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Average SAT Scores Over Time: 1972–2021

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Posted by Anna Aldric | Oct 24, 2021 9:00:00 PM

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SAT scores for the past few years have shown a marked decline, particularly since 2006, which can be attributed to various causes. In this article, we provide you with some charts showing the average SAT trends from 1972 to 2021 as well as the variation in SAT scores by ethnicity.


Average SAT Scores for Past Years: 1972-2021

First off, here is a chart of the SAT averages from 1972 to 2021 so that you can see the overall trends in SAT scores throughout the years. All data is taken from the College Board Total Group Profile Reports (from 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, 2020, and 2021).

Year Math Critical Reading Writing Year Math Critical Reading Writing
1972 509 530 1997 511 505
1973 506 523 1998 512 505
1974 505 521 1999 511 505
1975 498 512 2000 514 505
1976 497 509 2001 514 506
1977 496 507 2002 516 504
1978 494 507 2003 519 507
1979 493 505 2004 518 508
1980 492 502 2005 520 508
1981 492 502 2006 518 503 497
1982 493 504 2007 514 501 493
1983 494 503 2008 514 500 493
1984 497 504 2009 514 499 492
1985 500 509 2010 515 500 491
1986 500 509 2011 514 497 489
1987 501 507 2012 514 496 488
1988 501 505 2013 514 496 488
1989 502 504 2014 513 497 487
1990 501 500 2015 511 495 484
1991 500 499 2016 508 494 482
1992 501 500 2017* 527 533
1993 503 500 2018* 531 536
1994 504 499 2019* 528 531
1995 506 504 2020* 523 528
1996 508 505 2021* 528 533

*The old SAT had three main sections: Math, Critical Reading, and Writing. Since the SAT's massive redesign in spring 2016, there are now two main sections on the test: Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW), the latter of which is a combination of the Reading and Writing sections.


Now, here's historical SAT test data for different ethnicities. The scores below are the combined mean scores for the Critical Reading and Math sections (for 2018-2021, scores shown are the means for the EBRW and Math sections combined).

Demographic of Test Takers 2007 Scores 2011 Scores 2015 Scores 2018 Scores* 2019 Scores* 2020 Scores* 2021 Scores*
American Indian or Alaskan Native 981 972 963 914 912 902 927
Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander 1092 1112 1123 1152 (Asian)
948 (Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander)
1223 (Asian)
964 (Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander)
1217 (Asian)
948 (Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander)
1239 (Asian)
950 (Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander)
Black or African American 862 855 859 919 933 927 934
Mexican or Mexican American 921 917 905
Puerto Rican 913 904 905
Other Hispanic, Latino, or Latin American 922 913 906 1005 (Hispanic/ Latino) 978 (Hispanic/ Latino) 969 (Hispanic/ Latino) 967 (Hispanic/Latino)
White 1061 1063 1063 1077 1114 1104 1112
Other 1009 1010 1009 1044 (Two or More Races) 1095 (Two or More Races) 1091 (Two or More Races) 1116 (Two or More Races) 
No Response 977 944 926 875 959 996 976

Sources: 2007 Report2011 Report, 2015 Report, 2018 Report , 2019 Report, 2020 Report. 2021 Report

*Note the changes in ethnic categories for the 2018-2019 reports.


SAT Score Trends: Discussing the Numbers

What the SAT charts above show us is that the scores vary greatly depending on how the College Board structures the test and organizes its scoring.

The years of study that a student engages in matter. The more years of secondary education someone has completed, the better her average score on the SAT will be. Higher GPA also correlates with higher SAT scores.

Generally, Critical Reading (now just called Reading on the redesigned SAT) has taken an overall decline, whereas the Math score has risen slightly over time. There are of course small fluctuations throughout the years, but the overall trend is clear.

There are also notable gaps in the performances of students from different socioeconomic and ethnic groups that show no signs of closing. ACT scores, unlike SAT scores, have remained relatively more stable over the past several years. Though they, too, have shown similar variations in numbers, it hasn't been as bad as the SAT numbers. On the other hand, they do show differences based on the ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds of the test takers.

Due to the nature of the test or due to different demographic profiles among test takers, from 2006 to 2016 overall average SAT scores fell a total of 34 points, down in each of the three sections tested. (You'll notice a sharp increase in section scores in 2017, but this is partly due to the SAT's massive redesign; thus, we won't be able to use these scores for our comparison until we have more years' data with the redesigned SAT format.)

According to the demographics table, from 2007 to 2015 the average scores for white students stayed about the same. Similarly, most other groups witnessed no change or decreases from 2007 to 2015. Asian Americans experienced the biggest positive change of all groups during this time frame: a staggering 31-point increase in mean Critical Reading/Math scores. (Note, though, that before 2016, Asian Americans were combined with Pacific Islanders.)

Access to quality education, not ethnicity, might explain a significant portion of the racial gap. This can include variations based on whether the student completed a core curriculum or not, and whether they had access to SAT prep.

In 2014-2017, more students took the ACT than the SAT; this trend reversed from 2018 onwards, with over 2.1 million students in 2018 taking the SAT (compared to 1.9 million who took the ACT during that same time period).

Many students believe that the SAT doesn't accurately reflect what is taught in schools today. The decision to institute changes to the SAT in 2016 may have been due to this disparity between what is taught and what is tested; it could also have been due to the loss of market shares to the ACT.

Critics say that the SAT measures a student's background and access to resources (including test prep) more than it predicts a student's likelihood of success at the college level. Actually, those two points might correlate because the students that receive this sort of help are also more likely to receive the support they need in college from their families.

While it's true there is variation in scores with respect to race and income, it is still something that can be overcome by the student with both dedication and practice.


What's Next?

Struggling with a low SAT score? Check out our series of articles on the how to improve your scores on the SAT Math, Reading, and Writing sections.

Shooting high on the SAT? Check out our series on how to get perfect scores on the SAT Math, Reading, and Writing sections, written by a perfect scorer.


Ready to go beyond just reading about the SAT? Then you'll love the free five-day trial for our SAT Complete Prep program. Designed and written by PrepScholar SAT experts, our SAT program customizes to your skill level in over 40 subskills so that you can focus your studying on what will get you the biggest score gains.

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Anna Aldric
About the Author

Anna graduated from MIT where she honed her research interests in Earth Science and Social/Political Science. She has years of tutoring experience, loves watching students learn and grow, and strongly believes that education is the cornerstone of our society. She is passionate about science, books, and non-profit work.

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