Every year, millions of high school students will sit down to take the SAT and/or ACT, knowing that the score they receive could play a big role in their future college applications. Here’s a guide to understanding both tests and the preparation required to get the best score possible.
The SAT and ACT are standardized tests that play a crucial role in the college admissions process, serving as benchmarks for assessing a student’s readiness for higher education. Even though many students have chosen not to take these tests in the wake of many colleges becoming test-optional, it is still in most students’ best interest to take these tests. Thus, understanding what constitutes a good score is still essential for aspiring college students and their families.
In this article, we’ll explore the key components of SAT and ACT scores, including scoring systems, what scores are considered “good,” tips for approaching study plans, and more.
What is a good SAT Score?
What is considered good SAT score is relative and depends on the individual’s goals and the requirements of the colleges they are applying to. However, generally, a score above the national average is considered competitive. Scores in the range of 1200-1400 are often considered good, while scores above 1400 are regarded as excellent.
Explanation of SAT Scoring System
The SAT scoring system aims to provide colleges and universities with a uniform measure of a student’s readiness for higher education. Here’s an explanation of the SAT scoring system:
- Sections and Structure: The SAT is divided into two main sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. Each section is scored on a scale ranging from 200 to 800 points. The EBRW section includes the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. The Math section includes the Math Test – Calculator and the Math Test – No Calculator.
- Composite Score: The total SAT score is the sum of the scores from the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section and the Math section. Therefore, the composite score has a maximum possible value of 1600 points.
- Subscores: Within the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, there are additional subscores for the Reading and Writing and Language Tests. The Reading Test and Writing and Language Test are each scored on a scale from 10 to 40, and the scores are combined for the EBRW section score.
- Cross-Test Scores: The SAT includes cross-test scores that assess a student’s skills in analysis in history/social studies and analysis in science. These scores are reported on a scale from 10 to 40.
- Essay (Optional): The SAT Essay, though optional, is scored separately. The essay is scored on three dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. Each dimension is scored on a scale from 2 to 8, resulting in a total essay score ranging from 6 to 24.
- Score Range: The overall SAT score ranges from 400 to 1600. The optional SAT Essay is scored separately, contributing to a potential maximum score of 24 points.
- Percentiles: The SAT provides percentile ranks, indicating the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than a particular student. For example, if a student’s score is in the 75th percentile, it means they scored higher than 75% of test-takers.
- Scoring Process: The scoring process involves converting the raw scores (the number of correct answers) into scaled scores. Scaled scores account for variations in difficulty across different test versions, ensuring fairness in score interpretation.
Average and Highest Possible SAT Score
The average SAT score provides a baseline for understanding how students perform on the test. In 2023, the average SAT composite score was around 1028 out of 1600. This was the lowest it’s been since the test format changed in 2016.
The SAT has a maximum score of 1600, comprising the Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections, each with a potential score range of 200-800. Achieving a perfect SAT score is a rare accomplishment and demonstrates a high level of mastery across the test’s content. While not required for admission to most colleges by any means, a perfect score can certainly enhance a student’s application and showcase their academic prowess.
Tailoring Your SAT Goals
Tailoring SAT goals to fit individual needs and aspirations is a strategic approach that can lead to a more personalized and effective test preparation experience. Not every student is created equally, which means everyone’s approach should likely differ.
Whether you’re working with a tutor or going at it solo, here are 5 tips that students can use to customize their SAT goals:
- Understand College Requirements: Different colleges and universities have varying SAT score requirements for admission. Research the specific score expectations of the institutions you are interested in applying to get a target to aim for based on your college preferences. Also, consider whether schools require you to submit all of your test scores or will permit “superscoring,” or taking the highest score from every section to create the highest possible composite score based on all times a student took the test (not all schools offer this option).
- Set Achievable Goals: Consider your academic strengths and weaknesses. Set reasonable short- and long-term goals that take into account your current level of preparation and the time available before the test date. Unrealistic goals can lead to unnecessary stress, so it’s important to be practical in your expectations.
- Identify Strengths and Weaknesses: Take practice SAT tests regularly to identify your strengths and weaknesses in each section and base your study plan around your score on these tests. Understanding which areas need improvement allows you to focus your preparation on the areas that will yield the most significant score gains.
- Create a Realistic Study Schedule: Develop a study schedule that aligns with your goals and daily routine. Consistency is key, so plan to dedicate regular, focused study sessions to SAT preparation in addition to your usual goal. Adjust the intensity of your study schedule based on your goals, practice test scores, and time constraints.
- Use Official SAT Resources: Take advantage of official SAT resources, such as online practice tests and study guides provided by the College Board. These materials are designed to familiarize you with the test format and content and quickly provide you with a score to help you assess where you are in terms of preparation. Remember, you have to learn how to take the test — it may not be an inherent skill for every student.
