What is a good SAT score? What score do you need to get into college? Can an SAT score help you get into college with a low GPA? We will answer these and many other questions in this article. We go further to debunk the myth of holistic admissions, highlighting the often-underplayed significance of SAT scores in the initial screening of applications. Additionally, this article offers actionable strategies for SAT preparation and advice on managing low scores, all geared towards equipping you with the necessary insights and tools to optimize your SAT performance and enhance your chances of college admission.

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11 min read

What is the SAT and How Is It Used? How SAT is Used in Admissions How the SAT is Scored But What Exactly is a Good SAT score? What is an Excellent SAT Score? What is a Bad SAT Score and Should You Retake the SAT? Improving Your SAT Score: Effective Strategies FAQs

What is the SAT and How Is It Used?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is more than just a two-part, standardized test administered by the College Board - it's a vital component of the college application process for many students around the globe. Consisting of a Math section and an Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section, the SAT is designed to measure a high school student's readiness for college. In some cases, it can significantly influence admissions decisions, particularly at competitive institutions.

We at BeMo do not endorse or support the use of tests like the SAT or the ACT (American College Testing) since we do not believe that they can assess the most important element in any student’s application: intrinsic motivation. However, we face the reality in which some of the best colleges in the US and the world take these test scores very seriously. Hence, we want to give you all the information you need to succeed and get into the college of your dreams. So, while we do not support the use of standardized testing, we can help you be aware of what you need to know to submit the best application out there: including SAT scores.

Want to learn 7 most important and easy ways to make your college essay stand out? Watch this video:

How SAT is Used in Admissions

The idea of holistic admissions is an appealing one – it suggests that colleges look at the "whole" applicant rather than basing their decisions on numbers and test scores alone, such as your college essays, college recommendation letters, and so on. However, when it comes to practicality, especially at highly selective colleges inundated with thousands of applications, SAT scores and similar metrics often play a significant role in the initial screening process. Due to the sheer volume of applications, admissions officers often use SAT scores and GPAs to filter applications to make the applicant pool more manageable. Thus, despite the claimed holistic approach, a significantly low SAT score could place you at a disadvantage right from the start, particularly at competitive institutions.

Essentially, you do not want to submit a score that will remove you from the applicant pool or a score that is not competitive in comparison with your peers’ scores because SAT scores are often used to weed out applicants in early stages of the admissions process – way before the admissions committee gets to look at your Common App essay, supplemental college essays, or your Common App Activities section.

This is not to say that a high SAT score alone will guarantee your acceptance into a competitive college. Nor does it mean that a less-than-stellar score is a definitive rejection. Colleges do value the diverse experiences and backgrounds that applicants bring. A compelling personal story, demonstrated leadership, or exceptional extracurricular achievements can potentially outweigh a lower SAT score.

However, you want to err on the side of caution and get a score that will at least not give the admissions committee a reason to remove you from the applicant pool. It's crucial to acknowledge the importance of SAT scores in the admissions process, especially when it comes to selective colleges. A 'good' or ‘excellent’ SAT score – one that meets or exceeds the average at your chosen colleges – can ensure you make it past the initial application screening, giving admissions officers the opportunity to review your application in a truly holistic manner.

In the end, it's about achieving a balance: aiming for a competitive SAT score while also building a compelling, well-rounded application that highlights your unique strengths and experiences.

How the SAT is Scored

Navigating the SAT scoring system can initially appear complex due to its multiple components, but with a clear breakdown, it can be easily understood. The test consists of two major sections: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math. Each section is scored on a scale of 200 to 800, with these scores combining to form your total or composite SAT score.

Individual Section Scores

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW)

The EBRW section is composed of two tests: the Reading Test and the Writing and Language Test. Both tests use a scale of 10-40, with your scores on each combined and scaled to give your overall EBRW section score between 200 and 800.

The Reading Test assesses your comprehension and interpretation skills using various texts, while the Writing and Language Test focuses on your grammatical knowledge and ability to revise and edit texts.


