What Is a Good SAT Score? Finding Your Goal Score 2023

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A good SAT score will depend on your goals. Learn how to identify the target SAT score you'll need as you set about applying to college.

[Featured image] A high school student studies for the SAT test using a book and a laptop computer.

The SAT is just one part of your college application and is increasingly considered optional. A good SAT score will depend on what you want to achieve, whether that's getting into your dream school or earning a merit scholarship. In other words, what constitutes a good SAT score will change based on your goals. Generally speaking, earning a score of 1350 in 2019 would put you among the top 10 percent of test takers, according to the College Board [1].  

In this article, we'll go over average SAT scores in the United States and how to find your target score based on the colleges and universities you intend to apply to. But before we do, it’s helpful to understand how the SAT is scored: 

  • Your total SAT score will be between 400 and 1,600 points

  • There are two primary sections, Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (ERW), and each one is worth 200 to 800 points.

  • The percentile shows how your score compares to other students' scores.

  • The benchmark score indicates college readiness—or the likelihood that you'll pass first-year classes.

4 ways to measure a good SAT score

A good score is one that helps you get into your target school or supports your case for a merit scholarship. When you receive your SAT scores, you'll also receive information about how your score compares to other students' scores around the country.

There are a few ways to think about your score in light of this information.  

1. Target school average SAT scores

A good SAT score is a score that helps you get into the college or university you want—and that score can be different for each school.

It's a good rule of thumb to achieve an SAT score that's higher than the middle 50 percent of scores. For example, half of the students admitted to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor had an SAT score of between 1360 and 1580 [2]. This is much higher than the national average total SAT score, so if you wanted to apply and be competitive, it might help if your score fell within that range—or higher.

You won't learn about your target school's average SAT scores on your SAT report. Instead, once you get your report, you can cross-reference your score with those published by the school. Below, we discuss how to find your target school SAT score.

2. Average SAT score

According to the College Board, the US national average total SAT score for the class of 2021 was 1088. The ERW national average score was 541, while the average score for the Math section was 538 [3].

Average scores can be useful in comparing the test performance of one entire graduating class to another's, but it's not necessarily the most helpful measure for an individual test-taker. For that, you'd want to consider your SAT score percentile.

3. SAT score percentiles

Your score report will include two percentiles to help you compare your performance with that of other test takers. If your score percentile is 50, that means 50 percent of test takers scored at or below your score. If your score percentile is 75, that means 75 percent of test takers scored at or below your score.

  • Nationally Representative Sample Percentile: This measures your score against all US students in grades 11 and 12, weighted to include those who did not take the test.

  • SAT User Percentile: This measures your score against real scores of students from the past three graduating classes who took the current SAT test during high school. 

You can see these percentiles for your total score, as well as your ERW and Math section scores. This lets you quickly see how you did in comparison to your peers.

For reference, here's a chart showing the SAT User Percentiles for the total, ERW, and Math scores in 2021 [4].

SAT User PercentileTotal SAT scoreERW scoreMath score
95-99+1430-1600710-800740-800
90-941350-1420680-700690-730
85-891290-1340650-670660-680
80-841250-1280630-640630-650
75-791210-1240610-620600-620
70-741170-1200590-600590
60-691110-1160560-580550-580
50-591050-1100530-550520-540
40-49990-1040500-520490-510
30-39930-980470-490460-480
29 and below920 and below460 and below450 and below

4. Benchmark scores

Each of your section scores will include a benchmark. This will show up as a color—green, yellow, or red—meant to indicate college readiness. The colors break down as follows:

  • Green: On track

  • Yellow: Close to being on track

  • Red: Need to strengthen skills

A green benchmark score indicates a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in a first-semester college course in algebra, statistics, pre-calculus, or calculus (for Math), or history, literature, social sciences, or writing (for ERW).

Use these benchmarks as a guideline for what academic areas to work on. With the right perspective and preparation, you can find success in college no matter your benchmark score.

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How to find your target school SAT score in 3 steps

Arguably, the more important SAT measurement is your target school SAT score. Here’s how to find that information:

1. Make a list of schools you’d like to attend.

Write down the names of 6-10 schools you’re interested in applying to. Try to include a mix of dream, target, and safety schools.

  • If money and qualifications weren’t issues, where would you want to attend? These are your dream schools, also known as reach schools.

  • Target schools are those where your grades, test scores, and class rank are similar to the average for the most recently admitted class.

