What’s a Good SAT or ACT Score?

It’s that time of year again: high school juniors are beginning to receive their SAT or ACT scores.

The results of these exams have many students wondering whether their score is “good” or “bad.” But the answer isn’t as simple as you might think.

At Signet, we encourage students to remove the words “good” and “bad” from their vocabulary entirely. Instead, we advise them to consider how their SAT or ACT results align with their personal goals. This process begins with setting a target score so they have a clearly defined goal to work toward.

Setting Your Student’s Target Score

Contrary to popular belief, your student doesn’t need to aim for a perfect score on the SAT or ACT. (Go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief!)

When students set a smart target score based on reasonable expectations, it helps keep them motivated. It also helps counteract any perfectionist tendencies they may have.

While it’s not a perfect formula, the best way to determine a target score is to start with your student’s college list. (If your student doesn’t have a college list they feel confident about, our Guide to College Admissions can help.)

Nearly all colleges publish the average test scores for admitted students each year. Your student can average together the test scores from the top schools on their list to set a baseline target score for themselves.

If your student scored on the higher end of that average range, that’s wonderful! But if they fell short of that range, they have two options: adjust their college list accordingly or consider a second, or even third, sitting of the exam.

With consistent and dedicated effort, students can usually increase their SAT score by 100-200 points and their ACT score by 2-4 points. However, a student who wants to make larger score gains should expect to devote significantly more time and effort into their test preparation. They will also likely need professional help from a dedicated test prep tutor.

Preparing to Retake the SAT or ACT

With the right preparation, your student can raise their score considerably next time around and still have enough time to meet those looming college application deadlines. There are a few ways to go about preparing to retake the SAT or ACT.

Self-preparation. If your student is planning to go the route of self-preparation, Signet’s Guide to SAT/ACT Preparation is an excellent resource. We highly recommend planning out a test prep schedule in advance, all the way up to the date of the exam.

Here’s what your student’s SAT prep plan should include:

  • 2-5 hours per week of dedicated test prep
  • A structured curriculum assigning specific times for working on each test section
  • Clear goals for each week, as well as for each study session
  • 1-3 full-length, timed practice tests taken under realistic conditions

One-on-one tutoring. If your student needs a high score gain to meet their target score, or if they have already taken the exam twice and are still struggling, they may be better off working one-on-one with a dedicated tutor. While this option is more expensive than self-preparation or taking a class, it often ends up being a more worthy investment of students’ time and effort.

Here’s what your student can expect from one-on-one tutoring:

  • Higher score gains
  • Fully customized to the needs of each student
  • Significant degree of accountability
  • Help navigating family dynamics

It’s important to keep in mind that not all SAT or ACT tutoring services are created equal. At Signet, our tutors tailor a study plan based on a student’s goals, needs, and learning style.

After our broad and intensive exam prep, our students not only feel more comfortable with the test, but they have the confidence to tackle new and complex problems—a skill that’s useful far beyond the SAT or ACT.

Picture of Sheila A.

Sheila A.

Sheila Akbar is President & COO of Signet Education. She holds a bachelor's degree and master's degree from Harvard University and two doctoral degrees from Indiana University. She joined the team in the summer of 2010, bringing with her a wealth of experience teaching SAT, ACT, GRE, literature, and composition in both one-on-one and classroom settings.

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