Class Bias in the SAT Libby Cresap


Over 2 million high school students in the U.S. take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) every year, consequently the SAT is extremely relevant and important to their lives because most colleges and universities use the test results to assess students applying for admission.

The test began in 1926 as a way to decrease the importance of social origin in the admissions process so that colleges would select deserving students instead of those from elite families. This has shown to not be the case in reality.

Class Inequality

81% of high school graduates from families with incomes in the top 20% went on to college
While only 54% of high school graduates from families with incomes in the bottom 20% did the same

Re-examination usually improves student's scores so about 50% of the students taking the SAT take the test more than once and 15% take it more than two times.

Low income students can take the SAT twice for free while students able to pay the test fee can take it an unlimited number of times.

Test Preparation

26 points are usually gained from taking a high school course

30 points are typically gained from a private course

And a private tutor can help students achieve a 37 point increase compared to no preparation.

Test preparation companies convince students that they only need to know how to take the test to get a good score, and they promise to provide students with the tricks for doing well. Some of these expensive test preparation services, like the Princeton Review and Kaplan, guarantee a score increase even though the College Board claims test preparation is unsuccessful or useless.

Family income is directly related to the likelihood of a student using private courses or tutors, the two most expensive preparation tools, instead of no preparation.

(scores are not on SAT scale but demonstrate the amount of difference in scores) Based off an Asian student scoring 100 points to show the drop in score based off race.

Why is This Happening?

Primary and secondary education, in the U.S., is controlled locally and decentralized, not nationally or centralized. This provides affluent parents more opportunities to positively influence the quality and value of their children’s education which further sets them up to succeed. These socio-economic disparities can also be correlated to funding inequalities in primary or secondary schools which affect the quality of school supplies and teacher experience.

  • Families with higher incomes usually live in neighborhoods where the public school systems are higher quality
  • Families with high incomes often send their children to private schools where they get a superior education
  • Families that earn at higher levels can afford more books, high-speed internet access, and other educational tools that enhance their children's education
  • Students from high-income families are more likely to have a stay at home parent who can help with homework or other aspects of their child's education

What's Next?

  • Convince colleges to not require standardized tests and focus more on recommendations
  • Educational activities outside of the regular classroom like private tutoring and test preparation classes give students who are already privileged an additional advantage on the SAT. So, cheaper, high quality, and more accessible test prep options need to be available.
  • More programs like QuestBridge, Equal Opportunity Schools, MDRC, EdTrust, National College Access Network, iMentor, OneGoal, and College Possible because these programs typically only support students in the top of their high school class with strong abilities. But these programs are very beneficial for low income students to become aware of the benefits of education and to gain access to opportunities for going on to higher education.


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