What is a good SAT score? What is a good ACT score? – Introduction
Policies around standardized testing have shifted a lot in recent years. However, having good SAT scores and good ACT scores can still impact your admissions results. So, understanding how to get good SAT scores and good ACT scores is important. But what is a good SAT score, and what is a good SAT score? Moreover, how can a good SAT score improve your admissions odds?
Many colleges and universities require applicants to submit one test score along with their college applications. Because of these college admissions requirements, it’s important that you do your best on standardized tests. Earning good SAT scores or good ACT scores can get you one step closer to your dream school.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the scope of standardized testing slightly, good ACT scores and good SAT scores still matter. Good ACT scores (or SAT scores) can also help you compete for merit scholarships. In short, earning good SAT scores or good ACT scores can open your options and make you more competitive at top schools.
In this guide, we will explore two types of standardized tests—the SAT and the ACT. We’ll look at the similarities and differences between these tests. Additionally, we will answer the question, “What is a good SAT score?” along with “What is a good ACT score?”
In this piece, we will discuss what is a good SAT score, a good ACT score, and how they affect admissions decisions.
Our guide to SAT and ACT scores covers:
- What is the SAT test?
- What are SAT subject tests?
- Harvard SAT requirements and other Ivy League schools
- Average SAT score and best SAT score for colleges
- What is a good SAT score?
- Good SAT scores for Ivy League colleges
- How to get the best SAT score
- What is the ACT test?
- What is a good ACT score?
- How important are SAT and ACT scores?
- Test-optional colleges and their college admissions requirements
- And more!
What is the SAT test?
The SAT is a standardized test that demonstrates your strengths and readiness for college-level coursework. Most students will take it in 11th and 12th grade as they prepare their college applications.
When it comes to college admissions requirements, the SAT and ACT stand out as the two most important standardized tests used to measure academic performance. You’ve probably been told to strive for good ACT scores and good SAT scores in high school. Well, let’s first dive into understanding the SAT itself, and then get into determining good SAT scores. Later, we’ll look at good ACT scores.
Standardized tests have been around for quite some time. In fact, they first appeared back in the 1800s. Today, many people agree that standardized tests aren’t the best way to assess a student’s knowledge. However, with such a long history in the American education system, these tests remain an important part of the admissions process.
Formerly the “Scholastic Aptitude Test”
The letters SAT used to stand for “Scholastic Aptitude Test.” However, according to an article in the New York Times, this changed in 1994 when the College Board dropped the name altogether because of negative connections in the word aptitude. They did not want test takers to think their test measured a person’s innate knowledge as opposed to their academic achievement. So, the SAT does not stand for anything, and it is just a brand name the College Board uses to refer to its college admissions test.
Of course, good SAT scores are certainly not the only indicator of academic excellence. In fact, standardized tests require their own set of strategies. This is why schools tend to look for high GPAs rather than just good ACT scores or SAT scores.
The SAT Format
The SAT is just over 3 hours long. It has three sections, which are:
- Writing and language
The math assessment includes a calculator and non-calculator portion. There also used to be an optional essay section, which has since been discontinued.
SAT scores are graded on a point-scale. The highest you can score on the SAT is 1600.
In order to achieve good SAT scores, you will want to fall as close to that 1600 score as possible. As we discuss good SAT scores later in this guide, we’ll answer questions like, ‘Is 1200 a good SAT score?’ and ‘What is the best SAT score and lowest SAT score I could get for college?’
How is the SAT used?
The SAT is a test that universities around the country use to determine an applicant’s readiness to attend college. Like the ACT, it is a standardized test. This means that no matter where you live or what high school you attend, your test will be scored the same way as that of every other test-taker.
Colleges use the SAT as a way to measure a student’s academic achievement on a standardized scale. This allows for better comparison across diverse educational backgrounds. Good ACT scores or good SAT scores can help students show their academic ability to colleges. An average SAT score isn’t terrible; however, you’ll want to aim for the best SAT score possible. If you have good SAT scores, your college applications will stand out even more.
Typically taken in 11th or 12th grade
Most American high school students take the SAT in either their junior or senior years (or both). As we’ve mentioned, the test is currently scored between the lowest SAT score of 400 and the best SAT score of 1600. You’ll receive two scores—one for reading/writing and language, and another for math. These two SAT scores are added together to form a student’s composite score, which the college sees on a student’s application.
Some colleges also “superscore” tests, which means taking the best scores on each section across multiple tests. This can give you good SAT scores, or, similarly, good ACT scores.
