If you want to get into any of the country's most competitive universities, you need a high SAT score. This standardized exam often separates candidates who land on wait lists and those who get into their desired programs.

Every school posts unique entrance requirements, and candidates may have other factors that get them into competitive institutions. However, experts generally agree that you need at least 1400 on the SAT to get into Ivy League schools and other selective universities.

Before you can shine on the SAT, you should be sure to understand how the scoring system works and what 1400 or above on the SAT really means. Finally, you should study some of the proven methods that allow learners to excel on this important entrance exam.

How SAT Scoring Works

On the old SAT, which no one has taken since January 2016, the highest score was 2400. Now, the highest score on this exam is 1600. You earn your score based on your answers in two main sections: mathematics and evidence-based reading and writing.

First, the graders calculate your raw score. This is the number of correct answers you gave. Then, the board uses a process called equating to calculate your scaled score.

Your scaled score is somewhere between 200 and 800 for each main section. Combine the scaled scores from both sections to get your cumulative score. The board will also give you a percentile score to review.

Understand Percentiles and Their Meanings

When you receive your SAT scores, you will get your scaled scores from each section, composite score and percentile. The percentile demonstrates how well you did on the exam in comparison to other test takers.

The number in your percentile score represents how many people earned lower scores than you. So, the higher your percentile, the better you did.

While it varies among years, learners who earn 1300 on the SAT are in the 85th percentile. Those who earn 1400 tend to be in the 95th percentile, meaning they did better than almost all test takers.

What Is a Good SAT Score?

What counts as a good SAT score depends entirely on each student's ability and which schools he wants to attend. While no score can guarantee admission into a university, a score near the school's average can help.

Generally, a score of at least 1100 gives you a better chance than 50 percent of applicants for getting into state schools. However, this is generally too low for Ivy League schools. A 1400 makes you very likely to get into most schools but just barely puts you in the running for Ivy League universities.

Many top institutions do not post minimums. However, average SAT scores give you a good idea of what kinds of learners they accept:

  • Princeton = 1520
  • Harvard = 1540
  • Dartmouth = 1500
  • University of California Berkeley = 1440
  • University of Virginia = 1410

How to Find Admissions Requirements

To really know if your score is enough to get you into your dream school, you need to know the school's admissions requirements. First, check the university's website and the admissions page. Some institutions post their minimums.

Some schools do not post absolute minimums for SAT scores because they consider the full applicant, including extracurriculars, transcripts and entrance essays. If you come across an institution such as this, contact an admissions adviser. These professionals work for the university and can help you understand what you need to do to gain entrance to a specific school.

Start Studying Early

While it may be tempting to cram for the SAT in the week leading up to your testing date, try to avoid this at all costs. If you try to cram rather than spread out your studying, you might:

  • Become sleep deprived
  • Miss important details
  • Run out of time
  • Miss out on important breaks
  • Suffer from anxiety

Any of these problems can be detrimental to your sense of well-being. Furthermore, cramming won't help your score. In fact, it could cause you to score lower than you would normally.

Avoid all of these pitfalls and start studying for the SAT as soon as you can. Make a schedule for your studies and stick with it as best you can.

Take a Practice Exam

Your SAT study schedule should start with a practice exam. The results of this test give you a benchmark from which to work. You can periodically take practice tests to see how well your studies go and which strategies seem to work for you.

A practice exam also gives you an idea of which areas of the exam you need to study most. For example, you may find that there's a particular aspect of the math section that keeps you from your ideal score or that a richer vocabulary improves your score.

In addition to the official PSAT, you can find practice exams on the College Board website. The board provides eight official versions of the test that you can take online or on paper. Choose the method that best mimics your test-day conditions.

Know the Types of Questions

To really know which areas to study, it's important to understand what types of questions you encounter on the test. The reading and writing section includes:

  • Fact recall
  • Words in context
  • Author intent
  • Inference
  • Supporting evidence
  • Dual passages

Identifying which types of questions you missed and why will help you know how to study. For example, if you missed several questions for words in context, you may need some vocabulary flashcards. Take a similar approach to the math section, which includes questions on:

  • Algebra (linear equations, functions, inequalities and graphs)
  • Data analysis (percents, units, graph features and data inferences)
  • Advanced math (quadratic equations, nonlinear expressions and rational exponents)

Identify Your Weaknesses and Improve

After you score your practice test, analyze the results carefully. Which areas were easy? Which questions did you miss?

A thorough analysis not only looks at whether you did better in math or reading but which subcategories tripped you up. Remember that if you're aiming to get 1400 on the SAT, you need about 700 in each category. See what types of questions you need to understand to get to that point.

With each question, ask "Why did I miss this?" Investigate further until you get to the core of the issue. It can take five or more "whys" to get to the real problem on each question. Do this with questions on which you guessed and happened to be right as well.

Use Great Study Materials Often

Once you know where your skills need improvement, find the right study materials to work on those specific areas. Try to find official guides through organizations that work directly with the SAT board. For example, Khan Academy is an official partner.

The SAT is unlike any test you will take. That means that just any math-study book won't help. Being particular about your study materials is important.

Of course, you need to put those books and guides to good use. You may need to study for at least 150 hours to bring your practice score up 200 points. Make a schedule for studying that gives you some wiggle room and a few breaks.

Prepare in the Hours Before

Do not spend the day before your test with your nose in a book. Instead, be sure to get a great night's sleep and pack your bag before you fall asleep. Don't forget to bring:

  • Your photo ID
  • Pencils
  • An approved calculator
  • You admissions ticket
  • Healthy snacks
  • A watch
  • A bottle of water
  • A jacket

With a solid study plan and great preparation, you can score 1400 or above on the SAT. This high SAT score can help you get into a great school, earn scholarships and boost your confidence as you head into college.

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