What is an Average SAT Score?

As a high school student, test prep is likely on the forefront of your mind. Regardless of if you’re in the early stages of SAT prep or have just sat for an exam, it’s important to understand how the SAT is scored. A common question to ask when deciphering SAT scoring is, “What is the average SAT score?” Answering this question can help you to know how you fare against other students applying to your desired schools.

According to The College Board, the average SAT score in 2017 was a 1060 (on a scale of 400-1600). It’s one thing to know the average SAT score, and another to understand how it applies to you. To understand the average SAT score, it’s key to know how the SAT section scores are broken down, how your target schools use SAT scores, and how to establish a proper SAT study routine.  

Here’s what you’ll find in this article:

  • How the SAT is scored

  • How SAT sections are scored

  • What to know about the optional SAT essay

  • What equating in SAT scoring means

  • How schools use the SAT

  • How to navigate an above or below average SAT score

  • Where to focus your time on the SAT

  • How to establish an SAT study routine

  • What this SAT breakdown means for you

SAT scoring can conjure up many questions for students. When understanding the average SAT score, it’s important to note section scores, how to navigate an above or below average score, and how to identify your goal score. Keep reading to learn the average SAT score and how it applies to you.

How is the SAT scored?

SAT scores are about more than national averages. You’ll instead be looking at the average score of students attending the schools to which you will apply. First, however, it's important to understand how SAT scoring is broken down. Below, you will find a chart detailing the percentile that various SAT scores fall in. Noting that the average SAT score is 1060, receiving this score would put students in the 51st percentile. What this means is 51 percent of students taking the SAT scored at or below 1060. Additionally, if you receive a perfect score of 1600, you fall in the 99th percentile—meaning 99 percent of students scored at or below this score.

 Percentile Range  Average SAT Score (out of 1600)
 99th percentile  1600
 82nd percentile  1250
 71st percentile   1170
 51st percentile- average  1060

*The above data points come from The College Board.

Unfortunately, an SAT score report is not as simple as reading your average report card. You’ve got to know what you’re looking for and what you’re looking at. First, it’s important to recognize that SAT scores represent a range of scores you might receive if you were to take the test multiple times. Colleges recognize that most students (in certain sections) may score around 40 points above or below their true ability, though a range is typically an adequate predictor of college readiness.     

You will receive a raw score—which represents the number of questions answered correctly—that is converted into a score between 200 and 800 for each of two sections. This will be adjusted for differences in versions of the test. Your score report will show college readiness benchmarks and how you compare to other students.

SAT test-takers also receive a percentile between one and 99, as discussed above, that reflects the percentage of students who are equal to or below the score you received. This percentage is divided into two categories—the first, which compares your performance to all U.S. students in a particular grade level (even those who don’t typically take the test), and the second, which shows your score in comparison to only some U.S. students (only those who do typically take the test) in your grade.

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How are SAT sections scored?

Now that you have learned the buzzwords involved in SAT scoring, it’s important to understand how your overall SAT score is broken down. Every section of the SAT has its own raw score, which indicates the number of questions you answered correctly. You will receive two main scores on your report: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, which combines the scores from the Reading and the Writing and Language sections, and Math, which includes both the calculator and no-calculator portions of the exam

*The above data points come from The College Board.

When finding your SAT Math score, you’ll want to begin by identifying your raw score. There are two types of points in the SAT Math section—calculator and no-calculator. There are 38 possible points in the calculator section and 20 in the no-calculator. You receive no penalty for blank or incorrect answers, and your top achievable score is 58.

When calculating your raw score in the Reading section, you’ll need the total number of questions you correctly answered. The highest score possible is a 52. To do well on the Reading portion, you’ll need to demonstrate that you can read and comprehend the passage given to you. Your analysis points will come from analyzing the passage as it relates to the prompt and presenting a good argument.

The SAT Writing and Language section will reward you with points for constructing a response that is grammatically correct and logical. To calculate your score for this section, use the same formula as above. The highest score possible is 44.

Instead of adding your raw scores together, consult a conversion table to get the scaled scores for both the Reading and the Writing and Language sections. Add them together and multiply by 10, which will give you your final score. To get a composite score, add both Math, Reading, and Writing and Language scores.