Despite attempts to remain impartial, the SAT has faced criticism that it favors white students and those who come from economically privileged backgrounds. Some colleges and universities, like the UC system, have eliminated SAT scores and ACT scores from consideration. At other schools, students may submit SAT scores and ACT scores when they apply to college, but these scores are not required for college acceptance.
At these test-optional colleges, applicants will need to determine if they have a good ACT score or a good SAT score. We’ll get into deciding whether or not you should submit scores to test-optional colleges later in this guide.
Is the SAT test an IQ test?
No, the SAT test is not an IQ test.
Because both the SAT and IQ tests ask questions about the test-taker’s prior knowledge, it is easy to think that the SAT is a type of IQ test. However, they are not the same.
IQ tests purport to measure the test taker’s innate intelligence (though the frameworks IQ tests use have their own flaws). Therefore, it is difficult to improve your score on an IQ test through study. On the SAT, students are generally able to improve their SAT scores by taking the test multiple times or by attending courses specifically designed to prepare them for the test. In fact, learning test taking strategies is often key in earning your best SAT score.
However, despite the differences between an IQ test and the SAT test, research does show that students with higher IQs tend to earn good SAT scores, good ACT scores, and even good PSAT scores. This correlation does not mean that the SAT and IQ tests are the same; they simply measure similar areas of knowledge. Additionally, with the recent rise in test-optional policies, more colleges have begun to ask whether good SAT scores or good ACT scores can predict a student’s success in college.
Only one piece of the process
Most educators, parents, and students agree that a good ACT score and a good SAT score should not be the largest factor in a student’s admissions decision. And while standardized tests can serve a purpose in gauging critical thinking skills, some students just aren’t natural-born test takers. That’s why it will usually take studying and even a couple of attempts in order to earn a good ACT score or your best SAT score.
Whatever your personal opinions on the SAT are, it is still a prominent feature of the admissions landscape. Good SAT scores and good ACT scores can still impact your application results. Depending on where you apply, it may be helpful for you to submit SAT and ACT scores.
However, if given the choice of submitting your scores or not, you’ll want to make sure that you have a good ACT score or an above average SAT score. For more information about whether to submit your scores, check out our SAT webinar.
Understanding the PSAT is also an important part of the standardized testing process. You’ll likely take the PSAT in your sophomore and junior years of high school. Often, a good PSAT score is an indicator of a good SAT score. You can use your PSAT scores to plan your academic courses and test-prep strategies in order to earn your best SAT score.
What is an SAT subject test?
The SAT subject tests used to test students’ abilities in certain areas. However, these tests have been discontinued and no longer impact the admissions process.
In addition to the SAT, the College Board also used to offer a series of smaller tests called SAT Subject Tests. Unlike the standard SAT, which tested more general knowledge, the SAT Subject Tests covered content in a specific academic discipline. Some of these included American History, French, or Biology.
These tests were similar to Advanced Placement (AP) tests in that they gave students the opportunity to demonstrate their level of proficiency in a given subject. Good scores on the SAT Subject Tests would sometimes allow students to place out of introductory college courses in the tested subject. However, they largely served to provide additional data on a student’s academic strengths.
The end of SAT Subject Tests
As of 2021, the College Board has discontinued all SAT Subject Tests in order to “reduce demands on students” trying to earn a college acceptance. Because the College Board also oversees the AP testing program, they saw that SAT Subject Tests had become redundant and no longer served the purpose they once did. Instead, students should focus on taking rigorous AP courses and studying to get the best SAT score or ACT score possible.
In addition to eliminating the SAT Subject Tests, the College Board also recently revised the SAT, getting rid of the essay portion. The College Board decided that the timed essay on the SAT did not provide a good measurement of a student’s writing ability. Colleges’ supplemental essays as well as the Common App personal statement offer much better ways to evaluate students’ writing abilities. So, instead of stressing out over writing an essay in a short amount of time on the SAT, you can take all the time you need to make sure your personal statements and essays reflect your best work.
Does Harvard require SAT subject tests?
Because the SAT Subject Tests have been discontinued since 2021, schools like Harvard University no longer require them as part of their admissions process. Now, no school in the country requires SAT Subject Tests, and it is unlikely that they will in the future.
In fact, Harvard has now implemented a test-optional policy, meaning that Harvard SAT scores are no longer required for admission. With the Harvard SAT requirements gone, more emphasis shifts to students’ grades, extracurricular activities, and writing samples. However, like at most test-optional colleges, students are still welcome to submit good ACT scores or SAT scores to Harvard if they wish.
