Math Scores Up, Verbal Scores Flat On Latest College-Entrance Exams

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High school upperclassmen are showing slightly better mathematics skills than their predecessors, but are failing to surpass their elders' verbal skills, according to scores on the two major college-entrance exams.

For the third consecutive year, the average score on the math section of the SAT I: Reasoning Test rose while the verbal scores remained flat. Since 1990, the mean math score has jumped 12 points, from 500 to 512 this year, while the verbal score has risen 5 points, from 500 to 505.

The trend on the ACT has been similar. Students scored an average of 20.8 on the math section of the test, 0.7 points higher than in 1993. On the English portion, this year's average was 20.4, just one-tenth of a point up from 1993, and the reading average was 21.4, up 0.2 points from five years ago.

The overall average for the ACT, which also includes a science-reasoning section, was 21--the same as last year and 0.3 points higher than in 1993.

The highest a student can score is 1600 on the SAT and 36 on the ACT.

The stagnant verbal scores are attributed to the increasing number of test-takers who learned English as a second language, while rising math scores are due to the increased number of students taking high-level math courses such as trigonometry and calculus, according to officials from the College Board, the New York City-based group that administers the SAT, and ACT Inc., located in Iowa City, Iowa.

For More Information:

The 1998 SAT results are available at the College Board's World Wide Web site,, or by calling (212) 713-8000.

The 1998 ACT scores are available at the ACT Web site,, or by calling (319) 337-1028.

For example, students who had taken English-as-a-second-language courses scored 76 points below the average on the verbal portion of the SAT, the College Board said.

Minority Gains?

Overall, minority students are showing gains, but not enough to close the gap between them and other racial groups.

"African-Americans and Latinos have been improving their course-taking, but test scores are falling further behind white and Asian-American students," Donald M. Stewart, the president of the College Board, said last week at a Washington press conference held to announce the SAT results. "Those scores are rising at a much slower rate and from a lower base than white and Asian-American students'."

The difference can be seen in the average test scores of geographic areas, Mr. Stewart added. Suburban students, who are predominantly white, score 17 points higher than the overall average, while urban students, about half of whom are black and Hispanic, fall 13 points below the mean.

High-Level Courses Count

The results of both the SAT and the ACT show the importance of taking higher-level courses.

On the ACT, students who had completed calculus or another high-level math course scored almost 2 points higher than average on the math section. Students who had completed two years of algebra and one year of geometry--a less demanding math curriculum--scored 2 points below the average, according to ACT Inc.

"Students who study Algebra I and geometry ... may feel that that's enough math," ACT President Richard L. Ferguson, said in releasing the test results last month.

"But every year, their average scores indicate that they're not ready for college-level work."

Other results suggest:

  • Grade inflation continues. In 1988, 28 percent of students reported a grade point average of A-minus or higher. Today, 38 percent of students say their GPA is at that level. Yet, today's A students score 12 points lower in verbal and 3 points lower in math on the SAT than their peers did in 1988. The College Board is assembling a commission to study grade inflation in high schools.
  • The gender gap on both college-entrance exams is slowly shrinking. Girls on average scored 20.9 on the ACT, just three-tenths of a point lower than boys. In 1990, the gap was more than twice that.

On this year's SAT, boys scored 7 points higher on the verbal section than girls, an improvement of 5 points over the past 10 years. But in math, girls have narrowed the gap with boys by just 3 points, from 38 points to 35 points, over the past decade.

  • The number of students taking Advanced Placement exams administered by the College Board more than doubled in the past 10 years, from 292,162 in 1988 to 635,168 this past school year. About 35,000 of the students taking AP tests earn enough credits to enter college as sophomores.
  • Minority students are at a disadvantage in gaining access to AP exams. Forty-six percent of the nation's schools do not offer the exams, and most of those are in urban areas, said Wade Curry, the director of the Advanced Placement program for the College Board.

Vol. 18, Issue 1, Page 16

Published in Print: September 9, 1998, as Math Scores Up, Verbal Scores Flat On Latest College-Entrance Exams
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