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 2020 as well as the variation in SAT scores by ethnicity.
Average SAT Scores for Past Years: 1972-2020
First off, here is a chart of the SAT averages from 1972 to 2020 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, and 2020).
|Year||Math||Critical Reading||Writing||Year||Math||Critical Reading||Writing|
*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 2018-2020, 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*|
|American Indian or Alaskan Native||981||972||963||914||912||902|
|Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander||1092||1112||1123||1152 (Asian)
948 (Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander)
964 (Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander)
948 (Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander)
|Black or African American||862||855||859||919||933||927|
|Mexican or Mexican American||921||917||905||—||—||—|
|Other Hispanic, Latino, or Latin American||922||913||906||1005 (Hispanic/ Latino)||978 (Hispanic/ Latino)||969 (Hispanic/ Latino)|
|Other||1009||1010||1009||1044 (Two or More Races)||1095 (Two or More Races)||1091 (Two or More Races)|
*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.
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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.