In 2015, 1.7 million people took the SAT. Test-takers came from a diverse variety of backgrounds. Students from different high schools, cities, states, and countries took the test. They have different ethnicities, languages, family incomes, and GPAs. So how did students from these different demographics score on the test? And what aspects of our society can help explain why certain groups score higher than others?
I’ll go through several demographics of 2015 SAT test takers and examine patterns in the data to figure out the answers to these questions.
All data is from the College Board.
The average male score was 1502 while the average female score was 1479. With an overall mean score of 1490, the average male scored above the mean and the average female scored below. Does gender still play a role in determining who has access to academic resources? Or are there other factors at work?
Type of high school
Private school students tend to receive higher scores than public school students. For public schools, the average score was 1462, below the national average. For religious schools, the average was 1586, while for independent schools the average was 1649, well above the national average.
I’ve listed four of the largest ethnic groups to take the SAT in 2015, as well as their total mean scores from greatest to least.
Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander: 1654
Mexican or Mexican American: 1343
Black or African American: 1277
As you can see, Asians tend to score highest, while African Americans score lowest. What can this tell us about which ethnic groups face the largest barriers to education and why?
Students whose first language is English scored a mean of 1512, while students whose first language is another language scored a mean of 1455. This statistic makes sense, as those who are more likely to be accustomed to speaking English will probably score higher on the SAT Critical Reading and Writing sections.
Citizenship is an interesting demographic to look at because citizens of other countries actually score higher than U.S. citizens, even though the SAT is an American test. The mean score is 1499 for U.S. citizens, 1408 for U.S. permanent residents or refugees, and 1576 for citizens of another country. This could be because international students who plan to study in the United States tend to be highly motivated, because they want to travel across the world in order to attend the best schools.
Family income and financial aid
As one might expect, students with higher incomes usually perform better than students with lower incomes. The average for students whose family income is between $0 and $20,000 is 1314, while the average for students whose family income is greater than $200,000 is 1720. When students can afford more test prep resources, they are obviously going to get higher scores.
Financial aid statistics show a similar trend. Students who planned to apply for financial aid got a mean of 1492, close to the national average. Those who didn’t plan to apply for financial aid got a mean score of 1613.
Level of parental education
When students’ parents had not received a high school diploma, their score average was 1278. On the other end of the spectrum, students whose parents received graduate degrees received an average of 1685. Level of education is usually closely correlated to socioeconomic status, so these statistics closely follow the family income and financial aid statistics.
Obviously, taking the PSAT will increase your likelihood of getting a higher score because the test is designed to help you practice for the SAT. Students who took the test as a junior and as a sophomore (or younger) got a mean score of 1613. Those who didn’t take the PSAT got a mean score of 1407, below the national average. So take your PSATs both sophomore and junior years to ensure you get the best score possible!
High school rank and GPA
This is another obvious correlation, but students with better grades and higher class rankings usually get higher SAT scores. The average for the highest tenth of the high school class was 1747, while the lowest three fifths got a mean of 1304. Students with GPAs in the A+ range got a 1796 average, and students with GPAs in the D through F range got an 1162 average.
What can this data show us?
People who come from certain schools, races, genders, and incomes are at a disadvantage when it comes to taking the SAT. And this is likely because they don’t have as many resources available to them. We all know that SAT prep is expensive, and those who can afford to pay more will do better on the test. This data reinforces that yet again.
If you’re looking for a more affordable test prep option, try getting help from your high school teachers, buying or renting SAT books, using the free resources available from Khan Academy, or using affordable online prep like Magoosh. You don’t need expensive tutors to do well on the test.
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About Nadira Berman
As a Summer Marketing Intern, Nadira is excited to help high schoolers prepare for the SAT and ACT. As a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, she is considering studying economics. In her free time, she reports for the school newspaper and styles photo shoots for the school's fashion magazine. Besides fashion and journalism, her passions include bagels, smoothies and Netflix.
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