How Will You Know When You Have a Good Test Score?

You've taken the SAT or ACT, and now that you have your test scores in hand, you have no idea if your score is good enough or if you need to re-take the test. Here's the question that's on your mind:

What exactly is a good test score?

Get ready to groan... There's no "one size fits all" answer to this question. It's all about the college you're applying to. What's above average for one college may even be acceptable for another college. However, the general consensus is that a higher score will definitely give you more options. 

So, let's take a look at both the SAT and ACT and find out more about their scoring systems. 

What is a Good SAT Score?

The SAT has changed a lot this year. Back in March, the SAT underwent a huge makeover. Even the scoring system changed. So, if you (or your parents) are accustomed to the 2400 scale, that's out. The New SAT is scored on a scale of 1600. 

However, for the class of 2017, most colleges will still accept scores from the old SAT along with the new SAT.

SAT Score Averages

Let's talk about averages. Fun, right? While it may not be the most exciting topic, understanding the SAT (and ACT) national averages can be helpful in determining a baseline for your score.

The national average for the old SAT (the one with a scale of 2400) is 1500.

On the old SAT,  a score of 1800 earns you a place in the top 25 percentile. While that's not going to land you into an Ivy, that's sufficient for many schools where you can have a fantastic education. 

On the old SAT, a score of 1260 means that you've placed in the bottom 25% of people who've taken the test. (I'd advise a re-test!)

For the New SAT, the perfect score is 1600. That means, a score of 1200 would put you in the top 25%, while a score of 1000 is average. The score of 840 or below is below average.

Try not to worry too much about a low test score, as you can always take the SAT again. Perhaps nerves got to you, or you didn't have the right study plan. The good news is that you can retake the test if you feel that you can do better. By the way, here are a few of my favorite test-taking strategies:

The Truth About Test Anxiety (and How to Overcome It!) 

What is a Good ACT Score?

The highest you can score on the ACT is a 36. The lowest you can score on the ACT is 1, although 99% of those who take the ACT score at least 12.

The national average for the ACT is 20. 

On the ACT, a score of 24 or more means that you are among the top 25% of ACT test takers.

A score of 16 or less is reflects the bottom 25% of test takers. 

Keep in mind that this is a composite score. While the SAT score is the total sum of each section, the ACT is an average of your scores across each section (English, Math, Reading, and Science). 

You receive two scores for each section: raw and scaled.

A raw score is the total of questions that were answered correctly. 

A scaled score takes that number of questions you correctly answered and gives you your score. 

The scoring formula varies based on the average scores of everyone else taking the test on the same day you sat down to take it. So, basically, you're graded on a curve. Because your score is compared to the scores of the other students, the ACT score you receive on a section (based on how many questions you correctly answered) change all the time. For example, getting 37 out of 40 questions correct on the Reading section might give you a 34 on one test, but on some more punitive testing curves, only a 32!

Superscore for the Win

The good news about taking multiple SAT and ACT tests is that you can superscore them.

Superscoring is when a college takes the highest scores from each section to create a mega score. 

For example, let's say you took the SAT and scored a 650 in Math and a 700 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing in March, but you weren't happy with your results, so you took it again in May. This time, you scored a 700 in Math but you dipped to a 650 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. With superscoring, your prospective college will consider the higher Math score of 700 you received in May, and the higher verbal score of 700 your received in March.

Not all colleges superscore, and some may only superscore the SAT and not the ACT. So, always check with each individual college about their testing policies.

Your Score is Relative

To determine what's a good score, look at the average test scores for your top colleges. (Or you can look at the College Board website to find the median 50% range, meaning half the students at that college scored in that range, a fourth above it, and a fourth below it.)

For example, the average SAT score for the University of Pennsylvania is 2163 (for the Old SAT) or 1500 (for the New SAT). The average ACT score is 32. Entrance to this school is extremely competitive. 

On the other hand, let's take a look at Baylor University. The Old SAT score average is 1817 and the New SAT average is 1290. While acceptance to Baylor University is still pretty competitive and reflects a body of students that is above the national average, it's still not as competitive as UPenn.

What Does All of This Mean?

A higher test score often means that you'll have more options. You can pick and choose from top colleges and universities. That's the reason why most people want to score high on their SAT or ACT tests.

But, a poor test score doesn't necessarily mean that you can't get into the college of your choosing.

That's because a poor test score doesn't always reflect your ability to understand and demonstrate what you've learned. Sometimes, it's just that the anxiety and maybe even the structure of the tests make it difficult to show what you know. 

Plus, you gotta love the fact that (for schools that accept "score choice") you have a second, third, or fourth (who's counting?) chance to make the perfect score for your target school.

It's that good 'ole proverb: If at first, you don't succeed, you can try again, and I'll help.

Additional Resources

Hey, don't go yet. Here are a two more posts that can help: