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EXPERT AVAILABLE: MU education economist says high school students should take the SAT early and often

Aug. 28, 2018

Story Contact(s):
Sheena Rice, ricesm@missouri.edu, 573-882-8353

The views and opinions expressed in this “for expert comment” release are based on research and/or opinions of the researcher(s) and/or faculty member(s) and do not reflect the University’s official stance.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – For high school students, the SAT and ACT are the gateway to their college futures. With the tests playing a crucial role in both college admissions and scholarships, they can be critical for low-income students hoping to earn a college degree. Now, new research from Oded Gurantz, assistant professor in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri, suggests that high school students should take the SAT early and often.

“Looking at the data, it is clear that too many students are unaware that they have more than one shot when it comes to college entrance exams,” Gurantz said. “Historically underrepresented students – those who are low-income, first-generation, or minorities – are less likely to retake the SAT, and encouraging them to retake can help close the college enrollment gap and level the playing field in higher education.”

Gurantz and his co-authors, Joshua Goodman, associate professor at Harvard, and Jonathan Smith, assistant professor at Georgia State, studied more than 10 million students who took the SAT and analyzed the effects that retaking the exam had on students’ scores. They found that retaking the SAT improved admissions-relevant scores by nearly 90 points. Additionally, they found that students who retook the test were more likely to enroll in a four-year university.

For this working paper, the economists analyzed data from the SAT only. Gurantz says that the same findings would likely apply to the ACT; both standardized tests can be retaken.

While there are clear benefits to retaking the college entrance exams, many people do not know it’s possible to take the SAT or ACT multiple times. The researchers found 54 percent of SAT-takers retake the SAT at least once, implying that nearly half the students never retake the exam. Only 45 percent of 2015 ACT-takers retook the exam. Increasingly, universities encourage the practice, and 75 percent of four-year institutions only consider a student’s maximum score.

“Typing ‘retaking the SAT’ into Google yields auto-complete suggestions like, ‘How many times are you allowed to take the SAT?’ and ‘Can you retake the SAT?,” Gurantz said. “This suggests that many students do not understand the process and how retaking the SAT is completely acceptable.”

To encourage retaking, Gurantz and the co-authors recommend improving communication to low-income students about resources available regarding college admission tests like the SAT. For example, communicating that fee waivers are available, encouraging students to first take college entrance exams at an earlier date and offering opportunities to retake exams during school hours.

Gurantz and Smith both consult for the College Board, which administers the SAT. “Take two! SAT retaking and college enrollment gaps,” was published as a working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Prior to joining the faculty at MU, Gurantz was fellow in the Stanford Graduate School of Education and worked as an associate policy research scientist at the College Board. His research focuses on gaps in college enrollment and completion between students from historically underserved groups and their more privileged peers.

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