SAT Score Percentiles: How to Understand Them?

SAT score percentiles will help you understand whether you should retake your SAT this year.  Or if you want to work out your target percentile score before taking the test. Read on to find out all the details you may need to maximize your chances of entering the university this year.

Let’s Start From the End: Percentiles

At the bottom of your SAT result page, you see a score that falls in the 70th percentile. Does it mean you are ranked 70 out of 100? No. Or are 70% of your replies correct? No. Well, yes, a percentage is involved, but in a bit different way. Your result is compared against the results of other US students. Who are those students?

There are two groups of students that the College Board compares you with. Or, to be correct: their SAT performance is compared to yours. The first group is Nationally Representative Sample, and the other is named SAT User. The first group consists of US students of the 11th and 12th grades who take the SAT and don’t. Using the statistical and mathematical methods, the College Board estimates their SAT results. The second group uses the percentiles of the actual SAT scores of 12th graders for the past three years. 

Take a Look at the Example

Let’s imagine that ten people attempted SAT. Five of them got C marks, four got a B, and one got an A mark. In terms of percents, this would look this way: 50% of Cs, 40% of Bs, and 10% of As. And now you pass this exam and get a B. And you join the group of that 40%, but ‘beat’ those who got Cs. So you performed better than 50 % of our small group, and, thus, you possess the 50th percentile. 

Now let’s take your 70th percentile with SAT. Like in the example above, this means you got the result that was better than 70% of the representative group’s “participants” got. So, when you see the percentile, read it this way: “you performed better than [percentile number] % of other SAT-takers.” That’s it. 

Two Separate Percentile Numbers: Why?

Since the total SAT score comprises two separate scores –– for Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Mathematics –– your SAT report has two percentile scores too. And, if your scores differ, percentiles may differ too. But there are cases when the two scores differ, but their percentiles don’t. And vice versa. Do you want to know why? Read on how this works.

There are percentile charts that translate your SAT score into percentiles. However, the same scores for EBRW and Math do not result in the same percentiles. The latest data demonstrate that Math percentiles are 1-3 % different from the EBRW results. And, it’s interesting to see the trends. For example, within the Nationally Representative Sample, the EBRW’s percentile is greater than that of the Math for scores 200 – 490 and 660 – 800. And between 490 and 660 points, Math has greater percentiles. For SAT User results, Math is always 1-3% behind the EBRW percentiles. 

Total Scores Percentiles

There also are percentile charts for total scores. And these percentiles for the National Representative Sample and SAT User differ. For example, the score of 1,080 possesses the 63rd percentile in the National Representative Sample and 55th percentile in the SAT User group. The difference between the Nationally Representative Sample and the SAT User percentiles smoothly grows, reaches the peak of 8% for 1,080 – 1,090 points, and decreases. The SAT User percentiles always fall behind.

However, total score and percentile do not interrelate evenly. For instance, the 50 points difference between 1,400 and 1,450 gives only a 4% change in percentiles. But the same 50 points of difference between 1,050 and 1,100 results in 9% growth of the percentile. The smallest 1% growth for the same 50 points falls between the minimum 600 – 650 scores and the maximum of 1,550 – 1,600 total score. But let’s consider the scores in more detail.

The Beginning: Your Total Score and Section Scores

Your total SAT score varies from 400 to 1,600. It comprises two section scores: Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and Mathematics. When you get the results on your College Board account, you see the infographics that transparently present your scores. 

Each of the two sections shows the scoreline from 200 to 800 points. Your result is placed proportionally somewhere on this line, and it’s easy to understand. However, you will also see that the line is colored in frustrating red, alarmed yellow, or releasing green. These colors assess students’ readiness for college programs. 

What Do These Colors Mean?

The three colors (red, yellow, and green) on your score line are called benchmark indicators. They help to understand your current level of knowledge comparing to other students in the US. The red section identifies students who are likely to require additional support as they will probably need more than one year of preparation to succeed in SAT. 

The yellow part shows that the student requires assistance and support, but he/she still has time to improve. The College Board assumes such students need around one year to catch up on all disciplines. You will notice that the benchmark always lies at the end of the yellow line or the green line’s beginning. This demonstrates the starting point of the successful total score and signals that you are on track for your academic success. Please consider that both Math and EBRW scores should ‘be green’ to say that a student is college-ready.

Benchmarks and Average Scores

On the line with your score box, you see another result called a Benchmark. This is an indicator showing what college performance you are expected to demonstrate. The College Board thoroughly researches this score to make it appropriate and fair. If you reach the SAT Benchmark score, you have a 75% probability of getting at least a C in your first semester in college. 

Since school students can start their SAT journey four years before the actual test, their benchmark history will help to evaluate their academic progress. A benchmark is mainly aimed at secondary school teachers to focus on repairing their college students. 

