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Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Minorities
NCES 2010-015
July 2010

Indicator 15. 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 (Snyder, Dillow, and Hoffman 2009, table 326). Of the class that graduated from high school in 2008, 1.5 million students took the SAT and 1.4 million students took the ACT (SAT 2008 and ACT 2008). While overall more students are taking these examinations, differences remain across racial/ethnic groups in both SAT and ACT results. Compared with previous years, in 2008, White students represented a lower percentage of SAT test-takers (60 percent) and ACT test-takers (68 percent).

15.1. SAT Results

The population of SAT test-takers is becoming more diverse. Over the last decade, Black students have consistently represented 1112 percent of high school graduates who took the SAT. Hispanic students, however, represented 13 percent of total test-takers in 2008, up from 9 percent in 1998. The percentage of Asian/Pacific Islander test-takers also increased, from 9 percent in 1998 to 11 percent in 2008.

View Table View Table 15.1a
View Table View Figure 15.1a

The SAT includes a critical reading section and a mathematics section, each scored on a scale ranging from 200 to 800 points.19,20 In 2008, the overall average score on the critical reading section was 502, with White students having the highest average of any racial/ethnic group (528). Asian/Pacific Islander students had the second highest average critical reading score (513), followed by American Indian/Alaska Native (485), Puerto Rican (456), Other Hispanic/Latino (455), Mexican American (454), and Black students (430).

The overall average score on the critical reading section has declined over the last decade from 505 to 502, yet many of the racial/ethnic groups have not followed the pattern. White, Mexican American, Puerto Rican, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaska Native students each had higher average critical reading scores in 2008 than in 1998. Black students' average critical reading score declined from 434 in 1998 to 430 in 2008, and Other Hispanic/Latino students' average score declined from 461 to 455 during this time period.

Although the critical reading and mathematics sections have the same score range, in general, average scores were higher on the mathematics section. The overall average score on the mathematics section was 515 in 2008. Asian/Pacific Islander students had the highest mathematics average in 2008 (581), which was higher than the averages of White (537), American Indian/Alaska Native (491), Mexican American (463), Other Hispanic/Latino (461), Puerto Rican (453), and Black (426) students. Although Asian/Pacific Islander and White students improved their mathematics scores from 2006 to 2008 (by 3 points and 1 point, respectively), the performance of all other racial/ethnic groups shown declined by 1 to 3 points.

View Table View Table 15.1b
View Table View Figure 15.1b

15.2. ACT Results

The ACT consists of four sections: English, mathematics, reading, and science. Scores for each section range from 0 to 36. The ACT calculates composite scores for each section that indicate a minimal readiness for college (Allen and Scoming 2005).

Similar to the SAT, the race/ethnicity mix of ACT test-takers has changed over the past decade. Black students represented 14 percent of the test-takers in 2008, up from 11 percent in 1998. Similarly, the percent of test-takers that were Hispanic increased from 6 percent in 1998 to 9 percent in 2008.

View Table View Table 15.2a
View Table View Figure 15.2a

ACT English scores have fluctuated over time. In English, the overall average score decreased from 20.4 in 1998 to 20.2 in 2002 and then increased to 20.6 in 2008. The racial/ethnic groups whose scores in 2008 were not higher than their scores in 1998 were Black students (16.4 in 1998 and 16.1 in 2008) and American Indian/Alaska Native students (18.1 in both years).

ACT mathematics scores also decreased between 1998 and 2002 and then increased between 2002 and 2008 for each race/ethnicity group. The largest overall gain made during this time period was for Asian/Pacific Islander students. Their average score was 0.7 points higher in 2008 than it was in 1998 (24.1 and 23.4, respectively).

View Table View Table 15.2b

The ACT benchmarking scores provide insight as to the college preparedness of high school seniors who took the ACT. For each subject area, benchmarking scores reflect the average score associated with a 50 percent likelihood of obtaining a "B," or a 75 percent likelihood of obtaining a "C" in a corresponding college course. In 2008, about 22 percent of the ACT test-takers met the college readiness benchmark in all four subjects. About one-third of Asian/Pacific Islander test-takers met all four benchmarks, compared to 3 percent of Black test-takers.

The highest college readiness rate was in English and the lowest was in science (68 percent vs. 28 percent). In all four subjects, Black test-takers had the lowest readiness rates. White test-takers had the highest readiness rates in English and reading (77 percent and 61 percent, respectively), while Asians/Pacific Islanders had the highest readiness rates in mathematics and science (63 percent and 38 percent, respectively).

View Table View Table 15.2c
View Table View Figure 15.2b


1918 The critical reading 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.
20 In 2006, the SAT introduced a new writing section, but results are not discussed in this indicator.