Comparing Your Teenager’s SAT Scores


A mother recently asked me what constitutes a good SAT scores.

I told her that it depends on the caliber of the school. At some colleges a 1600 out of a 2400 score is above average while at other schools, applicants with that kind of score wouldn’t even be seriously considered. At some of the nation’s most prestigious schools, a 2100 could be borderline.

It’s always wise to look at the test score ranges at individual schools. You can find these scores on the College Board, COLLEGEdata and the federal College Navigator, as well as the Princeton Review and Fisk collegiate guide books.


The mother’s question prompted me to share some of the more interesting of the College Board’s 2012 SAT statistics:

1. The average SAT score earned by high schools students in the class of 2012 was 1498 out of a maximum of 2400 points. The overall score breaks down this way:

Math 514
Critical reading 496
Writing 488

2. Beyond averages, I think it’s helpful to see where a child’s scores fall on a percentage basis with the other test takers. For instance, in the chart below, a student who earned a 700 on the mathematics portion of the SAT performed better than 93% of others taking the test.

3. You hear far less about the scores for the SAT subject tests, which are chiefly required for elite colleges and universities. Here are the average scores for some of the subject tests:

3. The College Board also breaks down SAT test performance by states. You can find the report card for your state here: College-Bound Seniors 2012 State Reports.

4. The best indicator of whether a child will succeed in college is his or her high school grade point average. The SAT is a weaker measure and it’s supposed to give colleges an idea of how applicants would perform in their first year of college. The College Board developed a readiness benchmark that indicates that a score of 1550 (out of a 2400 scale) means students have a 65% likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during their freshman year.

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  1. One way we’ve approached this topic with parents at our tutoring company is to work back from the types of schools they or their children have in mind as potential options. In other words, to know what a “good” SAT score is or a target SAT score should be, you really need to have a sense for the selectiveness of the university to which you might be applying. If you don’t have a sense for whether your child should be targeting Harvard or a local state school, all else equal, you might just want to look at his GPA as a starting point. If his GPA is in the top 10 or 20% of his class, then he or she is in a good position to gain admission to a really good school, like Harvard, if he backs up that GPA with difficult classes, community service, extra curricular activities, and of course, a stellar SAT score. Once you know Harvard is on the table, you know the target SAT score is probably going to be very high – the middle 50% of admitted students at Harvard scored a 2080 to 2380, by the way. So, in a vaccum, the question “what’s a good SAT score” is actually really difficult to answer. You need to start with a sense for what schools are “in scope” for your child.

    1. Thanks Mark. Excellent advice Though I would say that Harvard is off the table for just about everyone.

      Lynn O’Shaughnessy