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What Is a Bad SAT Score?

If you asked college-bound students to list their greatest fears, receiving a bad SAT score would probably make the cut for most of them. But what is a bad SAT score? How do you understand the numbers on your scorecard in the broader context of college, scholarships, percentiles, national averages, and more? 

Join us as we break down the different ways you can measure your SAT score and determine whether or not it is good enough for your academic aspirations.

Measuring Your SAT Score

So, what does a bad SAT score look like? Well, that depends on how you measure it. After all, a score can only be seen as “good” or “bad” when compared to other scores. There are several values you can use to determine the success of your score relative to what matters most for you: average SAT scores, SAT score percentiles, SAT Benchmarks, and your own target SAT score.

Average SAT Scores

Perhaps the most general way to determine whether an SAT score is good or bad is to compare it to the national average. A good SAT score is usually one that is higher than the national average. Essentially, you should aim to score better than 50% of the students who took the test that year, landing you in the top half of test takers around the country. 

Remember that the national SAT score average changes each year, so be sure to compare your score to the year that you took the test for complete accuracy. The national averages in 2023 for each section of the SAT are as follows:

  • Reading and Writing: 520
  • Math: 508
  • Composite: 1028

We have also compiled a list of average scores by state in 2023 to help students further understand and contextualize their scores:

StateReading and WritingMathComposite
District of Columbia495474969
New Hampshire5265081035
New Jersey5385281066
New Mexico458444901
New York5225161039
North Carolina5705571127
North Dakota6526341287
Rhode Island489468958
South Carolina5275011028
South Dakota6056021208
West Virginia478445923

SAT Score Percentiles

Looking at percentiles can be a useful way to assess your SAT score as well. SAT score percentiles indicate the percentage of other test-takers who scored the same score or a lower score than you did on the SAT. So, for instance, if you scored in the 90th percentile, that means your score was equal to or higher than the scores of 90% of other test-takers. 

High percentile scores are usually deemed better than lower percentile scores. In some cases, students may even receive scholarships for scoring within a certain percentile. A common example of this is the National Merit Scholarship, which nominates finalists who score within the top 1% of PSAT test-takers in their state.

Below, you will find a breakdown of the 2023 SAT percentiles. Remember, 99th percentile scores are considered the best while 1st percentile scores are considered the poorest.

PercentileReading and WritingMathComposite
99th760 and above790 and above1530 and above
1st320 and below300 and below660 and below

SAT Benchmark Scores

College-bound students can also use the SAT College Readiness Benchmarks to evaluate their SAT scores and determine how prepared they are to move onto higher education. Your SAT scorecard will include a color-coded system that indicates your performance based on the pre-set benchmarks. A green score meets or exceeds the benchmark in that section, a yellow score is on track to reach the benchmark within one year of academic growth, and a red score falls below the benchmark by more than one year of academic growth.

The SAT College Readiness Benchmarks for 2023 are as follows:

Reading and WritingMath

Your Goal Score

Even if your SAT score does not fall into the highest percentile or drastically beat national averages, it may still be a perfectly good score for you. One factor stands out as the most important determinant of whether or not an SAT score is good: does the score meet your goal?

Generally, your goal score will be one that enables you to submit competitive applications to your top schools. To figure out your goal score, make a list of the average accepted SAT scores at each of your top schools. Then, select the highest score that appears on that list. Since this is the score that should help you earn a spot at every one of your top schools, it can be your target score.

You may also want to score within a certain percentile to earn scholarships or simply to meet your own personal academic goals. Keep your priorities in mind as you assess your score and decide if it meets your needs and expectations. If it does not, there are ways you can improve it.

Improving Your SAT Score

If you receive a bad SAT score or at least one that is not up to your standards, don’t worry! There are plenty of steps you can take to start improving your SAT score right away. Here are a few tips that will help you on your journey to achieving your target score.

Create a Study Schedule

Improving your SAT score takes time and dedication. On average, students can increase their scores by about 10 points for every 2.5 hours of studying. Plan out your study schedule using this metric, setting aside enough hours to raise your score into your target zone without overworking yourself. Remember to take breaks when needed and focus your studies on the areas that require the most improvement.

Click here for information about how to create an effective SAT study schedule that works for you.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Taking online practice tests is one of the best ways to prepare for the SAT. Not only will you become familiar with the types of questions you will be asked on the actual test, but you will also grow more comfortable with the time limit. This can be extremely helpful for those who often suffer from test anxiety.

You can find SAT practice tests and questions on College Board’s official website.

Enroll in a Test Prep Course

Test prep courses are designed to help students study effectively by laying out a schedule, creating a curriculum, and answering questions that crop up throughout the studying process. They are an invaluable resource, especially for those who may be looking to improve their scores but have no idea where or how to begin.

Whether you prefer guided or self-led study, Prep Expert has a wide range of test prep options that fit every student’s tastes. Our courses and instructors offer proven test-taking tips and strategies that will set you up for success not just on the SAT, but throughout the rest of your academic career as well.

Check out our full catalog of courses and sign up today to start improving your test scores!

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

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