In addition, because of the lack of requirements for Harvard SAT scores and the absence of SAT subject tests, more students are turning to AP tests to fill that assessment gap. While these AP tests are not part of the college admissions requirements, students who succeed in them and on the AP tests that follow show admissions officers that they can succeed in a college-level academic environment. And unlike good ACT scores, high AP scores can allow students to test out of entry level courses depending on the university. So, when trying to earn an above average SAT score, don’t forget about your AP courses!
What is an average SAT score?
For the class of 2021, the national average SAT score was 1088. The average SAT score for each section of the SAT was 541 for the Evidence Based Reading and Writing portion and 538 for the Math portion.
Good SAT scores will definitely exceed this average SAT score. Additionally, an average SAT score at top universities will be far higher than this national average.
As you take practice tests for the SAT, it can be helpful to look at the percentile rank on your score report. This lets you see how your SAT scores rank against those earned by students taking the actual test in the same year. A score in the 75th percentile on a practice test means that your score was better than that of 75% of students taking the SAT that year.
This information can help you as you develop your college list by showing you which schools would be reach, target, and safety schools based on what is a good SAT score at that school. Use your college list to determine your goal for your best SAT score. However, when considering a good SAT score for you, you should also consider your lowest SAT score. You can use your lowest SAT score to make a study plan. A good SAT score tells you where you are, but your lowest SAT score will tell you how you can improve.
What is a good SAT score for the Ivy League?
To compete at Ivy League schools, you need good SAT scores. The middle 50% of Harvard SAT scores range from 1450-1560, which is much higher than the national average SAT scores. At Columbia, this range is from 1440-1570 and at Cornell, the range is 1400-1560.
Some of the most competitive schools in the country are part of the Ivy League. For this reason, strong applicants should have good ACT scores and good SAT scores. So, good SAT scores or good ACT scores at other schools might not be high enough to match the ACT or SAT requirements at some Ivy League Schools.
Test-optional policies and the Ivy League
Even though Harvard has joined the growing group of test-optional colleges and done away with the Harvard SAT scores, this does not mean that students have stopped submitting SAT scores to these schools. It just means that students are submitting good ACT scores and high SAT scores. That makes the average SAT score for Harvard, and other test-optional colleges, even more competitive.
In fact, according to an article in Forbes, all eight Ivy League schools have extended their test optional admissions policies through at least 2023. That being said, although Ivy League schools no longer have SAT requirements, they do still accept SAT scores if students choose to send them. Good SAT scores can still reflect favorably on an applicant.
Furthermore, an applicant without a good SAT score may need to go above and beyond in other areas. Finally, national rankings of colleges and universities do take the average SAT score into account. This means that Ivy League admissions officers look for students with high SAT scores in order to maintain top rankings.
Ivy League schools report data on the average SAT score or average ACT score of those applicants who still submit test scores. Most colleges report the “middle 50%” of SAT scores among their applicants meaning that the score range reflects the 25th and 75th percentile. At most Ivy league schools, you can expect the middle 50% to be around 1420-1560.
Beyond SAT scores
Of course, strong SAT scores and good ACT scores do help with Ivy League admissions. Still, it will take much more than good SAT scores to get into a college like Harvard or Columbia.
Ivy League schools and most other top colleges use a holistic approach to their college admissions requirements. A diverse range of extracurricular activities, leadership positions, awards, and strong writing skills are all more important than having the best SAT scores. Therefore, if your goal is to get into an Ivy League school, you should begin preparing early. This means building your profile, earning high grades in your classes, and getting involved within your school or community. You should also aim for good PSAT scores to be competitive for National Merit Scholarships.
Additionally, be sure to investigate not only college admissions requirements, but also your potential schools’ values and missions. Outside of their listed college admissions requirements, they’ll look for applicants who portray these attributes. In fact, there is usually a place on admissions’ websites that gives applicants tips or outlines how they evaluate potential students. Do your research, outside of the ACT and SAT scores in order to have the best chance of gaining admission to your top schools.
What SAT score do most colleges require?
In general, most colleges do not have SAT requirements for admission. Moreover, earning a good SAT score is just one piece of the puzzle when you apply to college. In today’s landscape, schools are placing less emphasis on standardized test scores. In fact, many successful college applications do not contain SAT or ACT scores at all.
Rather than thinking about Harvard SAT requirements (or any other school’s SAT requirements), it is much better to think about how your scores compare to the average SAT scores or average ACT scores of students admitted to a school.
