Feb. 7, 2021
Like most high school students getting ready to take the SAT or ACT, you've probably spent lots of time obsessing over how to get a high score. You might feel that your first or latest test score isn't very high, and that everyone around you is getting near-perfect scores -- or at least that's what they tell you. If that's bothering you, it's time to go straight to the numbers and see how other students are really doing in comparison to you.
By looking at the average (also referred to as the “mean") SAT and ACT test scores from your peers around the country, you can see where your scores actually stand.
According to the College Board, the average total score for the 1.7 million students in the class of 2017 who took the redesigned SAT was 1060. The average score for the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section was 533, and the average score for the Math section was 527. (For reference, the range is 200-800 points per section, a perfect total score is 1600, and 400 is the lowest total score possible.) For some really detailed score reports and a breakdown of average SAT scores by state, look here.
A little over two million high school students took the ACT in 2017, with an average composite score of 21. (For reference, a perfect composite score is 36 points, a perfect section score is 36, and the score range is 1-36.) Here's the breakdown of average scores by section:
- English: 20.3
- Math: 20.7
- Reading: 21.4
- Science: 21.0
If you want to dig a little deeper beyond the national average, here is a list of the average ACT scores (composite and by section) for each state, so you can also see how you stand in comparison to other students in your state. These scores are taken from students in the graduating class of 2017.
Hopefully, going over the national and state average SAT and ACT scores has helped you feel a bit better about your own scores. Now you can move on to focus on what's truly important: The average test scores at the colleges of your choice. If you've been struggling to come up with a target score to study toward, look up the average or high end of the test scores for students admitted to your top choice schools. You can go directly the Office of Admissions page of your target school to find the average test scores (like this page for Indiana University), or search for average test scores in an online college database.
It's something you've already heard many, many times before: More hours of studying and taking practice tests, regardless of your high school GPA, will lead to an increase in your score. The College Board found that students who spent 20 hours studying for the SAT had an average score gain of 115 points between taking the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT.
However, keep in mind that it's not only about the hours of test prep you put in — your test score may also depend on your grade level when you took the test. If you took the SAT or ACT before your junior year, you actually might not have completed the entire math curriculum that is being tested on the SAT, which is mostly algebra and geometry. The ACT throws in some trigonometry questions, and because it has a Science section, you will need to have taken biology, chemistry and have some basic lab experience. Taking the official test too early means you will also have had less time to boost your vocabulary and strengthen your reading comprehension skills. This, of course, does not refer to taking practice SAT and ACT tests — you should start taking those as early and as often as you can manage.
All this being said, comparing your test scores to those of other students isn't always the most sustainable way to make yourself feel better. Next time you start to stress out about your upcoming test or worry about your score, just take a deep breath and remind yourself of this fact: Your SAT or ACT test scores are just one of several factors that the admissions office will look at on your college application.