SAT: Why it Still Matters

May 14, 2020
By AdmissionSight

The importance of the SAT

You never know what to expect when you are taking the SAT. You can take prep courses, study from a practice manual, but you’ll never know what questions will be asked. Preparation for the SAT begins with first with knowing what universities you are seeking to apply to, and what score is expected for their applicants, and how to use the consultancy resources like AdmissionSight to ensure you reach the average SAT scores standards required to enter Ivy League universities. Please see a list of average scores for some of the top universities in the US use the quick reference table at the bottom.

We always believe that a student’s SAT score is quite important. Usually we’d recommend that you should try to aim for a 1550+ on the SAT you give yourself the best shot at getting in. But that’s not to say a weak student can’t get in with a lower score either – just probabilistically speaking, the odds are lower. Some students can get into an Ivy League with a strong enough personal statement, extracurricular activities, or regional and national awards.

Many news outlets are reporting that various colleges like the University of California system which is home to Berkeley, and UCLA are considering getting rid of the SAT scores as an admission requirement. The Washington Post reported this was an effort to account for disparities by race, socioeconomic status, and the fact that “white and wealthier students scored better than unrepresented minorities or those from low-income backgrounds.”

The effort was opposed by faculty who still view scoring within an expected percentile of a student is still an essential part of the admissions process. Still, more than 1,000 colleges and universities make test scores optional, although test scores still count towards merit-based awards and scholarships.

As colleges consider the role of standardized testing scores in whether an applicant will get into a university or not, it’s still important to aim for the highest GPA and SAT scores. The test can feel daunting to study for as the date gets closer, and it’s not uncommon to feel uneasy about having to endure the 3 hours of testing, not including breaks or the optional essay.

There are two sections required for the SAT in Math, and a Reading and Writing Score, also known as Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). Each section is scored 800 for each category with a total of 1600. In 2019, the National Average Scores were 531 in Reading and Writing, and 528 in Math. But it matters less how you do on a national level, and more how your scores stack up to what your target universities are seeking in an applicant.

Here are some common questions and tips to guide you in understanding more about how your scores will help you get into an Ivy League university:

Student's struggle in class

How long is the SAT?

With the optional Essay, the SAT lasts three hours and 50 minutes. Without the Essay, it takes three hours. Every SAT test contains the same four sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math – No Calculator, and Math – Calculator. However, from check-in to the test’s conclusion (assuming you’re doing the Essay section), the entire experience clocks in at four hours.

The Math section is the only section separated into two parts. The No Calculator section comes first and asks 20 questions in 25 minutes. The Calculator section comes second, and asks 38 questions in 55 minutes. That is a combined 80 minutes for both sections.

Students also get a total of three breaks—or two if they elect not to take the essay portion:

  • The first break occurs after the Reading section and lasts 10 minutes.
  • The second break takes place after the Math – No Calculator section and lasts for 5 minutes.
  • The last break is just two minutes. It occurs after the Math – Calculator section, and only applies to students taking the Essay section.

How to Prepare for the SAT

As is mentioned above, the SAT takes three hours or three hours and 50 minutes, depending on whether you’re taking the Essay section. While students have reported that the exam moves fairly quickly due to the amount of questions in each section, it still requires a tremendous amount of concentration for such an extended period of time. While the old SAT format broke up the test into 10 smaller sections, the current SAT forces students to tackle each subject in one large chunk, with two out of four sections taking approximately an hour. This means that students not only have to move quickly through the questions, but they have to maintain this pace for the duration of the exam. In other words, successfully navigating the SAT not only requires knowledge of the content within the exam, but an ability to manage the intense pressure and time constraints. But how does one accomplish this?

  1. One commonality found in most SAT Prep Courses is to have students take the official full-length, strictly timed practice test. Not only will this give students an idea of their strengths and weaknesses in the different sections, but this is understood to be the best way to prepare for the intensity and timing of the exam.
  2. Since the SAT takes place on Saturday at 8 a.m., it is recommended that students do practice tests on weekend mornings in order to condition their body to have the energy required for the day of the actual test.
  3. As students study the different sections of the SAT, it is important to periodically take an entire practice section with only the time given on the test. This will allow students to get used to the timing on the SAT and build up the stamina necessary to maintain consistent concentration throughout the day.

What makes a good vs. bad SAT score?

The current above-average standard for a test score is 1200-1600 range. Scoring within this range would place you in the 74th percentile of an estimated 1.7 million high school students which take the exam each year. Your SAT score will give you what percentile of students you scored better against among the national average.