Good SAT scores aren’t everything
Having the best SAT score does not guarantee your admission to a college. Similarly, having the lowest SAT score does not mean you will automatically be rejected. Remember that if your school is test-optional, you do not need to submit a below average SAT score. Additionally, good SAT scores can strengthen your application, but they will not make up for a sparse extracurricular resume or poor writing skills. That’s why it’s important to not get caught up in good SAT scores only. You should craft each part of your application carefully, placing importance on each section. After all, most schools, especially test-optional colleges, have holistic admissions processes.
Although the average SAT score is different at every school, it is generally good to strive for a score that falls around the 75th percentile nationally. Once you develop your college list, check the schools’ websites for their average SAT scores. If your score is at the high end of that range, you’re on the right track to becoming a quality applicant.
Remember that you can check your student scores on CollegeBoard. You should also check the site when planning your test dates, as it will have the most updated information.
What is a good SAT score for college?
The answers to the questions “what is a good SAT score?” or “what is a good ACT score?” depends on your goals. Average SAT scores vary greatly between schools. Also, there are no minimum SAT requirements for any school. This means that any minimum Harvard SAT requirements, UT Austin SAT requirements, or any other school’s requirements do not actually exist.
However, while it is not productive to talk about FSU SAT requirements or Penn State SAT requirements, we can provide information about what good SAT scores look like at schools around the country. These score ranges can be treated like “unofficial SAT requirements” rather than fixed minimum requirements.
Unofficial Harvard SAT requirements:
The 75th percentile SAT score at Harvard is 1560, which is very close to the perfect score of 1600. This number indicates just how competitive Harvard is. You should strive for a very high score if you are looking to share that score when you apply to an Ivy League college.
Unofficial NYU SAT requirements:
Unofficial UCLA SAT requirements:
UCLA is a test blind school, meaning that they do not consider SAT scores when making admissions decisions. Even though there are no UCLA SAT requirements of any kind, you can still see that students accepted to UCLA earned average SAT scores between 1360-1550.
Unofficial MIT SAT requirements:
MIT was also a test optional school for the past application cycle, but their students’ average SAT scores are still exceptionally high. The middle 50% of MIT students earned between 1530-1580 on the SAT, with many earning near-perfect scores in math.
Unofficial FSU SAT requirements:
Unofficial UGA SAT requirements:
Because UGA is a public university, there are actually UGA SAT requirements set by the state’s Board of Regents. No student can be admitted unless they exceed the required lowest SAT score: a 480 on the ERW section and a 440 on the math section of the SAT. However, their website stresses that the typical UGA student earns a score between 1340-1480 on the test.
Unofficial Penn State SAT requirements:
Unofficial Texas A&M SAT requirements:
If you are a Texas resident and are in the top 10% of your high school graduating class, you automatically qualify for admission to any state university, including Texas A&M. In order to qualify, students must meet the Texas A&M SAT requirements and have scores of at least 480 on the ERW section and 530 on the Math section. Texas A&M’s website does not report the SAT scores of its current students, but according to the College Board, the middle 50% of students earn a score between 1160-1390 on the SAT.
Unofficial Yale SAT requirements:
Again, because of Yale’s test optional policy, there are no Yale SAT requirements of any kind. However, Yale still encourages students to submit their test scores, which tend to range between 1460-1580 for the middle 50% of applicants.
Unofficial UT Austin SAT requirements:
UT Austin is test-optional so they do not have official UT Austin SAT requirements. Their website also does not report test scores for its current class of freshmen, but according to the college board, the middle 50% of SAT scores range from 1230-1480.
As you can see, the definition of a “good” SAT score will vary by school. So, always keep your college goals in mind when comparing your SAT score to any statistics. A good SAT score at FSU may not, for instance, meet the unofficial NYU SAT requirements or MIT SAT requirements.
What is a good SAT score out of 1600?
Many students who see their SAT scores wonder: “Is 1200 a good SAT score?” or “Is 1400 a good SAT score?”
The answer, as we have previously discussed, will vary based on the schools where you apply. So, the question “what is a good SAT score out of 1600?” won’t have the same answer for every student.
In addition, as the SAT has changed, the definition of good SAT scores has changed as well. Earlier versions of the SAT were scored out of 2400, but the current version is scored out of 1600. This makes it difficult to reduce the concept of good SAT scores to a single number.
Instead of comparing SAT scores to a single “good SAT score,” it is much better to evaluate your score against the good SAT scores at each school on your list. Make sure that you draw from current data, especially given the recent changes that the SAT has undergone. College websites, as well as trusted sources like U.S. News and World Report, are all good sources of information when it comes to average SAT scores.