The Math section also uses the same 200-800 scale as the EBRW section. This part of the test is divided into two portions: one that permits the use of a calculator and one that doesn't. Both portions assess your mathematical knowledge and problem-solving abilities.

Composite SAT Score

The composite, or total, SAT score is the sum of your EBRW and Math section scores. This means your total SAT score can range from 400 (if you scored 200 on both sections) to 1600 (if you scored 800 on both sections). The College Board provides this composite score to give colleges a general overview of your overall performance on the SAT.

Remember that while achieving a high composite score is important, colleges also look at your individual section scores. They are interested in your strengths and how well-rounded your academic skills are. So, while preparing for the SAT, be sure to give attention to both sections of the test.

Now that we've demystified the SAT scoring system, the next big question is - what exactly is considered a 'good' SAT score? Let's dive deeper into that.

But What Exactly is a Good SAT score?

Determining what qualifies as a 'good' SAT score isn't as straightforward as it may seem. It's crucial to note that the concept of a 'good' score is often relative and varies depending on the context in which it's applied.

National Averages and Percentile Rankings

To put things into perspective, let's begin by looking at the national averages. According to the College Board, the average composite SAT score in recent years is around 1088, with an average score of approximately 538 in Math and 541 in EBRW. This gives us an initial idea of the score range achieved by a large number of test-takers.

However, to attend more competitive colleges and universities, even the easiest Ivy League school to get into, you'll typically need a score significantly higher than this average. This is where percentile rankings come in.

Your SAT percentile rank is a measure of the percentage of test-takers whose scores fall below yours. For instance, if you're in the 75th percentile, you scored better than 75% of test-takers. As you can see, the higher your percentile, the better your performance relative to others.

A score in the 50th percentile is considered average, while a score in the 75th percentile is deemed good as it means you've outperformed three-quarters of test-takers. A score in the 90th percentile or higher is considered excellent.

Ivy League Standards: An Example

To further illustrate what a 'good' SAT score can look like, let's use Ivy League universities as examples. These prestigious institutions often have high SAT score expectations due to their competitive admissions process.

Here are the SAT score ranges for admitted students at Ivy League institutions according to the latest data:

Brown University: 1470-1550

Columbia University: 1500-1560

Cornell University: 1470-1550

Dartmouth College: 1480-1560

Harvard University: 1460-1580

Princeton University: 1470-1560

University of Pennsylvania: 1450-1560

Yale University: 1470-1560

These scores indicate that 25% of admitted students scored below the lower number and 25% scored above the higher number. Thus, a 'good' SAT score for these institutions would be within or ideally above these ranges. But the truth is, a good SAT score is simply not enough for institutions like the Ivy Leagues or UC schools.

Why you need more than a good SAT score

Remember that a 'good' SAT score isn't a one-size-fits-all concept. It's essential to research the average SAT scores of admitted students at the specific colleges you're interested in to understand what a 'good' score means in that context. Most universities publicize this information on their websites, making it easily accessible.

While we've given you a general idea of what a 'good' SAT score might look like, but a good score is often not enough. Getting an 'excellent' SAT score can increase your chances of admission, hence that’s the goal you should be aiming for during your SAT prep. So what is an excellent SAT score?

What is an Excellent SAT Score?

An 'excellent' SAT score is one that not only gets you past the initial academic threshold of your chosen colleges but also elevates your application in the eyes of the admission committee. Remember, you’re always trying to stand out in your application – this means that you must achieve higher and better scores than expected! Achieving such a score implies that you have surpassed a significant majority of other test-takers in terms of your understanding and command of the skills tested in the SAT. So, what does this look like numerically?

Higher Percentile Rankings

Earlier, we discussed percentile rankings and how they can be used to determine the competitiveness of your SAT score. While a 'good' SAT score might fall within the 75th percentile, an 'excellent' score is often one that is in the 90th percentile or higher. This means that you've performed better than 90% or more of all other test-takers, which is a remarkable accomplishment.