What is a good ACT Score?
A good ACT score is context-dependent, but generally, a score above the national average is considered solid. Scores in the range of 24-30 are often deemed good, while scores above 30 are considered excellent. Just like with the SAT, what qualifies as a good score will depend on the specific requirements of the colleges to which a student is applying.
Explanation of ACT Scoring System
The ACT (American College Testing) is another standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. The ACT scoring system is designed to assess a student’s readiness for college and is divided into several sections. Here’s an explanation of the ACT scoring system:
- Sections and Structure: The ACT consists of four main sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science. Each section is scored on a scale ranging from 1 to 36. There is also an optional Writing (Essay) section, which is scored separately.
- Composite Score: The composite score is the average of the four section scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science). The composite score also ranges from 1 to 36.
- Score Range: Each of the four required sections and the optional Writing section is scored on a scale from 1 to 36. The composite score is the rounded average of these four section scores, also ranging from 1 to 36.
- Percentiles: Like the SAT, the ACT provides percentile ranks for each section and the composite score. Percentiles indicate the percentage of test-takers who scored lower than a particular student.
- Scoring Process: The ACT uses a scoring process that involves converting the raw scores (the number of correct answers) into scaled scores. The scaled scores account for variations in difficulty across different test versions.
Average and Highest Possible ACT Score
Similar to the SAT, the ACT provides an average composite score, which is the average of the four section scores (English, Math, Reading, and Science). In 2023, the average ACT composite score was around 20.6, meaning that students who scored 21 and higher outperformed at least half of the students who took the test. Although it’s important to note that ACT scores have dropped significantly for the class of 2023 — read our blog post on the subject to find out more about why this has happened.
The ACT has a maximum composite score of 36, with each section scored on a scale of 1 to 36. Achieving a perfect ACT score is a remarkable accomplishment and showcases a student’s proficiency across all tested subjects. While not necessary for college admission, a perfect score can be a significant asset to a student’s college application.
Tailoring Your ACT Goals
Much like tailoring SAT goals, tailoring ACT goals to a specific student requires a thoughtful and personalized approach that can optimize a student’s chances for success.
Here are 5 unique strategies for students to customize their ACT goals:
- Explore Section Preferences: Given that the ACT comprises four distinct sections—English, Math, Reading, and Science—students should explore their preferences and strengths in each. If a particular section aligns with their intended major or career path, they might prioritize it during preparation as a high section-specific score can look impressive on a college application.
- Assess Time Management Skills: The ACT is a time-sensitive test, and efficient time management is crucial. Evaluate your time management skills during practice tests to identify areas where you can improve pacing and allocate time effectively across different sections. Leave ample time for difficult sections if necessary.
- Utilize Subject-Specific Strategies: Each ACT section requires specific skills and strategies. Tailor your goals by honing in on subject-specific strategies. For example, focus on grammar rules for the English section, problem-solving techniques for Math, and critical reading skills for the Reading section.
- Consider the Optional Writing Section: If you choose to take the optional Writing (Essay) section, set goals for this component independently. Develop a plan for crafting well-structured essays that showcase your analytical and writing abilities, and review highly-scored example essays to learn from what they do correctly.
- Balance Intensity with Consistency: Create a study plan that strikes a balance between intensity and consistency. While it’s essential to set ambitious goals, ensure that your study schedule is sustainable and accommodates regular, focused practice.
Importance of SAT and ACT Scores in Top College Admissions
Understanding what constitutes a good SAT or ACT score in the context of college admissions involves considering the context of individual goals, college requirements, and the competitiveness of the applicant pool. Students should research the average scores of admitted students at their target colleges and strive to achieve scores that align with their aspirations.
Still, a high score, even if above a certain college’s median score, does not by any means guarantee admission to top colleges. Ultimately, standardized test scores are just one element of the college application process, and a holistic approach to admissions takes into account various aspects of a student’s academic and personal achievements.
Strategies to Achieve a Good SAT and ACT Score
To summarize, the best strategies for achieving a good test score on the SAT and ACT include:
- Knowing the format of the test inside and out, particularly which sections may give you trouble on test day and the types of questions and problems you will encounter;
- Giving yourself plenty of time to study and take practice tests to gauge your general preparedness and improve in your weaker sections;
- Setting realistic goals and practicing time management skills to make the most of whatever time you do have and to actually see progress within that timeframe;
- Walking into test day well-rested, confident, and aware of the fact that, while these standardized tests are important, they don’t define you or your capability as a student!
Are you looking for help with achieving a good ACT or SAT score and understanding the college admissions process? Set up a free consultation today with one of our skilled tutors and/or Ivy League admissions counselors!