SAT Scores Decline for Second Straigth Year

SAT scores declined for the second straight year after remaining flat the previous two years as the number of minority students-particularly Hispanic students- taking the test continues to grow, according to the College Board’s The SAT Report on College and Career Readiness: 2012. Critical reading scores and writing scores dropped one point since 2011, while math scores remained flat. Taken together, the 2012 SAT composite score is 9 points lower than in 2008. It appears that much of the decline is likely due to the increase of minority and non-English speaking students taking the SAT over recent years.

For the second year, the College Board released the percent of SAT test takers who were “college ready.” Even though overall scores declined, 43 percent of students still reached the SAT “college ready” benchmark score of 1550, just as in 2011. Reaching College Board’s College Ready Benchmark indicates a student has at least a 65 percent of chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman-year courses. The percent of students taking the SAT who were “college ready” was higher than the 25 percent of 2012 ACT test takers who were found to be college ready in a report released last month. Keep in mind that the ACT includes a science assessment for which few students were able to meet the college readiness benchmark, while the SAT has no science component. The inclusion of science could be a reason why the ACT found fewer students to be “college ready” than the SAT.

The Findings

National Scores

  • The nation’s graduating Class of 2012 had an average composite score of 1498, which was lower than 2011 (1500) and significantly lower than in 2008 (1507).
    • At a score of 1498, an average high school graduate has about a 75 percent chance of getting admitted into a competitive four-year college*.
  • Scores declined on two of the three sections over the past year. Scores decreased by one point on the Critical Reading (496) and Writing (288) sections but scores remained unchanged on the Math section (514) from the year prior. 
  • Scores declined for most racial/ethnic groups.
    • The average combined Hispanic student score was 1351 in 2012, which is seven points lower than in 2011 and 12 points lower than in 2008.
    • The average Black student score was 1273 in 2011, which is one point higher than in 2011 and seven points lower than in 2008.
    • The average White student score was 1578 in 2012, which is two points higher than the 2011 score and five points lower than in 2008.

College Readiness

  • Nearly half (43 percent) of 2012 test-takers met the SAT College-Ready Benchmark in 2012, which is unchanged from the year prior.  
    • The SAT College Ready Benchmarks represent a student who scores a combined 1550 or higher. Students hitting this benchmark have a 65 percent chance of earning a B-minus grade point average in their freshman year courses.
  • Those students who took AP or Honors courses nearly doubled their chances of being college ready. Eighty-three percent of students who took AP or Honors math reached the college ready benchmark on the math section, compared to 44 percent of students who did not take AP or Honors math.

Core Course Rigor

  • Seventy-five percent of SAT test takers completed the recommended “core” college-preparatory curriculum, which is an increase from 70 percent in 2001.
    • Just 65 percent of Black students and 69 percent of Hispanic students completed the core curriculum, compared to 80 percent of White students.
  • High school graduates who completed at least the recommended core curriculum scored 149 points higher on the combined SAT score than students who did not complete a core curriculum.
    • A 149 point decrease in SAT score for an average student decreases his or her chances of getting admitted into a good college from 75 percent to 67 percent.*
  • High school graduates who took AP or Honors courses scored significantly higher than all test takers, not only in the relevant subject area, but in all three SAT sections.
    • Those who took AP or Honors English scored 251 points higher than all test takers.
    • Those who took AP or Honors Math scored 294 points higher than all test takers

Test Takers

  • Nearly 1.66 million students from the class of 2012 took the SAT sometime during their high school career compared to 1.65 million in 2011.
  • In 25 states, at least 40 percent of high school seniors took the SAT sometime during their high school career.
    • Delaware had 100 percent participation rate in 2012, followed by Maine (93 percent), New York (90 percent), Massachusetts (89 percent), Connecticut (88 percent), Washington, DC (83 percent) and Georgia (81 percent).
  • More minority students are taking the SAT.
    • In 2012 17 percent of SAT test takers were Hispanic compared to 16 percent in 2011 and just 12 percent in 2008.
    • Thirteen percent of SAT test takers were Black which was the same as in 2011 but greater than the 11 percent in 2008.
    • The percent of test takers who were White continues to drop from 57 percent in 2008 to 53 percent in 2011 to just 51 percent in 2012.
  • A greater number of students whose first language is not just English are taking the SAT.
    • In 2012 12 percent of SAT test takers’ first language was not English compared to 9 percent in 2008.
  • The vast majority (82 percent) of SAT test takers want to earn at least a bachelor’s degree, up from 75 percent a decade ago.


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