What Is a Good SAT Score in 2021? Finding Your Goal Score

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 12, 2021

A "good" SAT score may be different from person to person. Identify your own "good" target SAT score that will support your academic goals.

A high school student in an orange shirt and flannel shirt writes in a lined notebook. She is smiling and wearing headphones.

A good SAT score is one that helps you achieve your academic goals, whether that means getting into a particular college or earning a merit scholarship to help cover costs. A good score for you might look different than a good score for a classmate, and that’s okay. 

By identifying a target SAT score based on your own unique goals, you’ll know what to aim for to boost your chances of success.

Before we discuss the ways you might gauge the success of your SAT score, it’s helpful to understand how the exam itself is scored: 

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

  • There are two 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.

  • The benchmark score indicates college readiness—likeliness of passing first-year classes.

What is a good SAT score?

There’s no single standard for a “good” SAT score. In general, a good score is one that helps you get into your target school or supports your case for a merit scholarship. There are a couple of ways to think about your score. 

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. 

  • 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.

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. 

  • Green: On track

  • Yellow: Close to being on track

  • Red: Need to strengthen skills

What does this mean? 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.

Target school average SAT scores

This is perhaps the most meaningful way to think about your score (more on that below), but you won’t find it on your score report. It’s worth repeating that a “good” SAT score is a score that helps you get into the school you want. And that score will be different for different schools. 

What about SAT Essay and SAT Subject Test scores?

As of January 2021, the College Board no longer offers SAT Subject Tests or the optional SAT Essay. Some students may be required to complete the SAT Essay in states where it’s required as part of the SAT School Day program. If you’re taking the SAT on a school day, check with your school for details.

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How to find your target SAT score in 3 steps

How do you know whether your SAT score is good enough to get you into your school of choice? One way is to determine your target SAT score—a score that would increase your chances of getting admitted to the schools on your list. Here’s how to find your target score:

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

Write down the names of six to 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. 

For the 2021 admitted class at the University of Michigan, for example, the SAT score middle 50 is 1400 to 1540 [1]. That means that the middle half of admitted students scored within this range. The range is 680 to 760 for the ERW section, and 710 to 790 for the Math section. 

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 the 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, here are some tips to get you started.

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 your preparations 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.

Do all colleges require the SAT?

Some colleges and universities had started dropping their entrance exam requirements even before COVID-19 cancelled SAT and ACT exam dates. Since the pandemic began, many more institutions have switched to a test-optional or test-flexible model.

What does this mean for you? At a test-optional school, you can choose whether to include SAT scores in your application. A test-flexible school might waive their SAT requirement if you meet a minimum GPA or have qualifying AP scores. A few schools are test-blind, which means they do not want you to submit scores at all.

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What if my SAT scores are still too low?

Your SAT score is only one part of your college application. Depending on the school you’re applying to, it may not even be mandatory. 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.

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. Take both so you can see which one highlights your strengths.

ACT vs. SAT: Which is right for me?

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 skills. If possible, take both tests in your junior year, then retake your preferred exam in the fall of your senior year. Be sure to research the schools on your list to see which test they require or prefer.

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

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Article sources

1. University of Michigan. "First-year Student Profile, https://admissions.umich.edu/apply/first-year-applicants/first-year-student-profile." Accessed October 26, 2021.

Written by Coursera • Updated on Nov 12, 2021

This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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