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Scholastic Aptitude Test
Achievement Tests
Intended Undergraduate Major

Scholastic Aptitude Test Up arrow


An analysis of the descriptive information submitted by students taking the SAT reveals a wide divergence in precollege preparation among the racial/ethnic groups. For instance, compared with whites, the three minority groups underrepresented in science and engineering-blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians-tend to take fewer courses in mathematics and science, and Asians take more of these courses than whites. These differing rates of participation in mathematics and science training in elementary and secondary school are reflected in the scores received on the mathematics portion of the SAT.
An analysis of scores reveals that, overall, Asians perform better than all other racial/ethnic groups [11] on the mathematics component of the SAT and on the science and mathematics achievement tests; whites score second highest. Asians also tend to take a much more intensive series of mathematics and science courses in high school than do students in other groups. (See appendix table 3-2.)
On the mathematics component of the SAT, the scores of every racial/ethnic group improved over the decade, again probably reflecting increased emphasis on improving mathematics and science education at the K-12 level. (See figure 3-3.) The relative standing of the racial/ethnic groups did not change over the 10-year period; the groups scored in the same rank order in 1983. In 1993 Asians continued to have the highest average mathematics SAT scores, followed by whites and American Indians, Latin Americans, Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, and blacks. (See appendix table 3-1.)

Figure 3-3

During the decade, American Indians achieved the highest increase in mathematics scores of any racial/ethnic group, rising 22 points. Asians' scores increased by 21 points and blacks' by 19 points.


On the verbal component of the SAT, whites had the highest scores in 1993, followed by Asians and American Indians. (See figure 3-4.) The relative ranking of these groups remained about the same between 1983 and 1993, but there were several significant changes in the level of the verbal scores. Asians achieved the highest increase in scores of any racial or ethnic group: Verbal scores rose every year for a total increase of 20 points over the decade.

Figure 3-4

Blacks had the second highest increase in verbal scores, 14 points, and American Indians increased their verbal scores by 12 points. White scores fluctuated slightly over the decade, but increased by only 1 point overall between 1983 and 1993. Trend data on Hispanics are more difficult to compare because of the data subdivision in 1987. Of the three Hispanic groups, however, only the Puerto Ricans had verbal scores higher in 1993 than in 1987: They rose a total of 7 points by 1993.

SAT Scores and Level of Difficulty of High School Mathematics and Science Courses

The amount and type of coursework taken in high school are related to the scores on the SAT. In particular, Asians and whites, the two groups with the consistently highest mathematics scores on the SAT, were also the two groups who had taken the most courses in high school in mathematics and natural science.
In 1993, more than 88 percent of Asians and 84 percent of whites took chemistry in high school; roughly three-quarters of each of the other groups took chemistry. The biggest difference in science coursework among racial/ethnic groups was in physics. Sixty-four percent of Asians took physics, compared with 45 percent of whites, 43 percent of Latin Americans, and less than 40 percent for all the other racial/ethnic groups. (See appendix table 3-2.)
As with females, high percentages of students taking the SAT from all racial/ethnic groups took algebra and geometry, but the percentages of students in racial/ethnic groups taking advanced courses start to diverge after these two mathematics courses. Only a small proportion of most racial/ethnic groups took calculus in high school: between 10 and 15 percent for underrepresented minorities, 21 percent for whites, and 39 percent for Asians.

Parental Income and SAT Scores

The SAT data show that for every racial/ethnic group, higher reported levels of parental income are generally associated with higher scores on both the verbal and mathematics sections of the SAT. Family income does not uniformly relate to achievement, however. SAT mathematics scores for Asian students at the lowest family income levels exceeded those at virtually the highest levels for other groups. (See appendix table 3-8.)

Parental Education and SAT Scores

Within every racial/ethnic group, higher levels of parental education were associated with higher students' scores on both the mathematics and verbal portions of the SAT. For example, the difference in mean SAT mathematics scores between the group whose parents did not receive a high school diploma and those whose parents held a graduate degree ranged from 116 points for whites to 82 points for Mexican Americans. (See appendix table 3-9.)
Four racial/ethnic groups reported that the highest level of education attained by a majority of their parents was a high school diploma or less. Although these four groups tended to score lower on the SAT, within each of these groups the pattern held: Average SAT scores increased with the increase in parental education.

Citizenship Status and SAT Scores

In all but two of the racial/ethnic groups studied, more than 90 percent of college-bound students taking the SAT in 1993 were U.S. citizens. [12] Only 57 percent of the Asian students taking the SAT were U.S. citizens; 28 percent were permanent residents, and the additional 15 percent were citizens of another country. Latin Americans reported that 64 percent of the students taking the SAT were U.S. citizens, 26 percent were permanent residents, and 10 percent were citizens of another country. (See appendix table 3-10.)

Achievement Tests Up arrow

Although approximately 18 percent of all students who took the SAT in 1993 also took at least one achievement test, the proportion of students taking at least one achievement test varies dramatically by racial/ethnic group. While whites, Mexican Americans, and Latin Americans all took achievement tests at a rate similar to the national average of 18 percent, the proportion was lower for blacks (8 percent), American Indians (11 percent), and Puerto Ricans (12 percent). On the other hand, the proportion of Asian SAT takers who also took at least one achievement test was far above the national average (40 percent). (See figure 3-6.)

Figure 3-6

Intended Undergraduate Major Up arrow

At the time they took the SAT in 1993, only 4 percent of all females intended to study engineering. The females in each racial/ethnic group exhibited the same preference, not excepting Asians: Although more Asian females intended to major in engineering than females of most other racial/ethnic groups, their 5 percent participation is far below the 25 percent of Asian males intending to major in engineering. White females had the lowest percentage intending to study engineering (3 percent). (See appendix table 3-6.)
Six percent of black females intended to major in engineering-the largest proportion of females in any racial/ethnic group. Even here, however, the female percentage is far below the proportion of black males intending to major in engineering-20 percent.
11. Data for Hispanic groups are available separately and are presented in this report at the most detailed level possible. SAT data for Hispanics were subdivided in 1987 from two ethnic groups into three ethnic groups, so that the 10-year trend of specific Hispanic subgroups is not comparable. (The subgroup "Latin American" was available as an option beginning in 1987, in addition to the previously available Mexican American and Puerto Rican). Since 1987, scores for those who listed themselves as Latin American tended to be higher than the scores for Mexican Americans or Puerto Ricans. Up arrow

12. The SAT's descriptive questionnaire also contains a question on citizenship status. Up arrow

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