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SAT scores by state can differ from one state to the next. But why? What are the specific factors that contribute to these differences?
Generally, the more students who take the test, the lower the state’s average SAT 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, or students who may be bad test takers.
It’s hard to compare SAT scores by 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.
States with the highest SAT scores
The states with the three highest average SAT scores are Minnesota (combined score 1295), Wisconsin (combined score 1291), and Iowa (combined score 1275). These Midwestern states all have low participation rates, at 3%, 3%, and 2% 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.
States with the lowest SAT scores
The states with the three lowest average SAT scores are DC (combined score 950), Delaware (combined score 996), and Michigan (combined score 1005). As you can see, these scores greatly contrast with those from the highest scoring states. Delaware and Michigan 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 may not be applying to college, or don’t care about doing well on the test.
Average SAT scores by state
Worldwide, 1.7 million people took the SAT in 2017. The international average SAT score for all test-takers is 1060. For Evidence-Based Reading and Writing, the average was 533; for Math, the average was 527. The global 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 Minnesota’s average score of 1295.
How do your SAT scores compare?
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness.