What is an Average SAT Score?

Students across the country, more than 1,000,000 of them, take the SAT Reasoning Test (or SAT) as an integral part of their college application process, and virtually every college and university recognizes SAT results. The first incarnation of the test appeared in 1926 and, though it has undergone a number of name changes, its purpose has remained the same. Given how much the mechanics of the test have changed it is no surprise the average SAT score has varied a lot as well.

The SAT measures an applicant’s readiness for higher education by evaluating three primary areas: Writing, Critical Reading and Mathematics. The SAT presents the majority of its questions in a multiple choice format, much like its competitor the ACT. The exceptions are the essay portion of the writing exam and grid in math questions, for which applicants must calculate a single answer. The total time for the three test sections is 225 minutes, 200 minutes for the multiple choice and grid in math questions, and 25 minutes for the essay. The essay portion of the writing exam always appears last.

Average SAT Score VariesAverage SAT Score

While some schools no longer require the SAT (or the ACT), the test, in addition to the applicant’s high school transcript, continues to be an important factor in college acceptance. Each of the three sections is equally weighted, yielding possible scores from a low of 600 to a high of 2400.

The three SAT states (where the majority of college applicants sit for the SAT) with the highest average SAT scores are Washington (1564), New Hampshire (1554) and Massachusetts (1547), while the three SAT states with the lowest averages are Georgia (1453), South Carolina (1447) and Maine (1389). For 2011/12, the national average SAT score was 1498. Evaluating average SAT scores by state offers some challenges. Hence, differentiating between SAT and ACT states eliminates some skewing of exam results, in a state by state analysis, due to a small number of applicants in ACT states taking the SAT Reasoning Test.

Percentile scores represent where individual test takers place compared to others taking the SAT. For example, if a student receives a cumulative score of 2100 they have placed in the 90th percentile. Essentially, they have received a better score than 89 percent of participants taking the test. To place at the 99th percentile a minimum score of 2310 is required.

Ivy League schools’ minimum requirements illustrate the importance of a higher than average SAT score. Harvard’s average SAT scores range from 600-800 on each part of the test, while Yale generally considers applicants with a minimum score of 700 on the Critical Reading and Mathematics tests, and 710 on the Writing exam.

How the SAT Reasoning Test is Scored

While it is important for applicants to know what the average SAT score is, understanding how the tests are scored is more so. Two methods of scoring are used. For the Writing (multiple choice), Critical Thinking and Mathematics sections, each correct answer receives a +1, while each incorrect answer receives a -1/4. Unanswered questions receive nothing. Then College Board conducts a statistical analysis to insure consistency between different versions of the tests. Last, the initial (or “raw”) scores are adjusted to render the scaled results (200-800) using a process called “equating.”

The essay portion of the writing exam is scored differently. Two readers, high school teachers or college instructors, score each essay from 1-6 which generates a possible score from 2-12. The scoring process utilizes a third reader if the difference between the scores is two or more.

Standardized tests, including the SAT, have come under fire in recent years for a number of reasons, including the criticism that they are not culturally sensitive. However, College Board makes every effort to guarantee the fairness and accuracy of test results and continues to be the test most college bound students choose.