SAT Score Percentiles | Why They Matter

How do SAT score percentiles work? Believe it or not, these percentiles help determine the chances of which school accepts your application. Let’s discuss why below.

Here’s how SAT scores help you score scholarship money.

What Are SAT Score Percentiles?

SAT score percentiles inform students how well they’ve done on the test, in direct comparison to all other test-takers.

Besides the composite score you receive, you’ll also receive an SAT percentile score rank, ranging from 1 to 99. The SAT provides students both a percentile ranking for overall composite scores as well as for each of the main section scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Math.

Again, your percentile scores tell you how you did on the SAT overall compared with everyone else who took it. For example, if you got a composite percentile of 75, then you scored higher than 75% of students on the entire test. If you receive a percentile of 48 on the Math section, you did better than 48% of students on SAT Math.

Where SAT Score Percentiles Confuse Students

However, just like with the ACT, your percentile score is not derived from a grade of 100.

In plain terms, scoring in the 90th percentile doesn’t mean you correctly answered exactly 90% of the questions. It just means that compared with everyone who took the SAT, you scored higher than 90% of them.

This is the main sticking point that’s often confusing for students when taking the SAT or ACT. Everyone is used to points measured against a fixed, objective scale. With test score percentiles, unfortunately, everything is based on individual performances compared against one another.

What Are the Percentile Ranges for the SAT?

So what percentile range(s) should you aim for?

You clearly get that percentile scores are important. But if you’re still getting ready to take the SAT for the first, or second, time, you’re probably asking “what score should I get for the right percentile?”

The first thing to consider is which schools you’re applying to, and what they’re looking for percentile-wise. You can easily research both of these factors online.

More importantly, the College Board releases data about composite scores and matching percentile rankings too. These numbers will change from year to year, but here is the most recent data from 2020.

Look down at the chart below and match your prospective score on the left-hand side with the estimated percentile rank on the right.

SAT Composite Score Range Percentile Score
1550-1600 99 to 99+
1500-1550 98 to 99
1450-1500 96 to 98
1400-1450 94 to 96
1350-1400 90 to 94
1300-1350 86 to 90
1250-1300 81 to 86
1200-1250 74 to 81
1150-1200 67 to 74
1100-1150 59 to 67
1050-1100 50 to 59
1000-1050 41 to 50
950-1000 33 to 41
900-950 25 to 33
850-900 18 to 25
800-850 11 to 18
750-800 6 to 11
700-750 3 to 6
650-700 1 to 3
600-650 1- to 1
550-600 1-
500-550 1-
450-500 1-
400-450 1-

Why Do SAT Score Percentiles Matter?

In short, colleges use percentiles as a quick way to compare applicants against each other. If you receive, for example, an SAT composite score in the 90th percentile, this would make you a desirable applicant for most schools.

Why? Because it demonstrates that you scored better than 90% of the students who took the test nationwide. College admissions are like building a sports team; it’s all about building the best possible class every year.

Keeping an eye on your percentile ranking and composite score can give you a good idea about what kinds of schools you’ll likely have a better chance of being admitted to or not.

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