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How to Set a Target SAT Score

When we teach SAT courses, we hand out a student profile which asks students about their SAT experience and expectations. One of the questions prompts them to list their target score. So many of the responses are the same: 1200. When we ask why they want a 1200, their answer is simple: “Because that’s a good score.”

True, a 1200 is a good score based on national SAT percentiles. Roughly 20% of test takers will score this high or higher. But is it a “good” score for every college-bound student? It’s not likely to get the high achievers into Harvard and it might actually cause more stress than it’s worth for students aiming for the local city college. A good score is relative to your test history and your future application; mainly, it depends on your prior test scores, the schools to which you are applying, and to the scholarships you want.

So let’s set a realistic target score for the SAT. Here’s how:

  1. Find the average tests scores of your prospective colleges.
    While a target SAT score is more about your ability to reach it, it is still important to look at what prospective colleges want from you. Using the College Board’s BigFuture, you can search for any college and view the average SAT and ACT scores of accepted students. To begin, type in the name of a college into the search bar. Once the college page is returned, click on “Applying” in the menu on the left, which is next to the cover picture. Scroll down to the six tabs in the middle of the new page and select the tab labeled “SAT & ACT Scores.” Here you will see an average range scores.

    Because these scores are averages, you would be wise to score 100 to 200 points higher than the average. But it’s not enough to say “I need a 1240 to go to my favorite school.” There are other factors—the most important of which is your ability to reach that high—that need to be considered before setting a target score. To start, though, simply list the average scores at your top college choices.
  2. Consider score requirements for scholarships.
    If there are scholarships you are pursuing—whether from local organizations, specific colleges, or national associations—research them to see if there are SAT score requirements or averages of previous recipients. As with the average score range of prospective colleges, note these scores and consider achieving 100 or 200 points higher.
  3. List your most recent test score.
    Now for the really important part: listing your most recent test score. It doesn’t matter if it’s from an official test administrations or from a timed practice test. If you haven’t taken an SAT yet, take a practice test under timed conditions (you can find real tests in our Free Help Area).
  4. Study the data and determine a target score.
    Start with your previous test score and consider what a realistic score increase would be. A 1300 is an admirable SAT goal and it’s attainable if you’re starting at an 1150. But if your initial test score is a 900, a 400-point score increase is not very realistic. Sure, it can be done, but the average student does not have 40-hours a week to invest in SAT prep for months at a time. And that’s likely what it would take to make such a drastic increase.

    If you’re having a hard time figuring out what a realistic increase is, look at the number of questions you missed in each section. For example, say you missed 15 questions in Math. If you only miss 12 questions, how much will your score increase?  We believe—as does PowerScore—that any student starting with an 1200 or less who puts in quality study time several hours a week for the two months prior to the test can raise their score 200 points (that’s why we offer a 200 point increase guarantee in our Full Length Course!).

    Once you determine a realistic score increase (say from a 1010 to a 1210), tack on an extra 50 points. These are “reach for the stars” points. We often meet our own expectations, so it’s important to challenge ourselves to attain even more. As SAT instructors, we often purposely set the bar too high for our students. Sometimes they surprise themselves and reached our goals. But if they don’t, we are never disappointed and neither are they, because they still reached higher than they themselves expected.

    Now look at the average scores of your prospective colleges and potential scholarships. Is your target score the same as or higher than the scores of admitted and awarded students? If your target score is much lower than a school’s average, you need to be honest with yourself about your chances of attending that college. Of course you can still apply, but you need to consider the school a “reach” and apply at some other “sure things.” You might relieve some stress, too, if you eliminate that college and concentrate on others that are within your target score range.

Setting a target score isn’t difficult, and you can certainly do so without any help. You might, however, want to include your parents in the discussion. In our experience, parents often have unrealistic expectations for their teenagers, and including them in this process will help them understand what you are—and aren’t—capable of. This will relieve any extra pressure they might otherwise add to the already-stressful testing experience.

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