What Are 2021 Benchmarks?

SAT Benchmarks are different for both sections. Benchmark scores change every year, and this number is different for grades. For instance, the College Board published the following benchmark points (with colors) for this year:

8th Grade 

Math – 430 out of 720; red: 120- 400; yellow:  410 – 420; green: 420 – 720.

EBRW – 390 out of 720; red: 120 – 360; yellow: 370 – 380; green: 390 – 720.

9th Grade

Math – 450 out of 720; red: 120 – 420; yellow:  430 – 440; green: 450 – 720.

EBRW – 410 out of 720; red: 120 – 380; yellow: 390 – 400; green: 410 – 720.

10th Grade

Math – 480 out of 760; red: 160 – 440; yellow:  450 – 470; green: 480 – 760.

EBRW – 430 out of 760; red: 160 – 400; yellow: 410 – 420; green: 430 – 760.

11th Grade

Math – 510 out of 760; red: 160 – 470; yellow:  480 – 500; green: 510 – 760.

EBRW – 460 out of 760; red: 160 – 420; yellow: 430 – 450; green: 460 – 760.

College and career readiness

Math – 530 out of 800; red: 200 – 500; yellow:  510 – 520; green: 530 – 800.

EBRW – 480 out of 800; red: 200 – 450; yellow: 460 – 470; green: 480 – 800.

What Is an Average Score?

The Average Score number will show you the mean score earned by an SAT-taker of your grade. Like in the mathematical formula, all students’ section scores are added and divided by their number. If your score is close to the average score, this means you are doing well in college preparation. 

What Benchmark Should Not Be

The College Board introduces several principles about how students and teachers should not treat the benchmark number; here are two of them:

  1. Don’t compare SAT Benchmark with other tests’ results. SAT Benchmark analyses the interconnection between school students’ SAT scores and their performance after the first year in college. That’s why it can only relate to young people who took SAT test. So, don’t try to convert your results from other tests into the SAT score to assess your performance against the Benchmark. 
  2. Don’t get discouraged from studying in college once your score is below the Benchmark. The College Board states that preparation for high school is a process, and they are committed to helping every student in this way. Once done regularly and accordingly, additional preparation will help you get higher scores.
  3. The SAT Benchmark does not apply to the SAT non-takers. You can only judge students’ college readiness who have taken the SAT test because the Benchmark considers the connection between SAT results. It analyses the scores of 12th graders and their performance after the first year in college. 

Other Scores: Why Are They Important Too?

Test Scores

There are three test scores: Reading, Writing and Language, and Math. Each test has a minimum of 10 points and a maximum of 40. Each result will show how you perform on each test section separately.

Cross-Test Scores

There are two cross-tests: one having science context, the other relates to history and social studies. These tests give you 10-40 points, and cross-test questions can be placed in various test sections. 


There are seven subscores, and with their help, you can evaluate your knowledge about the specific questions. Below is the list of all the subscores and sections where these questions appear. Their score range is 1–15, and the results give you a clear picture of your strong and weak points.

  • Command of Evidence (Reading, Writing & Language)
  • Words in Context (Reading, Writing & Language)
  • Expression of Ideas (Writing & Language)
  • Standard English Conventions (Writing & Language)
  • Heart of Algebra (Math)
  • Problem-Solving and Data Analysis (Math)
  • Passport to Advanced Math (Math)

Essay Score

The SAT essay is an option. It scores across three dimensions: Reading, Analysis, and Writing.  You have fifty minutes to accomplish these sections and get from 2 to 8 points for each. So, the Essay section’s total score will be 6 – 24 points, and it’s interesting to know how the scoring process is designed.

Two people will assess every dimension of your essay and give it from one to four points. The points are then added across the three dimensions, resulting in 2-8 points for each section. The essay score is not included in the total SAT score, and there is no percentile for this result. 

Score Ranges

You will see your score ranges below the Benchmark number in the SAT results report. The College Board introduces the idea that a range is more representative than a number because of probable measurement errors. What are those errors? Not errors in your test. Here the testing body assumes that the administration process may affect your results slightly. They estimate how your scores may vary provided that the test is taken under identical conditions.

For test scores, cross-test scores, and subscores, the College Board allows 2 points of deviation. Each section has 30 points of difference, and the total score allows the 40 points range.

Can I Cancel My SAT Results?

Luckily, you can! But this has to be done promptly. And, once you submit your request, your results will not be available. You can opt for the cancellation right after the test at the test center. Ask your test coordinator for the paper form, complete it and give it back. 

If you decided to cancel your test after leaving the exam, you have time until the following Thursday 11:59 p.m. ET. You will need to print the form from the College Board webpage, complete it, and send it either by fax or by overnight delivery service. Cancellations are not accepted by email or phone as your signature is obligatory. If you miss signing your paper form, it will not be processed too.

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