In terms of actual numbers, as of the College Board's most recent data, scoring around 1350 or above will put you within the 90th percentile, and a score of approximately 1530 or higher will place you within the coveted 99th percentile. These are scores that could indeed be classified as 'excellent.'

Ivy League and Top Tier Schools

Let's circle back to our Ivy League examples. An excellent SAT score for these schools would be at the higher end of their middle 50% range or even above it. For instance, if the middle 50% at Brown University is between 1470 and 1550, an excellent score might be anything above 1550.

For other highly selective institutions like Stanford or MIT, these numbers could be even higher, with an excellent score possibly lying in the 1550-1600 range.

The Extra Mile

It's essential to note that while an excellent SAT score can significantly improve your chances of admission, it doesn't guarantee a spot. Colleges and universities consider many other aspects of your application, such as your GPA, extracurricular for college, leadership roles, admissions essays, and letters of recommendation.

The SAT is a standardized test, which means it's one of the few objective measures in an application process filled with subjective assessments. This makes your SAT score an important part of your application, but not the only factor that matters.

In the following section, we'll discuss what might be considered a 'bad' SAT score and whether you should consider retaking the SAT if you're not satisfied with your initial score.

What is a Bad SAT Score and Should You Retake the SAT?

A 'bad' SAT score can be a relative term and largely depends on your college aspirations. However, understanding the general consensus on what constitutes a low SAT score and knowing when to consider retaking the SAT can help you make informed decisions in your college application journey.

Defining a Low SAT Score

In the broadest sense, a 'bad' or low SAT score is one that falls significantly below the national average. As previously mentioned, the average composite SAT score hovers around 1088, according to the College Board's latest data. If your score is substantially lower than this figure, it might be considered 'low' in a general sense.

However, remember that 'bad' is a relative term when it comes to SAT scores. For instance, a score of 1050 might be considered 'low' if you're aiming for highly selective institutions, but it could be 'good' for some of the easiest colleges to get into.

Implications of a Low Score

While a low SAT score is not an insurmountable barrier to college admission, it can indeed present challenges, particularly for more competitive schools. Colleges use SAT scores as one of the standard measures to evaluate academic readiness, and a low score could create an unfavorable impression about your academic abilities.

While schools may consider multiple factors like your extracurricular activities, leadership roles, essays, and more, a significantly low SAT score could negatively impact your chances at selective institutions.

When to Retake the SAT

Consider retaking the SAT if:

  1. Your score is significantly lower than the average score of students typically admitted to your preferred colleges. If you're aiming for Ivy League or other highly selective schools and your score is lower than their 25th percentile, retaking the test might be a good idea. 
  2. You believe your score does not accurately reflect your abilities. Perhaps you didn't prepare adequately, or you were unwell or stressed on the test day. If you know you can do better, it might be worth taking another shot at it. 
  3. You've identified areas for improvement and have the time and resources to prepare. Successful retaking often involves targeted preparation. If you can identify your weaknesses and have time to prepare, a retake might lead to improvement. 

Ultimately, deciding whether to retake the SAT is a personal decision that should be based on a realistic assessment of your current score, your potential for improvement, and the average scores of your chosen colleges. In the next section, we'll explore strategies and resources to help you improve your SAT performance, should you decide to retake the test or aim for an even higher score.

Improving Your SAT Score: Effective Strategies

No matter where you currently stand with your SAT score, remember that improvement is always possible. It requires a well-thought-out strategy, consistent effort, and the right resources. In this section, we'll discuss actionable strategies to help you boost your SAT scores. 

Developing a Study Plan

A structured study plan is the backbone of successful SAT preparation. Start by determining the amount of time you have until your test date, then break down your study schedule into manageable chunks. Focus on dedicating a consistent number of hours each week to SAT preparation. 

Your study plan should include time for reviewing key concepts, practicing problem-solving, taking full-length practice tests, and analyzing your performance to identify areas of weakness. 

