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What Is A Bad SAT Score?
By Riley Stoltenburg Updated on January 4, 2024
Rick Lopez, M.Ed. Rick Lopez, M.Ed.

What Is A Bad SAT Score?

Everything You Need To Know About What Is Considered A Low Digital SAT Score

Whether you think you just bombed the exam after your first attempt, or you’re a worrier fretting about how you’re scoring poorly on practice tests, a lot of high school students want to know what is considered a “bad score” on the Digital SAT. That’s fair—but just know, low scores can and do happen. It’s not the end of the world. In this article, we discuss what is considered a “bad” score, as well as provide some tips and tricks to avoid going low.

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What Is Considered A Bad SAT Score?

Before we jump straight into it, let’s take a quick step back. The Digital SAT is scored on a 1600-point grading scale, which is broken down into two main sections: math and evidence-based reading and writing.

As you probably already now, a perfect score would be 1600. The average score sits at right around 1050. This means that anything below 1050 is considered below average, and composite scores of 870 or lower are in the bottom 25%.

Now, what is considered “bad” is subject to interpretation, but for most college admission committees, a score in the bottom 25th percentile will be deemed “bad” (though I highly doubt that is the lingo admissions committee members use). More likely, a score of 870 or under would be deemed substandard or insufficient.

What Is Considered A Bad SAT Score

What Happens If You Do Bad On The SAT?

Now, if you perform poorly on the Digital SAT, start by taking a breath. This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get into college.

The best course of action is to retake the Digital SAT, which will generally result in a higher score. In 87% of cases, students score higher the second time around. That figure is closer to 100% when students increase their level of study and number of practice tests completed.

Taking an SAT prep course, getting some SAT prep books, or working with a tutor before retaking the test can help to improve your results as well.

Many schools will also accept ACT scores as part of a student’s application package if you prefer to go that route. Though, as noted above, performance on one exam is generally correlated with performance on the other.

Absolute worse case scenario (and not casting any judgement here), it is also possible to just start at a community college, and then transfer to a four-year school later without needing to take the SAT again.

What Is A Low SAT Score For Top Universities?

For top universities (let’s say the top 50 as dubbed by US News & World Report), a “low” or “bad” SAT score would be anything that falls below what they require for an average composite SAT score. Now what does that mean?

Let’s use an example. The average SAT score for getting into the California Institute of Technology is 1555. Well, for Caltech, a score of 1530 wouldn’t necessarily be “bad,” but your chances of getting in fall greatly. A score of 1500 though probably would be considered “low” or “bad.”

Conversely though, if you’re trying to get into University of Michigan, a 1500 is a great score. So “bad” really does depend on context.

That being said, getting into any top-50 school is difficult, and they don’t accept low scores even though you might have a high GPA. This demonstrates the importance of the SAT.

What Is A Low SAT Score For Top Universities

What Is A Low SAT Score For Local Colleges?

When it comes to local universities, such as state schools, the SAT averages tend to be much lower, making it easier to get accepted. A school such as the University of Texas at San Antonio has a composite score of 1051. Pretty manageable.

Likewise, many other state universities have similar requirements, while others may not even require students to take a standardized test at all.

Tips for Improving Your Digital SAT Score

Studying for the Digital SAT is essential. There is no way around it—even for those brainiacs out there. Yet, it can sometimes be difficult knowing where to start and what you can do to boost your score. Below are some simple but effective tips that can help.

👉 Tip #1: Memorize Formulas

The Digital SAT math section will provide you with a list of formulas. However, you are going to waste time if you have to keep going back and referring to them. It’s better to make sure you have all the formulas memorized and know how to use them. This will save you precious time.

👉 Tip #2: Memorize Grammar Rules

Just as you should memorize mathematical formulas, you should also memorize grammar rules. This will keep you from making easily preventable mistakes and mitigate second guessing.

👉 Tip #3: Fix Knowledge Gaps Before The Test

If you have fundamental issues with certain skills, practice questions aren’t going to help. You need to first get the fundamentals down and fix any knowledge gaps you may have regarding all areas of the test. Work on content weakness first, then build your arsenal of strategies.

👉 Tip #4: Take Prep Courses & Practice Exams

One of the best ways of preparing for the Digital SAT is with practice tests. There is a direct and strong correlation between the number of practice tests taken and official score. Moreover, by layering on a prep course and possibly even a few hours of tutoring, you will greatly increase your odds of success.

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👉 Tip #5: Understand & Correct Mistakes

After taking a practice exam, look at the answers you got wrong. Take the time to understand why they are wrong. Was it because of a lack of knowledge, trouble comprehending the questions, time pressure, or a careless error? Understanding why you made the mistake will help keep you from making it again.

There is no doubt that your Digital SAT scores are important, and you want to do as well as possible on the test. Prep work and practice can help you raise your score. Period.


What is considered a bad score on the SAT?

What is considered a “bad” Digital SAT score is subject to interpretation, but for most college admission committees, a score in the bottom 25th percentile (870 and below) will be deemed “bad.” This is especially true for top-50 schools.

What is a low SAT score for top universities?

What is considered a low score at top universities can vary widely. A 1500 might be low for Caltech, but that’s a good score for University of Michigan.

What happens if you do bad on the SAT?

The short answer—you try again. There is no real substitute or alternative plan if you do poorly on the Digital SAT. You can take a shot at the ACT, but the reality is that these exams are very similar and scores are highly correlated. Your best bet is getting a SAT prep course and/or some SAT tutoring and trying again.