How to get the best SAT score
Because the SAT is a standardized test, you can anticipate the types of questions that will be asked by looking at tests from recent years. In fact, taking practice SAT tests is one of the best ways to study for the SAT. You can find eight full-length practice SAT tests for free at this website, or you can purchase materials from a number of different test prep companies. In addition, Method SAT prep is included with all CollegeAdvisor.com packages.
Another great predictor of a good SAT score is a good PSAT score. The PSAT is another test administered by the College Board. It serves as both a practice test for the SAT and the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship. Students who can achieve a National Merit Scholarship PSAT score are likely to achieve a good SAT score as well. In addition, a National Merit Scholarship PSAT score can qualify you for scholarships. Although you will not report those National Merit Scholarship PSAT scores directly to colleges, good PSAT scores have real benefits.
If you have the ability to retake the SAT, it is often beneficial to do so. Many students do not get their best SAT scores on the first attempt. In fact, you’ll likely get your lowest SAT score on your first try. If you do take the test multiple times, schools will often drop your lowest SAT score and only accept the best SAT score you choose to send. However, if you retake the test as a senior and do not improve, we do not recommend taking the test an additional time, as it is expensive and unlikely to result in an improvement.
What is the ACT test?
So far, we’ve learned about the SAT, good SAT scores, and how to get the best SAT score. Now, let’s take a brief look at the ACT and its unique traits.
So, what is a good ACT score? How can you get an above average ACT score?
The ACT simply stands for the “American College Test,” though the full name is rarely used, even on the test’s official website. The shorter acronym, ACT, is much more widely used on official materials, such as the ACT score percentiles and their website reports. Although a good SAT score and a good ACT score look very different, students who wonder “what is a good ACT score?” will find that many SAT tips apply to earning good ACT scores as well.
The ACT is another admissions test that shows your level of college readiness. The ACT is made up of four sections – English, math, reading, and science, with an optional writing test.
Within each section, you can earn a score ranging from 1-36. Your composite ACT score is the average of those four scores. Note that the optional writing test does not impact your total composite score.
Understanding ACT Scores
When you receive your ACT score report, you will also receive an ACT score percentile. ACT score percentiles are used to show how you did in comparison to other high school students in your state and the country.
In addition to your ACT score and score percentile, it’s also good to know the national average ACT score. If you are trying to receive college acceptance to a highly competitive school, you will want to earn good ACT scores that exceed the national average. ACT score percentiles can help you to understand how you compare to other students. They can also help you determine a good ACT score for you based on your college list.
ACT vs. SAT
Like the SAT, the ACT is a timed standardized test used to evaluate students in the admissions process. Both tests are available multiple times per year, and most colleges accept both. They both test core proficiency in academic subjects and take about three hours.
However, there are several key differences between the SAT and the ACT. Perhaps the biggest one is the sections. The SAT has two scoring sections—Evidence-Based Reading & Writing and Math—while the ACT has four—English, Math, Reading, and Science. In addition, there is an optional ACT writing section students may take.
Yes, there is a section devoted entirely to science. But don’t worry; it doesn’t test specific scientific knowledge. Rather, it tests scientific skills and critical thinking, like reading graphs and charts and reasoning through experimental design. So, don’t fear if you don’t know the speed of light in a vacuum. Just try to understand the experiment results. If you can do that, you’ll likely get a good ACT score in the science section.
Obviously, these different sections and scoring scales mean that SAT and ACT scores look quite different. The lowest SAT score possible is 400 out of 1600, while that number is 1 out of 36 for the ACT. In other words, good SAT scores are closer to 1600, but good ACT scores are closer to 36. Your composite ACT score is the average of your section scores. An official ACT score will also have ACT score percentiles that show you where you rank nationally in each section.
How many questions does the ACT have?
Well, there are 75 English questions, 60 math questions, and 40 questions each for reading and science. Students taking the writing portion must also write one essay on a given prompt.
In summary, here are some fundamental differences between the ACT and the SAT.
Fundamental differences between the ACT and the SAT:
|200–800 per section; 400–1600 total
|1-36 per section; 1-36 composite
|ReadingWriting & LanguageMath (No Calculator)Math (Calculator)
|EnglishMath (Calculator)ReadingScienceWriting (optional)
|Reading: 52Writing & Language: 44Math (No Calculator): 20Math (Calculator): 38
|English: 75Math: 60Reading: 40Science: 40Writing (optional): 1 essay
Should I take the SAT or the ACT?
