Every year, high school juniors and seniors take the SAT. More than 1 million students annually across the nation participate and many take it more than once. Many students have been preparing for months after realizing how important high SAT scores are in college admissions and scholarship awards. Others don’t prepare or study much, many believing that it’s an ‘intelligence test’ and can’t be studied for, or that they want to just see how well they’ll do the first time. The majority of students and parents probably don’t realize that the most important indicator of the scores has already been determined: high school courses, which are selected every year during Spring semester, and greatly affects test performance.
Each Spring, students chose which classes they will take for the following year. They (and hopefully, their parents) chose whether or not to take Pre-AP, AP, Dual Credit classes or regular classes. They also chose between elective choices, such as Computer classes, Art, Engineering, Intro to Business, Teacher Aide, and Medical Science courses. Some junior and senior year students will also get the option of choosing no class at all, or an “off campus” period, which entitles them to leave school early or arrive late.
A study by Indiana University researched students’ high school courses and compared that to their SAT scores. Their findings included:
- “All types of advanced courses were associated with higher SAT scores after controlling for student background and courses taken.
- Having an “A” GPA in high school courses also improved SAT scores and mitigated course effects.”
This means that a more rigorous curriculum and schedule benefits more students than just high achievers.
|Average SAT scores for students who took:||Calculus,AP History, and AP English||Calculus and AP History||Calculus and AP English||AP History and AP English||No AP classes|
The SAT scores shown are the Reading and Math sections only. Each section is 200-800 points. (The Writing section is excluded.)
“Bottom line: Advanced coursework can lead to higher SAT scores for all students, not just “A” students. A’s in easy courses are not necessarily better than B’s in more advanced courses in terms of their impact on SAT scores.”
Effects on College and Scholarships
We have known for years that SAT scores are very important in college choices, college acceptances, and scholarships awards. The study also showed that students with higher SAT scores (above 1097) were two and a half times more likely to attend a research university which is nationally ranked than students with mid-range scores.
“Compared to students who graduated with a regular high school diploma (i.e. no advanced courses), students with all Honors courses were 11 times more likely to attend a 4-year university than a community college and 7 times more likely to attend a research university.”
My Professional Opinion on Course Selection
Students who would like to attend college should be encouraged to start Pre-AP courses in middle school.
Pre-AP or AP courses should only be dropped for regular classes after an entire grading period or semester has passed and if the student has a C or lower average.
Electives should be chosen that interest the student AND lets them learn more about certain career fields. Good options are usually in the Career and Technology Electives category, including:
- Agricultural Science courses for students interested in animals, wildlife management, farming or horticulture.
- Audio/ Visual courses for students interested in film, music, web design or video production.
- Business courses for students interested in Finance, Marketing, Sales, or International Studies.
- Health/ Medical Science courses for students interested in nursing, medical school, forensics, or Biology.
- Information Technology courses for students interested in programming, coding or web technologies.
- STEM courses for students interested in Engineering, Architecture, Math or Technology fields.
- College bound students could also select additional classes in the core classes, by doubling up in a Science or History class, instead of choosing an easy or ‘blow off’ elective.
Parents should be cautious of allowing students to take electives that won’t help them chose a career path, won’t look positive on college applications, and won’t help their SAT scores. If the student would like to take less rigorous classes such as Teacher Aide, Floral Design, Film Appreciation, Fashion Design, and several years of Art or Theater Arts, this should be balanced with other more Advanced Electives.