Anything lower than this score means you may potentially not be considered as a top applicant to Ivy league universities who are seeking students that excel to their test score standards. It doesn’t mean you won’t get into the university of your dreams but might make the challenge more difficult.

Another important thing to note is that the averages for many leading universities have drastically risen. For example, this year the University of California, Berkeley is seeking applicants with an average SAT score of 1405, and an average GPA of 3.89. This doesn’t mean this above-average score is required for admissions, but will set you apart as exactly the type of prestigious applicant the university is seeking.

Other universities that have increased their expectations for applicants to have a higher SAT score average within the 1490-1600 range include universities like Tufts, Carnegie Mellon, University of Southern California, and Boston College.

students celebrating

SAT Score Range

A common question that students and parents ask is, “what’s a good SAT score?” The term “good” SAT score is generally frowned upon, as professionals recommend students focus on obtaining a score that will get them into their college of choice, rather than obsessing over the numbers. Because while the SAT is an important part of your college application, it’s not the only part. Even if you get a 1600, the highest possible score, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get into the coveted top schools.

The SAT score range is 400-1600 for your total score. One section score is Math, while the other is a combined Reading and Writing score called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). To determine what makes for a good SAT score, it is important to understand how SAT scoring works. While your total score out of 1600 corresponds to a percentile ranking, your SAT percentile tells you what percentage of students you scored the same or better than. The average SAT score is 1059: 528 for Math and 531 for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing. This suggests that student performance tends to cluster around the middle of the scale, with 1000 being the halfway point between the minimum score of 400 and the maximum score of 1600.

As the table below illustrates, the SAT score range is 400-1600. One section score is Math, while the other is a combined Reading and Writing score called Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). To determine what makes for a good SAT score, it is important to understand how SAT scoring works.

While your total score out of 1600 corresponds to a percentile ranking, your SAT percentile tells you what percentage of students you scored the same or better than. You can earn a scaled score of between 200 and 800 points on each section, for a total of 1600 possible points on the SAT. The scaled score is converted from the raw score you earn on each section.

This process occurs through what College Board calls “equating”, which ensures that the different forms of the test or the level of ability of the students with whom you are tested do not affect your score.

This is a breakdown the SAT score structure per section:

SAT Score Section Score Range
Total Score Sum of the two section score 400-1600
Section Scores (2) Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, and Math 200-800
Test Scores (3) Reading, Writing and Language, and Math 10-40
SAT Essay scores (3) Reading, Analysis, and Writing. 2-8
Cross-test score (2) Analysis in History/Social Studies and Analysis in Science. 10-40
Subscores (7) Reading and Writing and Language: Command of Evidence and Worlds in Context. Writing and Language: Expression of Ideas and Standard English Conventions. Math: Heart of Algebra, Problem Solving and Data Analysis, and Passport to Advanced Math. 1-15


Highest SAT Score

The highest possible score you can get on the SAT is 1600. In order to get this score, you have to get a perfect 800 on each of the two sections. This is exceptionally rare. While the exact number of people who received perfect scores is not publicly known, according to College Board, of the 2.2 million students that took the SAT in 2019, just 7% (154,485) managed to score between 1400 and 1600. But according to the most recent SAT percentiles, less than 1% scored in the 1550-1600 range.

The tables below show the raw score, which is calculated using the number of questions you answered correctly, converted into the scale score by using College Board’s equating method.

Test 1 Conversion Table

Via College Board’s Scoring Your Practice Test #1

Test1 Scoring Table

Test 4 Conversion Table

Via College Board’s Scoring Your Practice Test #4

Test2 Scoring Table


Test Day Tips

Like any important event in your life, you always want to arrive early. The SAT is no different. This is particularly important if you live far away from the testing facility, or if it’s an unfamiliar location. But even if the exam is taking place at your high school, it doesn’t hurt to show up early so that you can find a comfortable place to sit. In order to get to your seat, however, students are responsible for remembering to bring their Admission Ticket, which is available on the College Board website once students have been registered and paid all fees. Students must also remember to bring a current photo ID, SAT-approved calculator, and, of course, as many #2 pencils as you think you may need.

Success in the SAT is not only reliant upon students’ knowledge of the content found within the exam. Equally important—perhaps more so—is the student’s ability to concentrate for long periods of time. Students must, therefore, ensure there are no distractions to break their focus. This means getting enough sleep the night before, eating healthy the morning of the exam, wearing comfortable clothes, and bringing snacks for breaks.

Despite the fact that you’ve been laser-focused for the last few months preparing for the SAT, spending countless hours studying and doing practice test after practice test, it is the nature of a huge test like the SAT to make you nervous and unsure of yourself. But rather than expend precious energy worrying if you did enough to prepare or what you could have done differently, it is of utmost importance to wipe all doubt from your mind, relax, and just take the test.

