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Average SAT Scores Over Time: 1972 - 2018

Posted by Anna Aldric | Nov 4, 2018 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 2018 as well as the variation in SAT scores by ethnicity.

 

Average SAT Scores for Past Years: 1972-2018

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

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

*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 2017 and 2018, scores shown are the means for the EBRW and Math sections combined).

Demographic of Test Takers

2007 Scores 2011 Scores 2015 Scores 2016 Scores* 2017 Scores* 2018
Scores*
American Indian or Alaskan Native 981 972 963 939 963 914
Asian, Asian American, or Pacific Islander 1092 1112 1123 1131 (Asian American) 870 (Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander) 1181 (Asian) 986 (Native Hawaiian/ Other Pacific Islander) 1152 (Asian) 948 (Native Hawaiian/
Other Pacific Islander)
Black or African American 862 855 859 855 941 919
Mexican or Mexican American 921 917 905
Puerto Rican 913 904 905
Other Hispanic, Latino, or Latin American 922 913 906 901 (All Hispanic, Latino, and Latin American) 990 (Hispanic/ Latino) 1005 (Hispanic/
Latino)
White 1061 1063 1063 1061 1118 1077
Other 1009 1010 1009 1015 1103 (Two or More Races) 1044 (Two or More Races)
No Response 977 944 926 952 961 875

Sources: 2007 Report2011 Report, 2015 Report, 2016 Report, 2017 Report, 2018 Report

*Note the changes in ethnic categories for the 2016-2018 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 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 more years use 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 in 2018, with over 2.1 million students 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. 

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points? We've written a guide about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

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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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