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What is an SAT percentile?

April 3, 2019

When you receive your test scores, you may notice that they have associated percentiles. These percentiles are designed to help students understand how their scores compare to those of other college-bound students across the country. The College Board provides two percentile comparisons: “Nationally Representative Sample Percentiles” and “SAT User Percentiles.”

Nationally Representative Sample Percentiles come from the College Board’s research on 11th and 12th graders in the US. They are supposed to reflect how all U.S. students in these grades would score if they took the SAT, regardless of whether they actually did.

SAT User Percentiles are more concrete. They reflect the percentage of SAT takers who scored lower on each section of the exam. For example, a student who scored a 590 on the Evidence-Based Reading & Writing section of the SAT is at the 76th percentile. This means that 76 percent of students earned a lower score. In comparison, a student who scored a 590 on Mathematics is at the 79th percentile, which means they scored better than 79 percent of test takers on this portion. The alignment between scores and percentiles shifts slightly each year.

In 2018, the average section scores were 520 for Math and 530 for Evidence-Based Reading & Writing. Check out the College Board’s official SAT Percentile Ranks to see the full breakdown of percentiles.