In other words, the most important thing to remember on Test Day is to trust yourself.

Could SAT scores help with getting financial aid towards an undergraduate degree?

Yes. The reason for this is that you have the opportunity to earn merit-based scholarships and awards at universities for SAT scores which are in the higher range of 1200- 1600. Scores in this range place you as an above-average and allow you to earn thousands of dollars in savings towards tuition.

SAT vs PSAT structure of the test

Are there any universities that offer automatic scholarships for high scores?

Yes.  The National Merit is a competition that awards about 4,100 scholarships each year to high school students with exceptionally high PSAT and SAT scores. The competition could earn you about $500 to $2,000 per year in stipends towards a four-year undergraduate study. It could also potentially qualify you to receive full academic or partial scholarships as a finalist.

You could also receive a full scholarship to attend the University of Idaho or a partial scholarship towards a degree at Loyola University. The National Merit awards are selected by sponsors from the college which has admitted you, and they will determine which range of scholarship of the annual stipend will be offered to you.

There are also Automatic Scholarships for students with higher SAT/ACT scores, higher GPA or top-class rankings. Universities like Colorado State University, Louisiana State University, University of Oregon offer automatic scholarships anywhere from $1,000 – $30,000 a year to students with SATS scores that range from 1130- 1600.

Are the SAT Subject Test Scores important? 

Maybe. It depends on the university you are applying to, but in most cases, while the tests are not required they are recommended for certain universities and specific programs. Although the list is always changing and it’s important to keep up to date on the requirements of your target schools, here is a listto get you started:

 Colleges that Require or Strongly Recommend SAT Subject Tests:

  • Boston University
  • Brown University
  • California Institute of Technology (Caltech)
  • Carnegie Mellon University (requirements vary by school)
  • Cooper Union (some programs)
  • Cornell University (some programs)
  • Dartmouth College (recommended, not required)
  • Duke University (strongly recommended)
  • George Washington University (required of some dual degree programs only)
  • Harvard University (strongly recommended)
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • Notre Dame (Indiana) (home schooled applicants must take 3 SAT II or AP exams)
  • New York University (NYU) (but SAT, ACT, IB or AP exams can substitute for SAT Subject Tests)
  • Princeton University (strongly recommended)
  • Rice University (not required if submitting the ACT)
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  (only for accelerated programs in law or medicine)
  • Swarthmore College (encouraged for engineering applicants)
  • Tufts University (most programs)
  • University of California — The state system has changed its policy to read, “While SAT Subject Tests are not required, some campuses recommend that students vying for slots in competitive majors take the tests to demonstrate subject proficiency.”
  • University of Pennsylvania (recommended)
  • Vassar College (scores will be considered, but are not required)
  • Washington and Lee University (recommended for home-schooled applicants)
  • Webb Institute
  • Wellesley College
  • Wesleyan University (school is test-optional, but scores are required and used for placement)
  • Yale University (recommended)

Eric Eng, owner and founder of AdmissionSight


What is the best way to prepare for the SAT? 

There are a lot of options when it comes to determining what SAT prep course to take, what edition of the practice books to buy, how to register, or how to develop testing skills to finish your test on time and with minimal anxiety. That’s why AdmissionSight is here to help consult with all of the resources you need to begin preparation for the SAT. Our program gives you the chance to work our team of expert consultants, who has years of experience helping students gain an edge in the Ivy League admissions process and knows exactly what Ivy Leagues are looking for in an applicant.

East Coast Schools
Brown University 1470
Carnegie Mellon University 1510
Colombia University 1500
Cornell University 1430
Dartmouth University 1560
Georgetown University 1420
Harvard University 1515
John Hopkins University 1485>
MIT 1500
New York University 1365
Princeton University 1430
Tufts University 1445
University of Pennsylvania 1420
Yale University 1510
West Coast Schools
California Polytechic State University 1335
Stanford 1480
University of California, Berkeley 1380
University of California, Davis 1190
University of California, Irvine 1195
University of California, Los Angeles 1400
University of Southern California 1390
Southern Schools 
Emory University 1440
Vanderbilt University 1510
Tulane University 1420
University of Texas 1360
Midwest Schools
Chicago University 1530
Northwestern University 1480