As part of the official SAT changes in the 2016 redesign, SAT sections are broken down even further into subscores that offer students insight into various skill sets. These subscores include:

  • Expression of Ideas

  • Standard English Conventions

  • Heart of Algebra

  • Problem Solving and Data Analysis

  • Passport to Advanced Math

  • Words in Context

  • Command of Evidence

What should you know about the optional SAT Essay?

The SAT does not include the essay score in the final composite score, so there is no need to calculate it to find out how you did on the other parts of the test. Instead, the SAT essay awards a total of three scores, each between two and eight. The three sections scored include reading, analysis, and writing. Two people will read your essay and each will provide scores ranging from one to four for each portion. Note that there is no composite score for the SAT essay, meaning the three scores are not added together.

As of late, the SAT Essay is required by fewer and fewer schools. This prompts the question of whether you should take it. Generally, it is still recommended to sit for the SAT essay. The essay can showcase your readiness for college writing and allow schools to see your writing skills first-hand. Contact your schools of interest in order to see if they require the SAT essay, or visit the school’s website for further details. The College Board also offers this tool to search for your school’s requirements. As a note, the below schools no longer require the SAT essay in order to be considered for admission:

  • Columbia University

  • Harvard University

  • Cornell University

  • Stanford University

  • Princeton University

  • Boston University

The SAT will require you to plan, write, and edit an essay in a short amount of time. Look at past essay prompts and suggested practice prompts to see where you can improve. Meet with a teacher or an SAT tutor and have him or her review your response with you to determine your strengths and weaknesses. Perhaps you are struggling with organization and need to pay closer attention to the way paragraphs fall. Or perhaps your spelling needs improvement or your sentences don’t flow—whatever the problem, practice will ensure that your score doesn’t suffer.

What is equating in SAT scoring?

It’s also important to note that SAT scores go through an equating process. This ensures that scores from one test date are equal to another date and truly reflect all students’ abilities. In order words, this is in place to keep scoring fair for all students. The difficulty of exams can vary; therefore, one wrong answer on one exam could hold as much weight as two or three wrong answers on another exam.

The June 2018 SAT saw this process put into play. This exam was easier than previous exams, resulting in a score drop for some test-takers. That is to say, on the June 2018 exam, students lost more points for wrong answers than on previous versions of the test. It’s important to note this process if you plan to take the SAT on multiple dates.

How do schools use the SAT?

While it may seem unfair to use your SAT score as a significant indicator of college success, test results often correlate with the academic dedication of the student. Understanding how schools use your SAT score is vital when determining which schools may be the right fit for you.

If you’re early in the process of looking at schools and thinking about potential SAT scores, it may be useful to have a general idea of the average SAT scores in particular locations. The following chart provides a sample of average 2017 SAT scores at select schools.

University  Average SAT Score 2017
 Princeton University 1500-1600
 Dartmouth College  1478
 Columbia University  1490-1580
 Cornell University  1480

All schools hold different average scores for both sections and overall, so be sure to investigate your schools thoroughly. Understanding how particular schools use test scores can help you to identify which colleges and universities fall into your reach, target, and safety school categories.

How do you navigate an above or below average SAT score?

Going into your SAT test day, you’ll likely have some idea of what your score will be. If you score lower than you expected, create a revamped prep plan and test again. There are a number of benefits to testing multiple times, one of which is a general increase in score. In this event, let the first test act as another practice. This way, you’ll feel more confident going into the second SAT—and your score will likely reflect it.

If you find you have performed better than expected on the SAT, keep an open mind and explore new opportunities that may be available to you now. Reexamine your reach, target, and safety schools to note if your options have changed. For example, a school you had previously identified as a reach may be more realistic based on your recieved score.

Keep in mind that your SAT score, while important, is not the only deciding factor for college admissions departments. Adequately prepare for the test, but don’t allow yourself to get knocked down if you don’t get the results you were hoping for. Either way, make yourself a competitive candidate by maintaining a high GPA, taking challenging classes, and involving yourself in relevant extracurricular activities. As a student, you’re in a great position to be flexible—embrace your score, whether it is what you expected or not.  

