What Is A Good SAT Score?
The common question once SAT scores are released is always “what is a good SAT score?” The College Board, makers of the SAT, PSAT, and AP exams, offers the SAT seven times each year. A few weeks after you take the exam, you should receive an email with your scores. Several weeks after that you will receive a full print out that has a number of charts and graphs. Unfortunately, their score charts are nearly as confusing as their tests! Let me help you understand what is considered a good SAT score.
The score you may be most familiar with is the score for each section that ranges from 200 – 800, and the Composite Score (Verbal plus Math) ranging from 400 – 1600. Since this is a fairly new test format, the average score is going to fluctuate up and down for a few years. For the past 20 years, the national average score was approximately 500 per section, with a combined Verbal and Math Score of 1,000 (the score range would vary a few points year to year).
The new SAT average scores have increased approximately +50 points on the Reading section to 550, and +40 points on the Math Section to 540. The overall scores have also increased +80 points to 1080. While I would like to think the students across the nation have gotten smarter, I believe this is a marketing gimmick by the College Board. By “increasing” the scores, it makes this test more appealing to students in comparison to the older exam. By claiming students are performing better on this test, it adds credibility to the change. Unfortunately, while the average score has increased, the real measure of this exam is a little-known number called “Percentile Ranking“ and that number has not changed. For a little reference, the College Board is a $750 million enterprise who a few years back lost the market-share lead to the ACT. These companies are vying for their respective tests to become the national exit exam for high schoolers, which would ultimately become the only college entrance exam required. Needless to say, there is a great deal at stake.
Looking over the Composite Score, compare your scores against the national average. Be careful not to compare your score to another person’s score. Your score is your score. What you need to do is determine if you are satisfied with this score. If you are satisfied, focus on your GPA for the remainder of your high school years, take the ACT or SAT when it is convenient and you are done!
If you are not satisfied with your score (or perhaps uncertain what your score really means), then you need to start studying your options. Colleges look primarily at six things when considering a student for admissions. While there are a number of factors that ultimately decided acceptance, colleges routinely rank these six areas as most important:
- School Achievement: good grades in hard courses
- Since colleges want great grades first and foremost, you should always make this your priority. If you have a B+, work a little harder or get some help to raise that grade to an A. I see too many students settle when a little extra effort can really make a difference.
- Test Scores: ACT or SAT are required at all but 850 four-year colleges
- All colleges have their own ranking system. The goal is to be in the top 20% of students for the CSU system (top 10% for Cal Poly), top 10% for the UCs, and top 5% for the most competitive schools. While these numbers are just averages, it does give you an indication of whether you fit in.
- Teacher Recommendations
- Recommendations show you are mature, responsible, and worth the risk. When possible, try to get a recommendation from a teacher who has known you for several years.
- Not all colleges require an essay and those that do, the essay can make a difference.
- These are becoming a thing of the past for many schools.
- Colleges want to see that you are going to do more than just study. Were you involved in clubs, sports, and other activities that helped you lead a fulfilling high school experience?
College and Career Readiness Benchmarks
The College Board has determined that students are considered college and career-ready when their section scores meet the verbal and math benchmarks. Their studies have determined that students who score at or above the benchmark score will have a 75% chance of earning a C in the corresponding course. For example, a math score of a 510 will meet the standard and therefore gives a student a 75% chance of earning a C in a credit-bearing college math course. A score of a 460 will meet the standard and give a student of 75% chance of earning a C in a credit-bearing course in history, literature, or writing class. An example of the of the benchmark graph is below.
What Should I Do Next
The SAT is just one indicator in terms of whether a student is college and career-ready. Other factors such as persistence, desire, and family support can be every bit as important as a test score. The test scores do often reveal weaknesses that should not be overlooked. While the College Board is comfortable stating that a benchmark score will yield a 75% chance at a C, as a parent, I am looking for better odds. While it should be said that a higher score does not guarantee success, it does often make things easier when students get to college.
If the Evidence-based Reading and Writing scores are near the benchmark, congratulations! However, is this enough? With the great costs involved in college, you may want better than a 75% chance at a C average? If so, you may want to investigate ways to improve critical reading and writing skills. For those of you that are concerned that school and the Common Core aren’t doing enough to prepare students for college, here is an interesting article about what college professors think.
Improving Verbal Skills
- Read and read a lot. Don’t just read for pleasure, however. Make certain to stop and question what is occurring in the story, how the characters interact, and what the author is setting up that is not clearly stated.
- Write about your experiences. Daily writing is one way to improve. Be careful, however. Practice makes permanent, not perfect. If you reinforce a bad habit daily, it will be very challenging to change. As you write, continue to edit and improve your work. Periodically show this work to someone who will be able to edit for content and grammar. It can be difficult to ask people to read your writing, but this is a necessary step in order to improve.
- Don’t practice on test materials! Too often students will work on sample practice tests and get frustrated that they did not improve. Those practice tests are measuring fundamental skills, so why not practice and master the fundamentals.
Improving Math Skills
- Know the fundamentals. Nearly 40% of the test is based on elementary and algebra I skills. If there are any weaknesses in these areas, the PSAT, SAT, and ACT will exploit them.
- Learn to reason! The No Calculator section does not contain much difficult math, but it does contain very difficult and challenging reasoning questions. If reasoning questions are very difficult, then practice by working on logic games. Sudoku, New York Crossword puzzles, and chess are all great ways to improve reasoning skills.
- Master advanced math skills. The redesigned PSAT and SAT have put a greater emphasis on algebra II and trigonometry. In order to get top math scores, students need to understand this subject matter very well.
If you find that improving these skills is too difficult or you are uncertain how to go about this, contact me. I have 30 years experience in teaching PSAT, SAT, and ACT prep as well as most other academic subjects in school. You can reach me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408) 446-1034.