What’s better, a 35 ACT Score or a 1550 SAT Score?

Matt Larriva
Jan 12, 2021

Your 1550 SAT score is actually much better than your 35 ACT score. Especially when speaking in terms of an SAT Score Percentile. I calculated the actual percentiles because The College Board and The ACT both say these scores are just 99% and, truthfully speaking, the essay portions don’t really matter.

Additionally, this is a great question because we have to decide:

  • How much does the essay score factor into your total score?
  • And, which is better: a 35 ACT score or a 1550 SAT score?

First, I want to dismiss the essay portion. Colleges place very little weight on these scores and use them more as a litmus test. Besides, it’s very easy get a perfect score on the essay portion of the SAT test using this method.

But, I digress… The reality is, your 9/12 on the ACT essay is fine; as is your 18/24 on the SAT.

Here’s some support to that:

Ostensibly, 35 (ACT) and 1550 (SAT) are equal on a percentile basis:

  • The CollegeBoard says 1550 is “99+%”
  • And the ACT says 35 is 99 percentile

But we can dig deeper…

RELATED READING: How To Get Into The Ivy Leagues

What Does The College Board Mean By “99+ Percentile”?

Another good question…

Even if they told me what the “+” meant, I can’t really trust their figures seeing as how they include a “-1” percentile rank.

The plus sign is not a number nor does it mean anything because there’s nothing above the 99th percentile. The 99th percentile covers everything from 99.0 to 99.99999 (there’s no 100th percentile).

Why is there no 100th percentile on the SAT?

Because a ‘percentile’ means part of 100 and the first percentile covers 0 to 0.99999 while the second percentile covers from 1 to 1.99999. So, the 99th percentile is actually the hundredth part of 100 because we started counting at zero.

I assume “99+” means “99.XX and we’re not going to tell you what the XX is.”

No matter; we can figure it out.

Understanding The Average SAT Scores

Based on their released data, I can rebuild their distribution:

sat score percentile

RELATED READING: When to take the SAT: Ideal Timeline

Let’s make sure we’re right:

  • My distribution shows 0.86% of students with 1450 or greater; the College Board shows 1% (but we know they round).
  • My distribution shows 5.34% of students with 720 or less; the College Board shows 5%
  • And we know that about 1/3400 students gets a perfect score; I have it at about 3/3400—close enough.

RELATED READING: SAT Essay Perfect Score Example

If You Score 1550, What is Your SAT Score Percentile?

By my calculations, your 1550 SAT score is the 99.86% percentile.

Said differently, if 1 million people took the test, you would score at or above all but 1362 of them.

What Percentile Is Your 35 ACT Score?

Thankfully, the ACT is a little better at descriptive stats than The College Board. They say that your 35 ACT score is at or above 99 percent of students, but they again don’t give us any decimal points behind that ‘99.’

Again, no matter: we can calculate an ACT score percentile ourselves.

They give us the total number of students who took the test (1,914,817) and the total number who scored at each level (55,009 scored 35) , so we calculate a 35 ACT score to actually be in the 98.912% percentile. That’s a big clip lower than your 1550 SAT score.

RELATED READING: How Can I Cheat on the SAT?

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