What Is Considered a Bad SAT® Score?

Female student standing in the classroom looking sad after get bad score

If you have taken the SAT® test and you are unsure of how to interpret your scores, you may be wondering, What is a bad SAT score? When considering your performance on the SAT test, there are some key things to know. You can start by learning about how the exam is scored

How SAT Test Scores Work 

The SAT exam gives a total score between 400 and 1600 points. This total score is produced by combining your Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score with your Math score. 

The Evidence-Based Reading and Writing score comes from the Reading test as well as the Writing test. Both of these exams consist of multiple-choice questions. You will read passages and answer the questions that follow them during these portions of the SAT test. 

The Math score comes from your performance in the Math tests. One of the Math tests allows a calculator while the other does not. These exams are made up of multiple-choice questions and student-based responses. 

To produce your total scores, the SAT exam starts with your raw score. The raw score is produced by the total number of questions you answered correctly. The raw scores for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Math are then scaled from 200 to 800 points, and combined. 

Reading Your Score Report

After you take the SAT exam, you will receive a score report. This report will include a breakdown of the areas you met or exceeded the benchmark for performance. This benchmark is used to display how ready you are for college-level coursework. 

The score report will also elaborate on the questions you came close to the benchmark for and the questions you need to improve. Use this information to learn about your performance on the tests, subsections, and question types throughout the exam, and establish if there are specific areas you can significantly improve to boost your score. 

Falling far below this base benchmark is what contributes to a bad SAT score. However, focusing your studies on the areas you can improve the most is a great way to see significant improvements from your first attempt at the SAT test. Now that you understand how the SAT test breaks down your results, you can start to figure out if your scores need to improve. 

How To Know if Your Scores Need Improvement

There are two ways to decide whether or not you need a higher SAT score: 

1. You have not met the benchmarks discussed in your score report.

The College Board® lists the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing college readiness benchmark as a 480, and the Math college readiness benchmark as 530. The College Board equates your proximity to the benchmark numbers to your proximity to college-level preparedness. If you are below these benchmark numbers, then the College Board assumes you may be less likely to succeed in college-level classes.

2. Your score is lower than the score your potential colleges expect from applicants. 

A good way to gauge whether you need to improve your scores is by researching the scoring threshold that resulted in acceptances from each of your potential schools. Every college is different, and depending on the size of the applicant pool and the competitiveness of the school, the score needed to get in will vary. If you have received a score that is substantially lower than the scores that resulted in acceptance letters in the last year, then you should work on improving your performance. 

Often, you can take your research a step further and find the minimum score that a college or university requires from students. 

Another way to evaluate your SAT score is by comparing it in relation to the national averages provided by the College Board. If your score is in the higher percentiles, you can conclude that you are performing better than many other test-takers. Still, this method is not hugely useful for deciding if any improvement is necessary when it comes to college admissions. If you want a direct way to navigate your scores, the most useful information about scoring data will come directly from the colleges or universities you are applying to. 

Whether you have received your score report and are looking to interpret your results, or you are setting goals for your performance as you prepare to take the exam for the first time, it is a good idea to consider why you are taking the SAT test. If you are sending your scores to colleges for admissions, then their individual expectations for scoring should be your priority for setting goals. 

If your performance on the SAT test needs improvement, you should know that most students improve their SAT scores on their second attempt at the test. You can work to improve your SAT score through UWorld’s SAT Prep Course

Our prep course offers thousands of sample questions, detailed answer explanations, and performance tracking tools. You can use the sample questions to gain experience with the style and level of difficulty that you will face on the official SAT test. 

Take advantage of the detailed answer explanations to learn from your mistakes and deepen your understanding of the sections, subsections, and question types you can improve. You should also know that the online prep course offers practice exams and performance tracking tools. 

If you do not want to sit for the official SAT test yet, you can get the benefits of a score report from the online resources. Our performance tracking tools can pinpoint your weak areas, and you can focus on these areas to improve your scores. Try it out to reach your scoring goals!

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