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Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2007-039
September 2007

Indicator 14: College Entrance Exams

Many colleges and universities in the United States require students to submit standardized assessment scores from either the SAT or ACT as part of their applications. In 2006, 1.5 million high school students took the SAT and 1.2 million students took the ACT (ACT 2006).22 Compared with prior years, in the most recent year for which complete data are available, minority students represented a higher percentage of test-takers of the SAT (38 percent in 2006) and the ACT (29 percent in 2005). While more minority students are taking these examinations, differences remain across racial/ethnic groups in both SAT and ACT results.

Indicator 14.1. SAT Results

The population of SAT test-takers is becoming more diverse. Between 1996 and 2006, the percentage of test-takers who were minority students increased by 7 percentage points, from 31 to 38 percent. During this period, the overall percentage of test-takers who were Hispanics increased by 3 percentage points (from 8 to 11 percent), compared to an increase of less than 2 percentage points for Asians/Pacific Islanders, an increase of less than one percentage point for Blacks, and a decrease of less than half a percentage point for American Indians/Alaska Natives. However, Hispanic students, like Black students, remained underrepresented among test-takers relative to their share of the population. Asian and White students continued to be overrepresented among test-takers. (See indicator 7.2 for distributions of public school students by race/ethnicity.)

The SAT includes a verbal and mathematics section, each scored on a scale between 200 and 800 points (SAT 2005b).23,24 Between 1996 and 2005, the average verbal scores for most racial/ethnic groups fluctuated, but verbal scores for White, Puerto Rican, and Asian/Pacific Islander students generally increased. The average verbal score for all SAT test-takers in 2006 (503) was 5 points lower than the average in 2005 (508). This difference between 2005 and 2006 was seen across most racial/ethnic groups. White and other Hispanic/Latino test-takers had the biggest differences, with average verbal scores in 2006 that were 5 points lower than their 2005 average scores, while the average verbal scores of Black and Mexican American test-takers were each 1 point higher in 2006 than in 2005. In 2006, the scores for White (527) and Asian/Pacific Islander (510) students were higher than the scores for American Indian/Alaska Native (487), Puerto Rican (459), other Hispanic/Latino (458), Mexican American (454), and Black (434) students.

View Table View Table 14.1a

Between 1996 and 2005, the average mathematics score increased for all racial/ethnic groups. During this time, the score for Asian/Pacific Islander students increased by 22 points, from 558 to 580. Mathematics scores for White, Puerto Rican, and American Indian/Alaska Native students increased between 12 and 16 points, while Black, Mexican American, and Other Hispanic/Latino students experienced smaller increases, between 3 and 9 points. As with verbal scores, the overall average mathematics score was lower in 2006 (518) than in 2005 (520). Mexican Americans and American Indians/Alaska Natives were the only groups whose mathematics scores were higher in 2006 than in 2005 (by 2 points and 1 point, respectively). Other Hispanic/Latino test-takers saw the largest decrease, with an average mathematics score that was 6 points lower in 2006 than in 2005. In 2006, Asian/Pacific Islander (578) and White (536) students had the highest mathematics scores, followed by American Indian/Alaska Native (494), Mexican American (465), other Hispanic/Latino (463), Puerto Rican (456), and Black (429) students.

Although the verbal and mathematics sections have the same score range, in general, most students scored higher on the mathematics section. In 2006, the average mathematics score for all test-takers was 15 points higher than the average verbal score. That year, Asian/Pacific Islander students had the largest gap between their mathematics and verbal scores (68 points). Puerto Rican students had the smallest gap between their scores in 2006, with an average verbal score that was 3 points higher than their average mathematics score, while Black students had an average verbal score that was 5 points higher than their average mathematics score.

View Table View Table 14.1b
View Table View Figure 14

Indicator 14.2. ACT Results

The ACT consists of four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. This indicator discusses results from the two largest sections, English and Mathematics. Scores for each section range from 0 to 36, and composite scores below 19 on the ACT indicate minimal readiness for college (ACT 2002; ACT 2005b).

Similar to the SAT, the percentage of ACT test-takers who are minority students is increasing. Between 1997 and 2005, the percentage of minority test-takers increased by 5 percentage points, from 24 to 29 percent. During this period, the overall percentage of test-takers who were Hispanic increased by 2 percentage points (6 to 8 percent).

View Table View Table 14.2a

Between 1997 and 2005, average ACT English scores fluctuated for each racial/ethnic group, with only White and Asian/Pacific Islander students showing gains. In 2005, White (21.5) and Asian/Pacific Islander (21.3) students had the highest English scores, followed by Puerto Rican/Other Hispanic (18.0), American Indian/Alaska Native (17.6), Mexican American (17.3), and Black (16.2) students.

Unlike SAT mathematics scores, ACT mathematics scores have not increased over time. Between 1997 and 2005, average ACT mathematics scores fluctuated, with only White students showing a gain since 1997, from 21.2 to 21.5. In 2005, Asian/Pacific Islander (23.1) and White students (21.5) had the highest mathematics scores, followed by Puerto Rican/Other Hispanic (19.0), Mexican American (18.6), American Indian/Alaska Native (18.4), and Black (16.8) students.

Similar to the SAT findings, Asian/Pacific Islander students had the largest gap between their ACT verbal (21.3) and mathematics scores (23.1). Mexican American students also had a considerable gap between their verbal (17.3) and mathematics scores (18.6). White students showed no difference between their verbal and mathematics scores (21.5 for both) in 2005.

View Table View Table 14.2b

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22 The majority of students who take the ACT live in the Midwest, Rocky Mountains, Plains, and southern regions of the country (ACT 2005a). The SAT is more prevalent on the east and west coasts and in the Northeast (SAT 2005a).
23 The verbal section of the exam includes sentence completions, passage-based reading, and analogies that measure extended reasoning, literal comprehension, and vocabulary in context. The mathematics section of the exam includes multiple-choice items, student-produced responses, and quantitative comparisons.
24 In 2006, the SAT introduced a new writing section. Due to the lack of trend data, writing scores are not discussed in this indicator.

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National Center for Education Statistics - http://nces.ed.gov
U.S. Department of Education