Does GPA Affect SAT Score?

Your GPA and SAT score are two of the most important factors in your college admissions profile. Together, they let colleges know your academic potential and how effectively you’ve applied that potential throughout high school. If both scores are high, you’ll have plenty of options for college.

People sometimes ask if these scores impact each other. The answer is no. GPA doesn’t affect SAT score, and SAT score doesn’t affect GPA. They are independent variables. If a ‘C’ student makes a 1,600 on the SAT, that is their score.

Student taking standardized test
Student taking standardized test.

Does GPA Affect SAT Score?

Many high schools now require students on the college prep track to take the SAT or ACT in order to graduate. The tests serve as sort of an exit exam to ensure the student is college-ready.

Perhaps because of this requirement, students sometimes worry that a poor showing on the SAT or ACT will bring down their GPA, nullifying four years of hard work in high school.

But you shouldn’t be concerned. Although it’s important to do as well as you can on the SAT if your goal is to get into a top college, your GPA won’t be harmed if you get a lower score than you were hoping for.

At schools where the SAT or ACT is a graduation requirement, the minimum score required is extremely low — usually around an 860 on the SAT or an 18 on the ACT.

The bottom line is that while the SAT and ACT are important for their own sake, they don’t impact your high school grades or GPA, which is a completely separate metric colleges look at.

Is GPA More Important Than SAT?

According to most guidance counselors and admissions officers, your GPA is more important than your SAT. After all, your GPA is a measure of your academic achievement over four years, whereas the SAT is just one test. Not to mention, it’s a test that can be gamed, at least according to its critics. They claim that standardized tests favor wealthy students whose parents can afford to spend thousands of dollars on prep courses and materials.

A high GPA, on the other hand, is much tougher to game. It requires making top grades and taking challenging classes, as most high schools today report “weighted” GPAs in which Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes boost your average.

Colleges want to see not only that a student has ability but that they have used their ability to achieve academic success, and a high GPA is the best way to measure that.

The SAT Still Matters More Than You’ve Been Led to Believe

Given the number of schools that have gone test-optional in recent years, it’s easy to think the SAT and ACT are losing relevance. But that isn’t the case, and if you’re aiming for a selective college, you should take both tests and try to score high on them.

For one thing, many schools that waived their test score requirement have since reinstated it, including MIT. And even at schools that still don’t require them, submitting a high SAT or ACT score can give you a leg up on your test-optional peers.

Supporters of the SAT point out that it’s not just a test of academic ability but that it also measures a student’s ability to think critically and solve problems under a time constraint. And while it’s popular now to cite recent studies showing GPA as being more predictive of success in college than the SAT, the largest meta-analysis ever done on the topic, which looked at 3,000 studies and over 1 million students in total, showed the SAT to be highly predictive of first-year college grades.

Can a Good SAT Score Compensate for a Bad GPA?

You know that in order to have the most competitive college admissions profile, you need high grades and a good SAT score. But what happens if you have a low GPA but a high SAT score? Can the good SAT score compensate for the bad GPA?

Some colleges allow a good SAT to score to compensate for a bad GPA, but others don’t. The colleges that say yes see the high SAT score as indicative of untapped potential. They believe that if an intelligent student with middling high school grades can just find the ideal environment for their learning style, they can become academic hotshots. Small liberal arts colleges in particular are known for taking chances on applicants who show high potential through their SAT or ACT scores but didn’t live up to that potential in high school. These schools believe small class sizes and the close relationships that develop between students and professors can help students tap into their as-yet-unfulfilled talent.

Other colleges view a high SAT score and low GPA as a giant red flag flapping in the wind. To these colleges, it screams one word: “Lazy.” If your GPA is far lower than what your SAT score suggests it should be, you should write up a compelling explanation for the discrepancy so that schools don’t view it simply as underachievement.

How Is My GPA Calculated?


GPA stands for grade point average. It’s a single number, usually between 0 and 4.0, that expresses the average of all the grades you’ve received in high school. (When you go to college, you’ll start building a new GPA there.) Each letter grade from ‘A’ to ‘F’ corresponds with a certain number of grade points: An ‘A’ is worth 4 points, a ‘B’ is worth 3 points, a ‘C’ is worth 2 points, a ‘D’ is worth one point, and an ‘F’ is worth nothing. Your GPA is calculated by dividing the total number of grade points you have earned by the number of classes you have taken.

So, if you take four classes in a particular block and earn two A’s and two B’s, your GPA for that block would be 14 (4+4+3+3) divided by 4, for a GPA of 3.5.

What Is a Weighted GPA?

Weighted GPAs take into account the difficulty of a class by adding points to a student’s GPA for classes that are more difficult, such as AP, IB, and advanced classes. Some high schools add as much as a full point for these classes, meaning an ‘A’ would average in as 5 points, a ‘B’ as 4 points, and so on.

The argument for weighted GPAs is that they more accurately reflect a student’s academic achievement. Otherwise, a student who chose the easiest classes they could find every semester and made A’s in them would have the same GPA as a student who took all AP and IB classes and studied hours each night to make A’s, which hardly seems fair.

The downside to weighted GPAs is that every high school seems to do it a little differently. Some add a half-point for all advanced classes, some add a full point, some only add points for AP but not advanced classes, and so on. This can make it hard to discern what a student’s GPA actually means.

How Is My SAT Score Calculated?

A lot of confusion surrounds SAT scoring and what a particular score means. The SAT is scored on a curve. It’s based not only on the percentage of questions you get right but how your performance compares to the thousands of other students across the country who took the same test on the same date. In other words, it’s a curved test.

The SAT consists of two sections, Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW). You can earn between 200 and 800 points for each of these sections. So, your total score will range from 400 to 1600.

An 800 score on a section means you did as well as anyone else in the country. Some years that means getting every question right. Other years, you can miss a question or two and still score a “perfect” 800.

The SAT used to have a penalty for guessing. In other words, it was better to leave a question blank than get it wrong. But the penalty was removed in 2016. That means you should answer every question, even the ones you don’t know.

Is the SAT More Important Than the ACT?

The SAT was the gold standard for college admissions tests for decades. But the ACT has gained ground quickly. In many states, the ACT is now preeminent and the SAT an afterthought. The SAT seems to be more popular in the Northeast and on the West Coast, whereas the ACT dominates in the Midwest.

That said, neither test is more “important” than the other, as just about every college that requires standardized tests will accept either one. What’s more important is which test is a better fit for you. While there are students who ace them both (as well as students who bomb them both), many students find they do much better on one than the other. The only way to find out is to take both.

The biggest difference in the two tests is that the ACT has four sections (English, math, reading, science) plus an optional writing section, whereas the SAT has only two sections (EBRW and math) plus an optional writing section. The “science” section of the ACT is perhaps a bit misnamed, as it doesn’t require any actual scientific knowledge. Rather, it tests your ability to read graphs and charts and to make inferences from data. If that is one of your strong points, you might prefer the ACT over the SAT.

The Bottom Line on Whether GPA Affects SAT Score

Your GPA doesn’t affect your SAT score, but colleges look at both to determine whether you’re a good candidate for admission. If you lag in one area, many schools allow you to make up for it with a strong showing in the other. But they are separate metrics that have no impact on one another.

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