SAT Scores: What They Mean and How to Do Your Best on the Test

The SAT exam is a standardized test used to measure the knowledge and education of students wishing to move on to secondary school—whether that is a state university, local community college, or more prestigious private college. These scores measure students’ ability to synthesize information presented over 4 years of high school (and the preceding 9 years of elementary and middle school), as well as formulate ideas and opinions of their own. Students are generally encouraged to study as much as possible for the test, using a variety of guides and practice tests, to adequately prepare for the duration of the test and the types of questions included.

When preparing for the exam, understanding what constitutes a “good” score is important because it provides students with a goal. The national average SAT exam score is 1500. As such, this score (or a little higher or lower) is likely considered high enough to warrant acceptance into state universities and other, less prestigious schools. As expected, however, the higher the score, the better—regardless of the school you plan to attend. If you are considering a school with more average-based acceptance requirements, an SAT exam score of 1500 to 1700 is a perfectly acceptable goal.

More prestigious, Ivy League schools naturally have higher requirements in all areas, including SAT exam scores. Although some students with lower scores were admitted, these students were typically required to complete remedial work or possessed outstanding academic and extracurricular records. The majority of students accepted into Ivy League schools possess SAT exam scores of 2100 and above (the highest score being 2400)—with the exception of U Penn and Cornell, whose averages came in only slightly lower at 2000.

Though these numbers may seem frightening or intimidating, do not fret; the test may be retaken to improve your score. For this reason, it is best to take the SAT exam as early as possible to give yourself ample time to study and retake the test. If this is the case, be sure to carefully evaluate the areas in need of improvement. Take note of these areas, and practice questions as frequently as possible, until you are both confident and skilled regarding that particular content. If your scores are still stubbornly lower than desired, consider looking to your academic history. Do you have a stellar GPA, a sparkling academic record, and a well-rounded set of extracurricular activities? Alongside a killer essay, these may be enough to boost your profile despite a lower SAT exam score.

When preparing for the SAT exam, studying on a regular basis is important. Set time aside each day to study, without interruption or distraction, for at least 20 minutes. Study not only the questions found in study guides and practice tests, but also the way questions are phrased and the types of questions asked. Evaluating the questions more fully can help you to identify any weak areas you may have and give you greater confidence when taking the test. Apart from studying, however, you must also continue paying close attention in school and maintain a healthy lifestyle, including adequate sleep, a healthy diet, and regular exercise. These will assist you in keeping your brain sharp and healthy and will contribute significantly to your scores come test day.

Although the SAT exam can loom heavily in the future, do not fear it. Many students have received scores far lower than they expected. These students simply study up, polish their skill set, and retake the test. While SAT exam scores are important when seeking entrance into college, do not neglect other areas of study as well (including extracurricular activities). Schools are seeking not only academically excellent—or at least competent—students, but also well-rounded individuals able to contribute uniquely to school culture.

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