The Ultimate Guide to SAT Scores and Percentiles Statistics

The SAT Reasoning Test (formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Test and Scholastic Assessment Test) is a standardized test for U.S. college admissions. The SAT is owned, published and developed by the College Board, which is a non-profit organization that claims the SAT can determine whether or not a person is ready for college. But, how valid is this test, and how well do you need to score to enter the college of your choice. Even further — do you really need to take the SAT?

The SAT consists of three major sections: critical reading, mathematics and writing. Each section receives a score on the scale of 200-800, and all scores are in multiples of ten. Total scores are calculated by adding up scores across the three sections. All total, the test contains three hours and forty-five minutes of actual times section, although most test times run over four hours. This time includes administration of the test, including orientation, material distribution and completion of non-test sections such as the biography.

Students usually receive their scores about three weeks after taking the test, or six weeks for mailed paper scores. In addition to a score, students receive a percentile of each scaled score, and students and colleges — in the past — have placed a high value on both the scores and the percentiles. In some cases, a point or two or a percentage point might mean the inability to attend a college of the student’s choice.

Over the past decades, many critics have accused the SAT designers of cultural bias toward the white and wealthy. Additionally, in 2005, MIT writing director Les Perelman plotted SAT essay lengths versus essay scores on the new SAT and found a high correlation between longer essays and higher scores. The argument here is that the longer essay could be gauged as a good essay, even without reading it, as the longer essay consistently brought higher scores.

Since SAT test preparation is a highly lucrative field, since the College Board charges for the test, and since many students feel intimidated by the test, a growing number of liberal arts colleges have responded to criticisms of the SAT by joining an SAT optional movement. These colleges do not require SAT scores as an admissions requirement.

To learn more about SAT scores and percentiles, what they mean, how colleges use them and the support versus criticisms of the test, we’ve prepared a list of links for your convenience. All these links are current, and include some of the latest test scores as well as historic numbers in some links. This list is categorized, and each link is listed alphabetically within those categories.

Tests Score Information

  • Average SAT Scores for Colleges: This article and chart show that the average SAT score to get into many schools has risen over the years. While the SAT was originally designed to provide students with equal opportunities, those ideals, according to this site, seem to have fallen by the wayside. This list is divided into scores by test category.
  • College-Bound Seniors 2009: College Board offers state-by-state information on how 2009 college-bound seniors scored across the nation.
  • IES Fast Facts: The National Center for Education Studies provides tables that show the SAT mean scores of college-bound seniors by race/ethnicity from 1990-91 through 2007-08. . Between 1997–98 and 2004–05, the mathematics SAT average score increased by 8 points, but it declined by 5 points between 2004–05 and 2007–08. The critical reading average score was 3 points lower in 2007–08 than in 1997–98.
  • Ivy League SAT Scores: Harvard, Yale and More: University Language Services provides a run-down on average SAT scores for all major Ivy League schools.
  • NYU SAT Information and Statistics: New York University’s science department blog provides information about why they continue to use the SAT as well as offering score trends. According to this information, fifty percent of high school seniors usually score somewhere between 1400 and 1500 on the three combined sections. The score ranges listed here are meant to show the “median 50 percent” applicant score range for each college, a list that includes many Ivy-League choices.
  • SAT Score-Use Practices by Participating Institution [PDF]: This file contains a list of schools that require at least some portion of the SAT test, offered by the College Board.

Percentile Rank Information

Arguments for SAT

Although most of these links lead back to the company that offers the SAT, the colleges that continue to use this test as a measurement for student abilities can be assumed to support the SAT as well.

SAT Optional Arguments

  • Achievement Versus Aptitude Tests in College Admissions: In 2001, Richard C. Atkinson, the president of the University of California, argued against using the SAT I as a means to measure student abilities in college. This document contains statistics as well as alternative solutions.
  • FairTest: This site belongs to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and it includes fact sheets, a list of colleges with SAT-optional environments and other information that argues against the SAT and other standardized tests.
  • Should SATs Matter? Time Magazine covers Atkinson’s fiery speech (linked above) and questions the validity of the SAT.
  • The anti-SAT argument reaches Wake Forest University: This story is about how this North Carolina university is revamping its policy to attract a more diverse pool of applicants.