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Average SAT Scores Drop: Students Must Do More to Prepare for College

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Considering the onslaught of remedial college classes and accusations of grade inflation, it’s not a surprise that average SAT scores have declined. The SAT Report on College & Career Readiness: 2012 also states that merely 43% of the Class of 2012 who took the standardized college entrance exam displayed a level of academic preparedness that would lead to a successful college career.

What is the SAT?

As explained by Frontline, the SAT, which initially stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, was developed by the College Board in the late 1930s as an exam for scholarship applicants. The SAT was considered a way for academically talented students who had not had the benefit of attending an elite college prep school to “prove their worth” to prestigious colleges and universities, such as Harvard. In the 1940s the SAT became a college admissions test for all college applicants, regardless of whether or not they were applying for scholarships.

Although the test is still owned, created, and published by the College Board and still called the SAT, the name is now an empty acronym— the letters do not stand for anything. It remains a globally recognized college admission exam and its scores are accepted by most colleges and universities.

The SAT is offered several times per year at various schools and testing facilities. It is generally taken by high school students during their junior and senior years of high school—many students take the exam twice in hopes of improving their scores—but ABC News reports that the competitor ACT college entrance exam has started to surpass the SAT in popularity. (The number of students taking the ACT each year has been growing rapidly because nine states now require all high school students to take the exam in order to graduate.)

SAT Scoring Explained

Considering that low SAT scores are making headlines across the country, it’s important to understand how SAT scoring works. Optional SAT Subject Tests also exist in multiple categories ranging from Literature and World History to Chemistry and Physics, but a majority of high school students only take the main SAT exam, which is divided into three categories:

  • Critical reading (scored 200-800)
  • Writing (scored 200-800)
  • Mathematics (scored 200-800)

Students earn +1 point for questions they get correct; – ¼ point subtracted for incorrect answers on multiple choice questions; and 0 points subtracted for student-produced responses in the math section as well as for questions that were left unanswered.

SAT scores are reported on a scale ranging from 200 to 800 with sub-scores for ranging from two to 12 for the essay and 20 to 80 on multiple choice writing questions. A perfect SAT score is 2400. The test is taken by over a million high school students each year and a perfect score is rarely achieved.

What is a Good SAT Score?

The Princeton Review points out that when it comes to SAT scores, an easy rule of thumb to remember is “the higher, the better” yet even above-average scores may not be high enough to gain acceptance into select elite, highly-competitive colleges. (StateUniversity.com’s college and university profiles conveniently include statistics on the average SAT and ACT scores for admitted students!)

The “SAT Benchmark” is a score of 1550, which is supposed to indicate a 65% likelihood of earning a B- average or higher during the freshman year at a four-year college or university. As explained at the beginning of this blog post, a disappointing 43% of American high school students who took the test met the SAT Benchmark in 2012.

Number of SAT Optional Colleges Growing

Although the disappointing statistics reported by SAT regarding college readiness are causing many experts to believe that our teachers and schools should be doing more to help prepare students academically, some colleges are simply de-emphasizing the importance of the test or even making it optional for admission—if students can’t score high enough, why require them to take it?

According to FairTest, The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, the colleges and universities listed below are just a few of the increasing number of schools that do not require the SAT for college admission:

  • Baldwin-Wallace College | Berea, OH
  • Berklee College of Music | New York, NY
  • Cambridge College | Cambridge, MA
  • Columbia College | Chicago, IL
  • DePaul University | Chicago, IL
  • Lewis and Clark College | Portland, OR
  • Saint Leo University | Saint Leo, FL
  • University of Wyoming | Laramie, WY

How to Get a High SAT Score

If you’re a high school student who has the goal of getting a good SAT score, or you are retaking the test in hopes of improving your score, the College Board offers the following advice on preparing for the SAT:

1) Complete a core college-prep curriculum

2) Enroll in honors and/or Advanced Placement AP classes

3) Take free sample practice tests

4) Consider a SAT study guide or online SAT prep course

Related Posts:

Unhappy with Your Score? More Colleges Going SAT Optional

SAT Reality TV Question: Uproar over Jersey Shore?

Most High School Students Not Ready for College

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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