Is the SAT Biased?

The Potential Effects of Wealth on SAT Results

A study from the College Board suggests that SAT performance is dependent on family wealth, race, family education, and prior PSAT experience. For instance, the study found that SAT success is correlated with the candidate’s family’s income. Students whose families earn in excess of $200,000 are among the top performers while those whose families earn less than $20,000 are the poorest performers.

SAT UnfairIn a recent Business Insider article, this experience is confirmed by elite SAT test prep instructor Anthony-James Green, who due to his substantial fees tends to work primarily with wealthy candidates (and is featured in our overview of the best SAT prep courses).

Green notes that by working with these wealthy clients he can improve their SAT scores substantially. Thus, wealth may often translate into access to better (and more) SAT prep resources.

The study also found that students who have at least one parent with a graduate degree tend to perform better on the SATs than students whose parents do not have a high school degree. However, race can also be a factor for SAT performance. Asians tend to perform the best while African Americans have the lowest scores.  Whites tend to be the next highest performers after Asians while Hispanics tend to rank above African Americans.

Finally SAT performance is related to whether a student completed a PSAT prior to the SAT.  Students who have taken the PSAT twice tend to score on average almost 200 points higher than a student with no PSAT prior experience.

Because of the inherent structural bias in the SAT, the College Board has announced that it will revamp the SAT in an attempt to level the playing field.  One hopes this retooling of the SAT will better enable currently disadvantaged students to be able to compete with their privileged counterparts.

Nevertheless, until then, there’s already a solution at hand for the most disciplined students. As Mr. Green relates in the above mentioned article, standardized test scores are not a function of one’s intelligence. What it takes is time and consistent effort. Green recommends to begin preparing for the test in the freshman year of high school, to avoid the need to cram in too much material in the junior year. All it takes initially, he says, is 20 minutes a day.

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