SAT scores can differ from state to state. But why? What are the specific factors that contribute to these differences?
Generally, the more students take the test, the lower the state’s average scores will be. This pattern makes sense. In states where few take the SAT, the students who do take the test are often high-performing. In states where many students take the SAT, the average score is usually lower because people from all backgrounds are completing the test. This could include students who aren’t planning on going to college and may be bad test takers.
It’s hard to compare scores between states because of differing levels of participation and demographics of the participants. So the average SAT scores of each state don’t accurately reveal how educated students are in that state.
All data used is from 2014.
Highest scoring states
The states with the three highest average scores are North Dakota (combined score 1816), Illinois (combined score 1802), and Iowa (combined score 1794). These Midwestern states all have low participation rates, at 2.3%, 4.6%, and 3.1% respectively. This data is consistent with what we know about what types of states get higher average scores. When fewer students take the SAT, average scores are better.
Also, Midwestern schools tend to have higher scores because most students in the region take the ACT, rather than the SAT. The students who do take the SAT only take it as a backup. These students tend to be motivated, high-performing perfectionists, so they usually get the highest scores.
Lowest scoring states
The states with the three lowest average scores are DC (combined score 1309), Delaware (combined score 1359), and Idaho (combined score 1364). As you can see, these scores greatly contrast with those from the highest scoring states. DC, Delaware, and Idaho all have 100% participation rates, which can explain why their average scores are so much lower. When a state requires every student to take the SAT, there are going to be participants who don’t care about doing well on the test and may not be applying to college.
National SAT score average
The national average SAT score is 1497. For Critical Reading, the average was 497, for Math, 513, and for Writing, 487. The average shows that most states tend to fall on the lower end of the spectrum of scores. Most score averages don’t come close to North Dakota’s average score of 1816.
International SAT score average
Worldwide, 1.7 million people took the SAT in 2015. The average global international score was 1490, not much different than the U.S. national average. So international students’ performance was comparable to the performance of American students.