  • You should be happy to attend your safety schools, but they should also be schools that you can afford and that you feel confident you’ll be admitted to. 

If you don’t know how to categorize your schools just yet, that’s okay. You can do this in the next step. 

2. Find each school’s middle 50 percent.

Search for the name of the school and “SAT score range” to find the middle 50 percent of SAT scores. This represents the range of scores between the 25th and 75th percentiles for the most recent class of admitted students. In other words, this is what’s left when you throw out the top and bottom scores. 

Write down these scores for each of your schools. It may be helpful to record the ranges for the Math and ERW sections as well. 

3. Identify your goal SAT score from the list.

Now arrange your schools in order of these score ranges, from highest to lowest. The schools at the top of the list would likely be your dream schools, with the target and safety schools in the middle and at the bottom of the list.

The high end of the range (the 75th percentile score) for the school highest on your list is your target SAT score. If you can get a score at or near the 75th percentile for the most competitive school on your list, chances are you’ll be competitive at the other schools too.

Tip: Set a goal to score at or above the 75th percentile of SAT scores for the school you want to attend. 

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How can I improve my SAT score?

Whether you’re thinking ahead toward the SAT or want to improve upon an existing score, use the tips below to get started. We've also compiled a longer list of 13 tips to prepare and take the SAT.

Take a practice test like the PSAT.

Prepare for success on the SAT by taking the Preliminary SAT, or PSAT, as a sophomore or junior. You’ll get a feel for the test format and types of questions, and your scores can show you areas to focus on as you prepare for the SAT.

Tip: Taking the PSAT as a high school student qualifies you for the National Merit Scholarship. Each year, the National Merit Scholarship Corporation awards 7,500 scholarships to students that are among the highest-scoring entrants in each state.

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Work on your weaknesses.

Focus on the areas where you received the lowest scores on your practice test. If you scored at or near your target score for the ERW section but fell short on your Math score, you’ll want to dedicate more of your practice time to math questions.

Plan to spend at least two to three months preparing for the SAT each time you take it. You have options when it comes to how you prepare, and many of them are free:

  • Take a free, full-length practice test.

  • Complete the free, interactive Official SAT Practice.

  • Enroll in a SAT prep course.

  • Hire a tutor.

  • Buy a study guide or check one out from the local library.

Retake the test.

You can take the SAT as many times as you want. This means that if your first score has room for improvement, you have the opportunity to improve it by retaking the test. The College Board recommends taking the SAT at least twice, once during the spring of your junior year and again in the fall of your senior year. For some schools, you can choose which scores to include on your score report. Others require that you submit all of your scores.

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What if my SAT scores are still too low?

Your SAT score is only one part of your college application—and it may not even be mandatory. Over 1,800 schools in the US promised to make college entrance exams optional in 2023 [5].

If your scores are lower than your target score, you still have options. (And remember, the scorers on the lower end of the middle 50 for each school on your list also got in).

Strengthen your application.

Schools look at more than just your SAT score when determining college admissions. If you feel your scores are lower than you’d like them to be, spend some time working on the other areas of your application. 

  • Talk to your teachers about how you can improve your grades. 

  • Ask for strong letters of recommendation.

  • Spend time polishing your application essay.

  • Start a new club at your school, volunteer, or look for an internship to help your extracurriculars stand out.

Read more: College Essay Format: Writing & Editing Tips

Adjust your college list.

As you get ready to apply to schools, consider adjusting your list. Add one or two new target schools that you’d like to attend where your scores fall within the middle 50. You may even choose to add another safety school where your score is near or above the 75th percentile ranking.

Consider the ACT.

Many schools accept ACT or SAT scores, and it’s not uncommon for students to perform better on one than the other. Neither the ACT or SAT is easier than the other, but they may have differences that make one of the two easier for you.

For example, the ACT puts more emphasis on verbal skills, while the SAT may be better suited to emphasize math and logic skills. If possible, take both tests in your junior year so, then retake your preferred exam in the fall of your senior year.

Read more: What Is a Good ACT Score in 2021? Finding Your Goal Score

Next steps

As you apply for colleges, consider whether an online bachelor's degree from a world-class institution on Coursera may be a good fit for your lifestyle and goals. Many degree programs do not require college entrance exam scores. Plus, you can pursue your degree from anywhere without having to relocate.

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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Article sources

1

College Board. "What is a Good SAT Score?, https://satsuite.collegeboard.org/sat/scores/understanding-scores/what-is-a-good-score." Accessed January 18, 2023.

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