is, the better the public perceives the school.

SAT scores range between 400 to 1600 with 1600 being the best or a perfect score. There are two sections which include the evidence-based reading and writing section and the math section. Each section is scored between 200 to 800 points.

In 2017, the average score was 1060. The better your score is when compared to the average score, the better your chance is at getting into the college of your choice. The average score usually falls around the 50th percentile, so it’s a good idea to try to score close to the 75th percentile for admissions.

A low score is generally considered low at any four-year institution, but you may be able to round your application out with an excellent transcript or with a stand-out personal statement on your application.

Keep in mind, a score that falls above the 75th percentile may also help you net some additional scholarship money, so it’s a good idea to prepare accordingly.

What is a Good SAT Score

So, what constitutes a good score? While it would make sense that a good score would be one that falls around the national average or better, good scores vary from one institution to another.

Start by making a list of preferred colleges. A college-bound student should apply to anywhere from three to 15 colleges. Choose two to three safety schools that would be easy to get into. Apply to two to three reach colleges or ones that are possible but challenging to get into. Finally, apply to two to three target colleges or those with competitive admission rates.

Make a chart of each school with the 25th and 75th SAT scores for the previous year. The scores for the safety school are likely to be lower than those for the target schools. This chart provides a guideline of what score you need to obtain on your SAT to be considered for acceptance.

How to Calculate SAT Scores

Raw SAT scores are calculated by the number of questions you answer correctly. For every question you get right, you receive one point. There is no penalty for guessing or skipping a question.

The maximum raw score varies by section depending on the number of questions. The essay portion of the SAT is graded on a scale of two to eight in each of three sections including reading, analysis and writing and is not included in the composite score.

There are two tables for the math section. One table is used to convert the raw score to a score out of 40. The other table converts the 40 score into the 800 scale. You can calculate the raw score on your own by subtracting the number of questions answered incorrectly by the total number of questions in the section. For example, if there are a total of 52 questions and you missed 16. This will give you a raw score of 36, because when you subtract 16 from 52 you get 36. The SAT raw to scaled conversion chart is available on the College Board website.

The reading and writing score requires an extra step. Count the number of questions you answered correctly on the reading portion and change the number to the scaled score by looking up the column for the reading test score. Next, count the number of questions you answered correctly in the writing section. Change this to the scaled score by looking at the writing and language column. Add the two scaled numbers together and multiply by 10.

Preparing for the Test

Once you’ve figured out the admission requirements for the colleges of your choice, start preparing for the test. There are many different study guides to choose from. The College Board website also offers several practice tests with answers for you to simulate the test at home. The practice test is a good indicator of how well you will do on the actual test.

Study the items you answered incorrectly to see if you can improve your score.

Retaking the Test

Not everyone performs as well as they expected on standardized tests. If you didn’t achieve the score you expected, it might be a good idea to try to retake the test. Take a look at your comprehensive scores and focus on your weaknesses. Be sure to give yourself plenty of time to study, especially if you need to score significantly better.

Other options

For some, retaking the test might not be an option. Consider focusing on other areas of your college application. You may also adjust your list of schools to align with your SAT scores.

SAT scores are not the entirety of your college application, but they are an important one. A good score can help you achieve your goals by getting you into the college of your dreams and by helping you get additional money for tuition. Most high school and college counselors can assist with testing plans and help you match your current scores with potential schools, but it’s important to start planning early for best results.