Deciding which test to take is a personal decision. Often, students prefer one test over the other. It’s always good to take a practice test in each and see which score is higher.
In recent years, the ACT has increased in popularity. However, more students still take the SAT nationwide. There is no problem with this—both tests are nationally recognized and accepted when you apply to college. The question is, which one to take?
Look at the differences above and reflect on your abilities. Not too confident in your math abilities without a calculator? Maybe the ACT is better for you. Or is scientific thinking really not your strong suit? In that case, you may want to try the SAT instead. If you’re not sure about your abilities, look at some practice problems to gauge each test.
Of course, it’s possible to take both. In fact, many students do. Some perform considerably better on one than the other. If you’re able, you may wish to take both ACT and SAT practice tests. Then, if one suits you better, you can take it for real. Don’t forget, too, that you can retake each test. If you knock the practice ACT out of the park but bomb the real one, you can always take it again.
What is a good ACT score?
As discussed, the ACT is scored out of 36 points as opposed to the SAT’s 1600. So, what is a good ACT score?
The range for good ACT scores depends on the colleges you’re considering. The average ACT score (composite) for the class of 2021 nationwide was 20.3. This was a slight drop from the average ACT score of 2020, in part due to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
However, the admitted pool of many top schools have an average ACT score of 32 to 33. That means that a good ACT score is drastically higher than the national average. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the middle 50% ACT score for Cornell University was 32–35 in 2021. The same goes for New York University, and for Harvard University, the range was 33–35. You can see the average ACT scores of these institutions is much higher than the national average ACT score.
However, don’t let these ACT score percentiles freak you out. Remember that these are just average ACT scores. Additionally, while good ACT scores can be helpful, test scores aren’t everything. College admissions requirements call for recommendation letters and essays specifically to show what even good ACT scores don’t. Some schools are even test-optional, so you aren’t required to submit scores (more on that later in this guide). You’ll only want to submit a “good ACT score” to those schools.
At the end of the day, there are no universal good ACT scores—it’s up to your priorities. Good ACT scores are really just higher than the average ACT score at the college on your list. So, while there are no ACT requirements for Harvard, you may want to aim for around a 35 or perfect 36 to be safe.
How to get good SAT scores
Quick—how much do you remember about how to get good SAT scores?
You began studying early, right? Knowing about good SAT scores and average SAT scores at your dream school is one thing. However, if you don’t hit the books, it won’t matter how many college SAT webinars you’ve watched. Make sure to begin your test prep early and take practice tests.
You should also take the PSAT. They’re pretty similar tests, so it’s almost like a preview of the real SAT. Moreover, you can use good PSAT scores to predict future success on the actual SAT. In addition, good PSAT scores qualify for the National Merit Scholarship—and who doesn’t like a little help with tuition? The National Merit Scholarships PSAT score requirements are pretty high, so be sure to study for the PSAT, too.
If necessary, don’t hesitate to retake the SAT. Every SAT is different, both the content and the person taking them. Let’s say you got good PSAT scores and felt confident about getting good SAT scores. However, maybe you had a bad morning and got worse scores than you wanted. It’s fine to study and take the SAT again to boost your score. In fact, many students do better on their second attempt.
Finally, use outside guidance if possible. If you can bag the best SAT score with test prep books alone, great! On the other hand, if you’re like most people, you’ll benefit from some help.
A large part of earning good SAT scores or good ACT scores is learning test taking strategies. Whether it’s a trusted educator or a CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert, be proactive in seeking assistance. Good SAT scores can be crucial in college admissions—do yourself a favor and boost your chances of college acceptance.
What is considered a bad SAT score?
With all this talk about good SAT scores and the best SAT scores, you may be wondering what a bad SAT score is. The national average SAT score across the US was 1088 last year. That means that anything under that number is considered below average.
However, there are no universally bad or good SAT scores—aside from the very lowest SAT score possible, perhaps. At the end of the day, what is a good SAT score out of 1600, anyway? It’s the one that gets you your desired college acceptance. Maybe you got a 1400 total. Is 1400 a good SAT score? Well, while a 1400 may not clear the bar of some top universities, it’s by no means a bad score for many schools.
When considering SAT and ACT scores, remember to keep everything in perspective. Look at your list: what are the college admissions requirements for each school? If you’re not aiming to get into every Ivy—and even if you are—don’t sweat getting the best SAT score possible. You just want to aim for an above average SAT score for the colleges on your list.