Where should you focus your time on the SAT?

It can be difficult to know where your time is best spent, so take some time to create a study plan that will work for you. Your first step will be to determine how much time you have available and what score you are aiming for. Are you working toward an average SAT score with a year of alloted prep time? Do you hope to score in the top 10 percent with three months of study time? Knowing the answers to these questions will give you a good place to begin your prep.

As for time spent on the actual test, there are other things to consider. First, always make a guess if there’s an answer you don’t know on the exam. You’re not penalized for wrong answers, so don’t leave anything blank. Don’t spend a lot of time on these types of questions; make an educated guess and move on.

Math may not come as naturally to some students, but this means it can be a significant distinguisher if you perform well on this section. If you’re looking for more than an average SAT score, excelling in math could help you stand out.

While a high composite score is more valuable, you should still aim to do very well on the essay. A lot of colleges look at your essay score to get a general feel for your ability to write, so brush up on your reading comprehension and grammar prior to test day.

[RELATED: 3 Habits that are Hurting Your SAT Prep]

How do you establish an SAT study routine?

One of the most important parts of establishing a study routine is identifying a dedicated study space. Having a go-to location can help prepare your brain for study and testing by freeing it of other distractions. Ideally, your SAT study space will be for studying only—no double duty. It should be well stocked with everything you need to study, including practice tests, writing utensils, calculators, paper, and a timer. It should also be comfortable and maintain the level of noise that is most conducive to your studying.

You’ll want to think carefully about how long you should study for the SAT. Think about when your test date is and how much time you’ll realistically be able to spend studying with all of your other obligations. Identify areas where you need the most practice and those in which you are most comfortable, in an effort to pinpoint the appropriate amount of study time.  

[RELATED: 5 Factors that Affect How Long You Should Study for the SAT]

To avoid feeling bogged down by the enormity of the SAT, try dividing your prep into smaller, more manageable tasks. Familiarize yourself with the structure of the test so you know exactly what to expect. Work on comprehending math formulas that will undoubtedly be on the test by using flashcards. Begin reading material in areas where you may be weaker—this will strengthen your knowledge of a subject and increase your reading, grammar, vocabulary, and comprehension skills. Use a variety of SAT resources to study, including SAT flashcards, SAT videos, outlines, and podcasts. Cater to your specific learning style and don’t be afraid to try some new tactics.

An alternative strategy is to place a heavier focus on prep for the sections you are stronger at, in an effort to elevate your overall score. However, you can’t let one score be dramatically lower than the other. For example, earning a 750 on Reading and Writing and a 450 on the Math section will raise questions from schools. Focusing on your strengths, as opposed to your weaknesses, only works if your performance level is relatively similar in both areas. Otherwise, it can pay off to place a larger focus on the areas where you could use improvement.

You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with your calculator, taking care not to switch calculators in close proximity to your test date. Since you’ll be timed, knowing how to use all of the features on your calculator efficiently might help you reach your desired score.

Finally, the best tool you have at your disposal is the many SAT practice tests available to you. Aim for a practice test at least every two weeks, and take them as though you’re taking the real exam. Use a timer, take the test uninterrupted, and figure out how you’ll pace yourself. This will help with test timing, but will also give you a better idea of where you could use additional study time.

[RELATED: Benefits of Taking SAT Practice Tests]

What does this SAT breakdown mean for me?

Given that the average SAT score you need can vary depending upon your goals, it is important to be able to tell what score you’re aiming for. To do this, try using a range of tools to match you with a school. Tools can allow you to enter a region, school size, average SAT score, selectivity, and public or private distinction, and will provide you with a list of schools that meet your criteria. This is a great option if you’re still considering which schools to apply to, scored higher or lower than you anticipated, or are taking the SAT with enough time to retake as necessary.

The most important part of aiming for a certain SAT score is to equate your overall raw score with the number of questions you need to get correct. This gives you a measurable goal to work toward and a way of thinking about your score as high, medium, or low.

Noting that the average SAT score is 1060 can help you to pinpoint your target score and narrow down what schools to apply to. By arming yourself with test-taking knowledge, subject-specific information, and confidence, you’ll be well on your way to beating your target SAT score.

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