For high school students, the SAT is an extremely important aspect of college admissions and scholarships. Preparing for the SAT, therefore, can be extremely stressful and it may be difficult to decide where to start. Fortunately, there are many excellent SAT Prep services to choose from. But it is important that students—and their parents—select a prep course that is the best for them, rather than focusing on rating or what is most popular with their peers. Each prep course has its own pros and cons; it’s up to students to do the research and find the one that is best suited to their needs.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy is a personalized online learning resource with the goal of providing free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere. Their mission is to help students understand what they are learning, as opposed to the more traditional flashcards and rote-memory exercises. It’s for this reason that Khan Academy has become one of the most sought out SAT Prep courses available. Since joining with the College Board in 2015, the maker of the SAT, they boast that 20 hours of practice on Khan Academy is associated with an average of 115-point score increase from the PSAT to the SAT, which is nearly double the average gain without Khan. If you don’t have 20 hours to spare, six hours of study with Khan is associated with an average of 90-points increase. This has proven consistent across gender, family income, race, ethnicity and parental education levels.

And the best part? It’s free.

Once students enroll in Khan’s official SAT Practice, they will be assigned an expert who will prompt them to create a regular weekly practice schedule that is suited to their needs. Students are encouraged to take the PSAT, which has the same content as the SAT, minus the hardest questions and the Essay. The results of the PSAT will then serve as the student’s diagnostic, which Khan will use to recommend a practice schedule that is organized on the learning dashboard. From there, timed mini quizzes are available so that students can practice taking a quiz under time pressure. Once the student feels confident in his or her ability, they can take a full-length practice test, which is crucial in helping students prepare for the test day.

How to get started

The first step is to create an account on Khan Academy’s website. From there, you’ll set up a profile and set up an SAT practice schedule that works for you. You can create a personalized study plan based on previous test results by linking your College Board and Khan Academy accounts, which will automatically import any previous SAT, PSAT/ NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9 results, and identify which areas you need to work on before taking the SAT. For students who have not taken the SAT or PSAT, diagnostic quizzes are available to find potential strengths and weaknesses. Each quiz has between 5 and 10 questions, with an option which states “I would be guessing”; because, while there is no penalty for guessing on the SAT, being honest on the practice tests will determine where you require improvement. 

Princeton Review

Princeton Review is one of the oldest and most well-known SAT Prep Courses available. And it’s no wonder: they guarantee that their students will score 1400 or more on the SAT. They also guarantee a score improvement of at least 150 points. Princeton Review is considered one of the top SAT prep courses for students who have their eye on a top 30 school, or are looking to receive merit-based aid. In this course, students work with top SAT experts who will teach them strategies proven to help students join the top 5% of test takers. This is accomplished through:

  • 36+ hours of in-person or online classroom instruction
  • Top-percentile instructors
  • AI-driven personalized practice drills
  • Personalized study plan
  • 24/7 on-demand tutoring access
  • Review and practice books
  • Full-length and single-section practice tests


Along with Princeton Review, Kaplan is regarded as one of the top SAT Prep courses. This is due, in part, to the longevity of their brand, as well as the wide breadth of material they offer. Students can choose to take either a self-guided or instructor-led course that works for them. While self-guided courses emphasize online work, such as video lessons and live online instruction, instructor-led courses can be taken either in person or live-streamed, resulting in a highly customizable experience.

Kaplan is also known for having engaging classes, the best teachers, flexibility and guidance, and a host of proprietary score-boosting strategies, such as:

  • Over 40 hours of video lessons
  • 18 hours of live online instruction
  • Bank of practice questions
  • The most up-to-date SAT Prep books
  • SAT Channel with additional lessons

Kaplan’s SAT Prep In-Person and In-Person PLUS courses can help students prepare for the SAT, with varying levels of support. With the In-Person course, students get eighteen hours of live classroom instruction, online video resources, proctored tests, additional practice tests, online quizzes, and SAT prep books. The In-Person PLUS course includes all of this, in addition to three hours of one-on-one coaching with an SAT expert, and a Math Fundamentals course.

The College Board

The College Board is a not-for-profit organization that develops and administers standardized tests and curricula used by K-12 and post-secondary education to promote college-readiness as part of the college admissions process. In 2016, the College Board partnered with Khan Academy with the goal of providing free test materials for the SAT. The partnership was created with the mission of providing world-class, personalized SAT practice experience to all students, regardless of income level or background. This has leveled the playing field, as it were, as lower-income students have historically been unable to take prep courses due to the exorbitant costs.

The average student in the who works with AdmissionSight in the Private Consulting Program typically has a 3.9+ unweighted GPA and 1550+ SAT Scores, with close to 800 on the SAT Subject Tests. At AdmissionSight, we have all the resources you need to meet the above-average scores expected from top universities. There’s no time to prepare like the present – book your appointment now.


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