Furthermore, remember that scoring lower than you wanted on the SAT isn’t the end of the world. You can always study up and retake the SAT before you apply to college. In addition, your college applications contain much more than your SAT score. If your score is a lower than the average SAT score, make the rest of your application shine.
How to get good ACT score
First of all, if you want to get good ACT scores, you should be familiar with the ACT. If possible, take a practice SAT and ACT, then compare your performance. If your ACT score percentiles were good on the practice test, focus on preparing for that test. And don’t just skim a couple of blogs and call it a day!
Prepare well, and prepare early. The more you study, the better you’ll do. Give yourself plenty of time to learn how the ACT works and hone your test-taking skills. You can’t cram for the ACT. Instead, good ACT scores come from proper preparation. If you want to get a good ACT score with ACT score percentiles in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, you’ve got to start studying early.
There are a wealth of resources to help you get good ACT scores. Free test prep resources include Khan Academy’s SAT section, which is recognized by the College Board. ACT also offers free practice tests and other test prep resources for free.
There are also free peer-to-peer tutoring options out there. While test prep can be very expensive, there is a growing number of free resources to help you. And of course, if you can access personalized test prep, it can make a huge difference.
Even with lots of prep, a good night’s sleep, and a hearty breakfast, you may not get your ideal score. As with the SAT, feel free to retake the ACT. If you’re not satisfied with your ACT score percentiles, consider studying and taking the test again. You may find you score higher on your second or even third attempt.
How important are ACTs and SATs in college admissions?
In recent years, SAT scores and ACT scores have become slightly less important in the admissions process. Many schools have come to understand certain issues and limitations of standardized testing practices. As a result, college admissions requirements for some institutions are changing. Now, some college applications don’t require or even consider SAT and ACT scores.
That being said, your scores still matter. SAT scores and ACT score percentiles are used as a benchmark for academic achievement within a national context. So, good SAT scores and good ACT scores will show admissions officers you can succeed on campus. When you apply to college, you want as much of an advantage as you can get—good SAT scores and good ACT scores can help.
Moreover, test scores are still strongly correlated with college rankings. Think of some of the highest-ranking universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton. What are their average ACT scores and average SAT scores? Those SAT and ACT score percentiles are well into the 90s. In other words, both good SAT scores and good ACT scores can strengthen your college applications. This will boost your chances of college acceptance.
Conversely, remember that good SAT scores or good ACT scores aren’t an automatic admit. Poor grades and zero extracurriculars can’t be covered up by the best SAT score ever. Make sure your college applications are well-rounded, with each section showing your best self.
How many colleges and universities are going test-optional?
In a word, many. Over 270 colleges and universities nationwide currently have test-optional policies.
Test-optional colleges aren’t just of a certain rank, either: from middle-of-the-road to elite universities, many schools are going test-optional. Given the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic, testing became a less reliable benchmark. Additionally, many students could not access standardized testing at all during the pandemic.
In fact, some schools, like Bates College and the UC system, are entirely test-blind. This means that their applicant evaluation process doesn’t consider test scores at all. Upon college enrollment, these scores—if submitted—may only be used to determine course eligibility.
Some prior test-optional colleges have gone back to requiring SATs and ACTs. However, many others have remained test-optional colleges. For example, Cornell extended their test optional policy through to the 2024 admissions cycle.
Note, however, that other parts of college applications without test scores carry more weight. For instance, if you send no scores because of the test-optional Penn State ACT requirements, your grades matter more.
Later, we’ll look more closely at the decision (not) to send SAT and ACT scores. For now, let’s look at some college admissions requirements for this fall.
What are some top schools not requiring test scores?
Now, the part you’ve been waiting for! Are there really no ACT requirements for Harvard? What do you mean UCLA has no SAT requirements!? Read on to learn about some top schools that are test-optional—or test-blind. All schools accept both SAT and ACT scores. On the off-chance you still have scores from SAT subject tests, you can send those, too.
Rejoice! There are no Yale SAT requirements or ACT requirements for this application cycle (2022).
There are no Texas A&M SAT requirements, either. Be careful, though: they do not superscore whatever you choose to send!
That’s right, no ACT requirements for Harvard, and no Harvard SAT scores required. In fact, there are no ACT requirements for Harvard through fall of 2026!
Like the rest of the UC schools, UCLA is test-blind. Not only are there no UCLA SAT requirements or UCLA ACT requirements, but scores aren’t even considered.
There are no NYU SAT requirements or ACT requirements this fall.
