Most students (and their parents) want “good” scores, but the problem comes in defining exactly what that means. Sure, most people would agree that a 1500 (out of 1600) on the SAT is good, so is a 34 (out of 36) on the ACT. But scores like 1500 and 34 reflect the top 1% of test takers and are not realistic for most students.

Two Primary Factors

First, there are no failing scores on college admissions tests. Some scores are lower than average, but there is no set score for “passing.”

There are two primary factors you can use to determine if your scores are good enough:

  • Is this score better than your previous results?
  • Will this score get you into the schools on your college list?

Comparing Scores

Most students want to compare scores with other students. It makes sense. College admission feels like a competition to edge out others for a seat at your top school. Why not compare scores?

The problem with this type of comparison is that most students tell me they want above average scores. It’s not unusual for students to tell me they want a 1200 on the SAT or 24 on the ACT. (Many times, they tell me they want even higher scores.) A 1200 or 24 represents a score that would put students in the top quarter test-wise. Here’s the problem— 75% of high school juniors cannot be in the top 25% of test takers!

A more realistic (and accurate) way to compare scores is to base it on previous test results. The ultimate question is “are you doing better than you did before?”

This approach works for all students from the struggling test taker to the ultra-high achiever. A student who previously scored at the bottom 25% (900 SAT / 15 ACT) would show improvement with a 1000 SAT or 18 ACT, even though they are not close to a 1200 / 24. A high scoring student, on the other hand, might be disappointed with a 1200 / 24, because the last time she took the test she scored in the top 10% with a 1350 / 29.

Good is relative. It is also based on your test taking abilities and personal situation. Good for me doesn’t have to be the same as good for you.

Will These Scores Get You Into College?

The big question is will your SAT / ACT scores get you into the colleges on your list?

This question allows for personal differences. Your college list may be different than mine. It also means good for one school might not be good enough for another.

You can use data from colleges to help you evaluate your scores for all of the schools on your list. This video walks you through one tool you can use in evaluating whether your scores are good enough to get you into particular colleges:

Conclusion

Don’t pick an arbitrary number when you set an ACT or SAT score goal. Consider:

  • Previous test scores
  • Scores at the colleges on your list

Make informed score goals that are challenging, but realistic and keep in mind that what is a good score for your friend might not be the same as what is good for you.

Bonus Tip

The PSAT will be given in October at many schools around the country. (Check with your guidance counseling department for the specific PSAT date on your campus.) PSAT scores are a great way to start comparing your results with the scores from various colleges. This is a good reason to take the PSAT and take it seriously.

If you want to get an idea of your ACT or SAT results sooner, you can take one of their released official tests at home. These are practice tests that come from ACT and College Board. I have links to these exams [here]. You can print the test and take it timed at your kitchen table. DO NOT (ever!!!) register for an actual SAT or ACT just to determine a baseline score. To understand why read this article [here] and listen to this podcast [here.]