If you took the SAT recently, you’ll notice that the score report gives both a composite score and percentile score. How should you interpret these numbers? Knowing what these scores mean is important in ensuring that you are maximizing your chances to get into your top school. It can also help you decide if you should take the SAT again.

How do SAT percentiles work?

Unlike your composite score, which ranges from 400 and 1600 and is based on how many questions you got right and wrong, the percentile ranges from 1 to 100 and compares you to other students. It gives you an idea of how you did relative to everyone else who took the same SAT.

For example, if you scored in the 80th percentile, it means that you scored better than 80% of all the other students who took the test. If you scored in the 56 percentile on the Reading and Writing section, it means that your score was better than 56% of other people’s SAT Reading and Writing scores.

It’s crucial to note that percentile doesn’t directly relate to how many questions you got right or wrong. If you got a 70% percentile, it doesn’t mean that you got 70% of the questions right. The percentile is calculated by placing your composite score in context of the distribution of everyone else’s score.

While both composite and percentile scores are important, it is often more useful to look at percentile scores. Since college admissions uses SAT scores to compare students on a standardized level, its important to know where you stand within the applicant pool.

A normal distribution curve for SAT scores.

What is 99th percentile?

The 99th percentile is the highest percentile you can get.

It means that you are one of the top scorers since you scored higher than 99% of students who took the test. Only 1 in 100 students score in this range, so it places you at the very top of the applicant pool, in terms of SAT scores.

The range of composite scores that translate to 99th percentile varies from test to test, since the distribution of scores is slightly different with each group of students and each unique test.

However, getting a SAT composite score in the 1550-1600 range will generally place you in the 99th percentile. 

How hard is it to score in the 99th percentile?

You will need to get almost every single question right to nab this top score. While difficult, this feat isn’t impossible. Students who study intensively and put in the work—or maybe are naturally gifted test takers—can accomplish a 99th percentile score.

Students who score in the 99th percentile are often extremely familiar with the test format (by taking practice exams) and employ a variety of strategies that ensures accuracy under time stress. They can get there through self-studying or tutoring.

Other percentile ranges to keep in mind for the SAT

Only a small minority of students are in the 99th percentile, and its important to keep in mind other percentile ranges to understand where you potentially stand.

In the 90th percentile, you score higher then 90% of students. This percentile usually lies in the composite score range of 1350-1400. If you are in the 50th percentile, it means that you scored the median. Half of students scored lower than you, and half of students scored higher than you. The composite range for this is typically between 1000-1050.

Who scores in the 99th percentile?

As mentioned before, students who score in the 99th percentile are the top scorers on the SAT. They will be at the top of the applicant pool, in terms of SAT scores, and so it makes sense that they would probably be attending the top schools around the nation.

Most of the students who went to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT and Stanford are scoring in the 98th or 99th percentile. Additionally, some competitive liberal arts colleges, such as Williams, Amherst, and Swarthmore expect high scores near the 99th percentile.

Should I aim for the 99th percentile?

It depends on the colleges you are applying to, but always aim for the highest score possible.

Schools often publish SAT score reports of their annual admitted class, and you should aim get their average SAT score or higher. For example, the admitted class of 2025 at the University of Pennsylvania’s average SAT score was between 1490-1560. This means that the average University of Pennsylvania admitted student was between the 96th and 99th percentiles.

If you are applying to top universities, Ivy League universities, or competitive liberal arts colleges, then aiming for a 99th percentile is a good idea. When applying to these colleges, you face a tough applicant pool where students are also at the top of their classes, have extensive extra-curriculars, and can write stellar essays. Getting that top SAT score can grant you that slight competitive edge.

What if I don’t score in the 99th percentile?

At the same time, striving for perfection can become an unhealthy mindset and a 99th percentile isn’t necessary for admissions into top schools. If you get a 98th percentile, it probably wouldn’t be recommended to take the SAT again just to get the 99th percentile. Additionally, a less-than-perfect SAT score can be balanced with a compelling and impressive resume. Schools are not making a decision solely based on your SAT score, and there are plenty of other areas in the application where you can shine.

In all, if you are not in the 99th percentile, it’s not the end of the world. That said, a higher score is always better.

Can SoFlo Tutors help me score in the 99th percentile?

Are you applying to competitive schools where a 99th percentile SAT will boost your chances of acceptance? Don’t know how to get that top score? SoFlo Tutors can help you out.

All of our tutors attend top universities around the nation and scored in the 99th percentile on their SAT. They will work one-on-one on you to identify and improve your weak areas and increase your chances of getting your target score. Our tutors schedule to sessions to your availability and our costs start at $60/hour. Check out our tutoring services to book a session!

About the Author

Andie Pinga

Andie Pinga is an expert SoFlo tutor and a junior at the University of Pennsylvania double-majoring in Economics and Anthropology. She scored a 35 on her ACT, and when she’s not studying on campus or meeting with friends, Andie enjoys playing the acoustic and electric guitar.

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