No Stanford ACT requirements here! If, regardless of the lack of Stanford ACT requirements, you do submit SAT and ACT scores, there’s no minimum score requirement.
There are no Vanderbilt ACT requirements through next year’s application cycle.
There are no UT Austin ACT requirements this fall, and no minimum score.
The Penn State ACT requirements are waived for this fall.
Obviously, no matter what the UCLA ACT requirements (or any school) says, you should take an exam. With the exception of UCLA, remember that test scores can count on your college applications. While, yes, there are no Vanderbilt ACT requirements, good ACT scores wouldn’t hurt your Vandy application. Put aside the Stanford ACT requirements or UT Austin ACT requirements for a bit. If you have high ACT score percentiles, send those scores!
What are some top schools that do require them?
Some things, however, are too good to be true. Not every top school is test-blind or test-optional.
Yes, there are MIT SAT requirements. There is no minimum score for the MIT SAT requirements, but you should shoot for the top of the top. MIT admissions is very competitive, and a good SAT score can only help your application.
There are FSU ACT requirements, as with all other public universities in Florida. And like many other institutions, the FSU ACT requirements have no minimum score.
Georgetown also requires SAT or ACT scores, although students without access to testing can contact their admissions office.
UGA SAT requirements have no minimum score, but you must submit an official score report. So, while you don’t need a perfect 1600, aim for a high score to boost your UGA admissions chances.
As stated above, don’t let this news discourage you. Say you’re applying to FSU. Yes, you do have to submit scores according to the FSU ACT requirements. But even if you only have an average ACT score, admissions staff evaluate college applications holistically. Your extracurricular profile and essays can still impress them and net you college acceptance!
How do I decide when to send my test scores or not?
To send or not to send, that is the question. There are a few factors to consider when not sending SAT and ACT scores. Not the least of which is college admissions requirements—obviously, this only applies for test-optional schools!
First, look at the schools on your list. Research the benchmarks: what are the average ACT scores and average SAT scores of admitted students? Then, you can figure out good ACT scores and a good SAT score for those college applications.
Using average test scores
Next, compare those average ACT scores and SAT scores to yours. Are you at or above the average ACT score? Send them! Even solidly average ACT score percentiles can’t really harm your college applications. Every favorable bit of information you can give is good.
On the other hand, your scores may not represent your full academic potential. They may simply fall below the thresholds of the school you’re applying to. It happens—sometimes PSAT scores don’t quite line up with your actual SAT scores. In that case, it may be best not to submit.
Of course, you can send your scores to some schools and not others. Once you get your scores, think about where you stand. There are no AT Austin ACT requirements or Penn State ACT requirements this fall, but your scores are good enough. Although NYU is a stretch, you will appreciate that NYU has no SAT requirements this year! Choosing where to send your SAT and ACT scores is yet another decision to make in the college admissions process, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. Just do your research!
What is a good SAT score? What is a good ACT score? – Final Thoughts
Before junior year, you’ll be able to take the PSAT. What is a good PSAT score? While your PSAT scores don’t impact college applications, with a good PSAT score you may get a National Merit Scholarship. The National Merit Scholarships PSAT score benchmark changes year to year, so your best bet is to study hard. Even if you don’t meet the National Merit Scholarships PSAT score, your average PSAT scores can predict whether you will earn a good SAT score.
The SAT is a nationwide standardized test that assesses students’ college readiness. Most students take the SAT once or more during their junior and senior years. Test prep for the SAT should begin well before junior year with practice questions and tests.
The American College Test, or ACT, is functionally very similar to the SAT. The two tests do differ in length, number of questions, and scoring (review the chart above for a comprehensive breakdown). However, the SAT and ACT are interchangeable in the admissions process; most institutions accept scores from either test. High ACT score percentiles are equally as helpful as a good SAT score.
COVID-19 and standardized testing
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, many colleges and universities have adopted test-optional policies. For test-optional schools, applicants can choose whether or not they send standardized test scores. These policies help students without access to testing, test prep, or who simply don’t test well. On the other hand, other parts of the application carry more importance without standardized test scores.
There are no strictly good or bad test scores. A good score for one school may not work for another college. A “good ACT score” depends on your school list, your goals, and how you want to present yourself to schools. Whether you’re gearing up for your first PSAT or puzzling over where to send your scores, there’s help for you. Check out one of our CollegeAdvisor.com college SAT webinars.
Claire Babbs, Alex Baggott-Rowe, Gina Goosby, and Sarah Kaminski collaborated on this article. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.