The SAT is a standardized test that college admission officers use to determine who to admit and reject. If you've recently taken the SAT or are planning to take the SAT, chances are you've wondered, “what is a perfect SAT score?”
The cut right to the chase, a perfect SAT score is 1600. The total composite score range for the SAT is 400-1600, meaning if you don't answer any question, you'll get 400, and if you get “perfect,” you'll get 1600. This 1600 is split evenly between two sections, Evidence-Based Reading and Writing and Mathematics, each giving you 800 points, although you don't need to get every question right to get 800 in each section (we'll get into this a bit later).
This post will provide a detailed breakdown of what you need to do to get 1600 on the SAT, some statistics around what test-takers actually score, whether you even NEED a perfect score, and what a good SAT score might be for you. So let's dive right in!
What is a Perfect SAT Score: Breakdown
As mentioned in the intro, the new SAT comprises two evenly weighted sections: reading/writing (which gives you reading passages to test your comprehension) and math (which is more a reasoning test than anything else). Though you do need to get 800 on each section to get the perfect score of 1600, you don't NEED to get every question right.
The SAT is graded on a curve, meaning that your score reflects (at least in part) how well you do in comparison to other students. Because of this, you may get a harder SAT and can miss 2-3 questions and still score 1600. That being said, this is entirely situational, and if you're gunning for a perfect score on the SAT test, you'll need to try and get every question right.
The raw-score breakdown if you're trying to get 1600 looks something like this:
- Reading: 51-52 right out of 52 questions
- Writing: 44 right out of 44 questions
- Math: 56-58 right out of 58 questions
The reason writing is set to 44/44 is because, typically, SAT writing has been the easiest part of the test (mostly just grammar rules), and it's said that you need to get the writing section entirely right to score a full 1600.
How to Get a Perfect SAT Score
How do you go about getting the perfect test score of 1600? A lot of studying plus a little bit of luck.
To get 1600 on the SAT, you'll need to be familiar with almost all the potential subjects that will show up on the test. This includes learning about grammar rules, doing tons of math practice problems, and upping your critical reading skills.
On top of that, you'll also want to have taken lots of SAT practice tests. The SAT doesn't just test you on what you know, but also on whether you can apply what you know in a given amount of time (you can only spend so long on each question after all).
Furthermore, you'll want to get good at doing multiple choice. The large majority of questions on the SAT are multiple-choice questions, so it helps to know how to eliminate answers and arrive at the correct conclusions effectively.
Even after all this prep, there's still an element of randomness to scoring perfectly. You can do all the SAT preparation in the world and take tons of SAT prep courses, but what happens if an idiom happens to show up in one of the passages that you just don't quite get? Alternatively, what if College-Board puts some wacky math term on the SAT, which you haven't studied for? Scoring the perfect SAT score is in large part skill and requires a little bit of luck.
So, with all of this being said, how many people actually score 1600 on the SAT?
SAT Score Statistics
The great thing about the SAT is that all of the data for it is publicly available because it's standardized testing. Taking a look at College Board's 2021 total group report, you can see the national SAT average scores (2021):
- Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: 533
- Math: 528
- Total: 1060
How many students scored perfect? The answer is: very, very few. Of around 2 million high school students who take the SAT every year, only 500 or so score 1600. That's less than half a percent!
Don't let this discourage you, though, because you might not even need a perfect SAT score…
Do You Need a Perfect SAT Score?
The truth of the matter is that it's highly unlikely you actually NEED a perfect SAT score to get into the colleges and universities that you want. Very few schools across the entire country (mostly Ivy leagues) even require above a 1500 SAT score.
When college-admissions are reviewing your college application, would it be nice and an extra boost to you if they saw a 1600 SAT score? Sure, but they are also impressed by things like your class rank, your GPA, your extracurricular activities, your SAT subject tests, and your AP exams. Before you start spending all your nights studying for the SAT to retake it, carefully weigh whether that's the best use of your time.
Getting into college is about more than just your SAT score, and even if you're going to worry about it, it's smart to first figure out what a good score is for YOU specifically.
What is a Perfect SAT Score For You?
The perfect SAT score for you depends on a few different factors. Maybe you get a 1020 SAT score and realize that it's enough to get you where you want to be. And maybe someone else gets a 1380 SAT score and still isn't satisfied. A good SAT score for you will depend on:
- Your target schools – Someone hoping to get into top schools / Ivy league schools will likely need a higher score than someone trying to get into a state college.
- How much prep time you have – If you're a freshman, you still have lots of time to retake the SAT and might not demand as much of yourself as a high school student in junior year who's taking the SAT for the last time.
- The resources you have access to – How much SAT tutoring, SAT test prep, and practice exams you have access to will significantly impact the range of possible scores you can get.
The perfect SAT score will depend on a whole bunch of factors that are independent to you. So make sure to figure out what it is before investing your time trying to boost your score.
Recap: What is a Perfect SAT Score
The highest score you can get on the SAT is 1600, comprised of an 800 in the reading and writing section and an 800 in the mathematics section.
If you happen to score 1600, you'll be part of the top 0.5% of test-takers who do so and place yourself FAR ahead of the national average of 1060. The journey to get there, however, isn't so easy. Depending on which SAT you take, you can only get at most 2-3 questions wrong (out of all of them) if you hope to get 1600.
Plus, it's highly likely that you don't actually need a 1600 to get where you want to be, so you shouldn't fret too much. A good score for you will largely depend on which colleges and universities you're trying to get into, where you are in your college application process, and how much access you have to academic resources which could boost your SAT score.
In the end, it's all about being strategic with your time and optimizing the things that you can control as best as you can. So if you just do that and work hard, you're sure to end up where you need to be!
Jeff is a current Harvard student and author of the blog Financial Pupil who is passionate about learning, living, and sharing all things personal finance-related. He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys the pursuit of financial freedom. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.