SAT and ACT Performance Based on Socioeconomics

by Zach Weisenthal ’19

Teens across the United States anxiously await the letters that will determine their academic fate. Upon unsealing the envelope, students are greeted with tears of joy … or agony. As college admission season continues, many students’ acceptances into their desired school depend in part on their standardized test scores. However, many students have significant advantages over their peers based on a factor out of their control: their socioeconomic well-being.

Students who have resources to prepare for the test more extensively have a competitive advantage over those who don’t. The belief that the SAT and ACT set all students on an equal playing field for evaluation is a huge misconception. It has been proven year after year by College Board data that performance on SAT and ACT tests is strongly correlated to a student’s socioeconomic status. Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1,714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1,326

A study conducted by the College Board in the mid 1990s and a 2009 study by the National Association of College Admissions demonstrated that students who invested in preparatory courses increased their score by an average of 30 points. The two studies, conducted almost a decade apart, both show a significant increase in scores, proving that although the tests change over time and claim to be “less coachable,” pricey test preparation courses offer a notable advantage. Although a 30-point increase may not seem too significant, these extra points open the doors to colleges that a student would not have been accepted to if it was not for those additional points, as well as financial aid opportunities. However, the average price of a private tutor in the United States is $130-175 per hour, based on a study performed by Prep Scholar. High schoolers coming from low-income families cannot afford this level of test preparedness, impeding the student’s success and future opportunities.

The current SAT and ACT price is $46, not including the writing portion, which is an additional cost and mandatory for many colleges. This may appear as a feasible cost if a student only plans on testing once. However, considering the price of retests, test information release, and score analysis, these costs can increase significantly. After the test, ACT and College Board will send a student’s score to four different schools, but sending scores to additional schools cost $11.25 per school.

Assistance programs and lower-cost alternatives are available for students whose families may not be able to afford the test and preparation. Online study aides, such as Khan Academy, are also available for a low cost. MCPS has attempted to equal the playing field for all students through providing many free testing opportunities for all high school juniors.