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What's a Good Score on the SAT?

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Two girls celebrating SAT results in school corridor

Parents and students worry and fret over the SAT test. Parents nag students to study and prepare. Students worry that their scores won’t be good enough to get them into the college of their choice. The SAT test and scoring is a topic of conversation among all parents of college-bound teens.

Every student dreams of the perfect SAT score of 1600; but not all can achieve perfection. Since most teens don’t fall into the perfect score category, what is a top score, a good score, an average score and a bad score?

The SAT is scored on a scale of 400 to 1600. The latest College Board data says that the average SAT score for graduating seniors was 1060 (533 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), 527 Math), which means that good SAT scores for 2018 are those above the average SAT score of 1060/1600.

It’s important to note that many public and private universities offer guaranteed scholarships to students who score well on the SAT. In addition, a top score can help your student with eligibility for an honors program that offers perks like special housing, smaller class sizes and concentrated study.

A top score

If your student is dreaming of the Ivies or any other university with stringent application requirements and low acceptance rates, the best SAT score would be as close to 1600 as possible. At Stanford University, which has the nation’s lowest acceptance rate (5.7 percent), 25 percent of the students who are accepted have a 1590 or higher SAT score. The same holds true for Yale, which has a 6.1 percent acceptance rate and where 25 percent of the accepted students score a perfect score of 1600. This is indeed stiff competition, especially knowing that these students also have stellar GPAs and strong extracurriculars.

A good score

A good SAT score will not only open doors to college acceptance, but also to merit aid at a vast majority of colleges and universities. A good score is in the range of 1300 to 1500 (Math: 650 to 750, Reading/Writing: 650 to 750). Colleges like Emory University with a 25.2 percent acceptance rate list accepted student SAT scores in the range of 1330 to 1520. A college with an acceptance rate in the 20 to 30 percent range is looking for good SAT scores from their applicants.

An average score

An average score of approximately 1000 to 1300 (Math: 500 to 650, Reading/Writing 500 to 650) means your student can likely gain admission to one of the state public colleges or universities. This excludes California, of course, which has very competitive public university systems that require high SAT scores. Colleges like the University of Texas and the University of Florida accept 50 percent or more of students who apply. Students applying to one of these colleges who want financial aid should be at the top of the applicant pool with SAT scores of at least 1300.

A bad score

Any score below 1000 can be considered poor. Some students simply don’t test well. One option might be to choose a test-optional college that doesn’t require SAT scores for admission. This would be especially true if your student has a strong GPA and good extracurriculars. In this instance, admission is based on the total application and not solely on the SAT score.

What can students do to improve their scores?

The simple answer is to study. Begin by taking a timed, full-length practice test and figuring out the weak points. There is also free test prep from the College Board through Khan Academy, or you can contract with another test-prep company or hire a private test-prep tutor.

Any amount of practice will help students improve their scores and learn techniques that can help them score higher.

In the end, the best SAT score is the score your student needs to get into the colleges on their list. Research the scores of admitted applicants on a target school and shoot for the top score. Scores are posted on the college websites or at the College Board’s Big Future.

It’s also important to note the importance the college puts on the SAT scores. Some will list it as a “very important” part of the application and others will list it as “not very important.” All this information will help you decide how much time and effort your student needs to make in achieving a good test score.

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