Mastering Test-Taking Techniques

The SAT is not just about understanding academic concepts; it's also about mastering test-taking techniques. Learning how to manage your time effectively, eliminate wrong answer choices, and handle the pressure of the test situation can significantly impact your score. 

For the reading section, practice active reading strategies. This includes highlighting key points, summarizing passages in your own words, and making inferences. For the math section, familiarize yourself with common question types and develop a systematic approach to problem-solving.

Using High-Quality Resources

Using high-quality resources is crucial for your SAT preparation. The College Board provides a number of resources, including free practice tests and personalized study plans through Khan Academy.

Consider using SAT prep books that provide comprehensive content reviews, practice questions, and test-taking strategies. Online platforms can also offer interactive learning experiences, adaptive practice, and instant feedback.

Seeking External Support

If you're struggling with self-study, consider seeking external support. This could be in the form of a tutor, an SAT prep course, or a study group. A tutor or prep course can provide personalized instruction, helping you to address specific weaknesses and learn effective strategies. A study group, on the other hand, can provide moral support, peer learning opportunities, and a sense of shared accountability.

Reflecting and Adjusting Your Approach

Finally, always take time to reflect on your progress and adjust your approach if necessary. If a certain study technique isn't working for you, don't be afraid to try something new. Remember that improving your SAT score is a process, and it's okay to make changes along the way.

In the final analysis, improving your SAT score comes down to a combination of smart strategies, consistent effort, and resilience. Keep a positive mindset, stay focused on your goals, and remember that every step you take in your SAT preparation is a step toward your college aspirations. 


Navigating the SAT and understanding its scoring can seem daunting, but it doesn't have to be. Here, we address some of the most common questions related to SAT scores to provide clarity and guidance.

1. What is a good SAT score?

A good SAT score can vary depending on the context. Generally, a score above the national average (currently around 1088) can be considered good. However, what constitutes a good score can significantly change when considering specific colleges. For instance, competitive institutions often have much higher average SAT scores for admitted students. As an example, many Ivy League schools have middle 50% SAT score ranges well above 1400. Therefore, a good SAT score can be broadly defined as one that meets or exceeds the average score of admitted students at your target colleges. Remember, while a strong SAT score can enhance your college application, it is just one aspect of your entire application profile.

2. How often can I retake the SAT?

There are no restrictions on how many times you can retake the SAT. However, it's recommended to take it no more than three times. If you're not satisfied with your scores, it's essential to review your performance and address any weaknesses before retaking the test.

3. What's the difference between the SAT and the ACT?

The SAT and ACT are both standardized tests used in college admissions. They cover similar academic content, but they differ in structure, scoring, and some aspects of content. The ACT includes a science section and has a different approach to the essay section. Some students may perform better on one test over the other.

4. Do all colleges require the SAT for admission?

No, not all colleges require the SAT for admission; there are some colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT. Some colleges are test-optional, meaning you can choose whether to submit your SAT scores. It's important to research the admission policies of the colleges you're interested in.

5. How is the SAT essay scored?

The SAT essay is scored separately from the rest of the test. Two graders score your essay on a scale of 1-4 in three categories: Reading, Analysis, and Writing. The scores from each grader are combined, resulting in a total score ranging from 2-8 for each category.

6. What is superscoring?

Superscoring is a policy adopted by some colleges where they consider the highest section scores across all the SAT test dates you submit. For example, if you took the SAT twice and scored higher on Math the first time and higher on Evidence-Based Reading and Writing the second time, the college would combine these scores for the highest possible composite score.

7. Does taking the SAT multiple times look bad?

Taking the SAT multiple times does not generally look bad to colleges. In fact, it can show determination and a desire to improve. However, a large number of attempts without improvement might raise concerns about test-taking strategy or preparation.

8. What should I do if I'm not happy with my SAT score?

If you're not happy with your SAT score, don't panic. Take time to assess your performance, identify areas of weakness, and develop a plan for improvement. Consider seeking additional help through test prep resources, a tutor, or a prep course. Remember, it's not uncommon for students to take the SAT more than once to achieve their desired score.

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting

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