Bias in the SAT and ACT Tests

Ramie Ruble, Editor-in-Chief

One of the key parts of getting ready for college is to take college admission tests, such as the SAT or ACT.  Students usually start taking these tests in the spring of their junior year, to give themselves time to improve their score if it is not to their liking.  A students’ entire academic future rests on these tests.  Your score determines not only whether or not you will be admitted to the school of your choice, but how much scholarship money you will receive.

While these tests have good intentions, the scores of students are consistently inaccurate in predicting college performance.  Both the SAT and ACT tend to be biased towards upper-class, white, males who have the ability to adequately prepare for the tests.  Women consistently score lower on these tests than men, regardless of social class, even though they receive higher grades than men in high school and college classes.

In an article found on the Fair Test website, researcher Carol Dwyer cites the example that, “for the first several years the SAT was offered, males scored higher than females on the Math section but females achieved higher scores on the Verbal section. ETS policy-makers determined that the Verbal test needed to be “balanced” more in favor of males, and added questions pertaining to politics, business and sports to the Verbal portion. Since that time, males have outscored females on both the Math and Verbal sections.”  Dwyer also noted that there has been no effort made to “balance” the Math section, and she concludes that, “It could be done, but it has not been, and I believe that probably an unconscious form of sexism underlies this pattern. When females show the superior performance, ‘balancing’ is required; when males show the superior performance, no adjustments are necessary.”

The time restraints placed on the SAT and ACT also act in favor of men.  In studies conducted by the NCFOT, women are more likely to take time to certify that they have the right answer, and check their work, while men are more likely to make an educated guess.  Studies have also shown that when time constraints are removed from the test, females’ scores dramatically improve, while males’ scores stay the same or improve only slightly.

The questions also include diction that is not commonly used in the modern day, making it hard for people whose strong point is not vocabulary, or who do not speak English as a first language.  They also, especially on the SAT, word questions very strangely, where there could be two possible grammatically correct answers, but the true answer is the stylistic preference of whoever wrote the question.

Since there is so much evidence that SAT and ACT scores are not good predictors of college performance, several schools have chosen to eliminate the consideration of these test scores for college admission.  Wake Forrest University is one of the schools which has eliminated these tests , and a sociology professor there, Joseph Soares, has written a book titled SAT Wars, which argues for the elimination of these tests as grounds for admission to schools.  Soares stated, “High SAT scores over-predict how well a student is going to do in college, and they’re inversely related to academic engagement.”

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A full list of schools that do not require SAT or ACT tests can be found here: