*This post was last updated in Nov 2017.

A “good” SAT or ACT score is one that suits your unique needs as an applicant.

It may seem like a perfect 1600 (SAT) or a 36 (ACT) is the only “good” score, but I would argue, based years of test prep and admissions experience, that going for perfect is often a very bad idea. Because your SAT and ACT scores are meant to be objective measures, it’s easy to direct all of your energy trying to achieve the maximum possible score while neglecting the more subjective parts of your application like your admissions essays and letters of recommendation. While your scores are important, remember that there are other components of your application that can really make you stand out!

So, how do you determine what a “good” score is for you? Start by considering a few questions:

Where do you want to go?

Sometimes it's hard to look so far ahead, but where do you want to go to school? What are your reach, target, and safety schools? What are the average standardized test scores for those schools? Do some research, make a list, and then order the list from low to high score ranges, using the average highs and lows as a barometer. Even if it’s just a rough approximation, you’ll have a general range of the scores you’ll need to be competitive for your school list.

What is your academic background relative to your school list?

Since schools will be looking at your entire academic history, you’ll want to make sure your standardized test scores balance your class rank or GPA. For instance, if your grades are below average for a school you’re applying to, you’ll want to score above their average standardized test score. If you’re already performing above average, you may have a little more wiggle room, though you should still be sure to score firmly in their range.

Where are you starting?

What was your PSAT score or most recent diagnostic test score? Once you have a sense of the score range you need (using the above two questions), determine how much your score would need to improve in order to reach your target. If it’s anything more than 150-200 points for the SAT or 3-4 points on the ACT, talk to a professional to get some guidance. You may need to either a) create an aggressive study plan, or b) reassess your expectations.

By asking yourself these questions, you should be able to establish a ballpark “good” SAT or ACT score for yourself and begin to develop a preliminary study plan. Creating a framework to identify your target score in this way will allow you to prepare for these tests in a thoughtful and efficient manner without losing sight of the rest of your application.

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