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half enough

Bad SAT/GRE genes?

I’m preparing to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to apply for graduate school. Studying for this exam takes me back to high school when taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)—the required exam for any high school student or graduate applying to an undergraduate four-year college— was the biggest thing.

I was college-bound but didn’t take the SAT seriously. I didn’t study for the exam and, I think, as a result didn’t do well. Although I took the exam three times my score didn’t improve. I went to a predominantly Hispanic (99.99%) high school, where the student body was considered by the city of Los Angeles and the state of California to be a low-income and underprivileged minority (or Hispanic). This was the ironic thing. I was a low-income, “underprivileged” non-minority. (I put “underprivileged” in quotations because I believe “underprivileged” in the United States is a frame of mind.) I am White (of European ancestry) and Japanese. The average SAT scores for White and Asian American high school students were much higher than what I scored. Even my fellow low-income, “underprivileged” Hispanic minority high school peers scored higher than me. Although I could have used being low-income and “underprivileged” as a reason (or excuse) for my low test scores, I knew I would be lying.

For many of my 5,600 high school peers at the time, being a student at a low-income, “underprivileged” minority high school became reasons for scoring low on standardized tests such as the SAT and the Stanford 9. They were also reasons why only 29% of my graduating senior class of 2001 at Theodore Roosevelt High School enrolled in college.

Despite the fact my SAT scores were low, lower than the expected average for any average American high school student and definitely lower than my ethnic groups (there was no “Other” or “Multiracial” bubble to fill in 1999), I still got into college and there developed better study habits. I also developed a stronger sense for finding purpose in standardized tests, hence, me studying for my GRE that will take place next month.

Numerous articles have been written and studies led by prominent research institutions suggesting correlations between ethnicity, along with socioeconomic status, and SAT scores. The average SAT scores categorized by race in 2003 showed Asian Americans and Whites to have the highest average scores. Asian Americans beat the Whites by 19 points, 1083 to 1064.* (Being both, my average score should have been 1075.) In third place were those who filled in the “Other” ethnic bubble, with an average score of 1014. If I had the “Other” option when I took my SAT in 1999, one year before the 2000 Census added the “Other” ethnic bubble, my score would have probably dropped that average a few points. I filled in the “White” bubble, however, after a good six minutes of contemplation. I wanted to fill in both the Asian and White bubble but since we were only allowed to fill in one, I concluded that my White last name outweighed my Japaneseness. So for SAT and other standardized testing purposes, I was always White, though there were a few times when I filled in the “Asian” bubble because I felt like it.

What does this all mean for me anyway since I’m taking the GRE and not the SAT? Well, it’s practically the same exam except that I am not an anxious teenager and I’ve been schooled in the university system for at least four years. The main difference, I gather, between the SAT and the GRE is that my ethnicity and socioeconomic status have no bearing on my score since I am an adult and taking the exam is completely my choice.

Preparing for the GRE, or any other exam for that matter, is free. I can borrow books from the library.

I’m curious to see what the analysts have gathered from GRE scores by ethnicity. While I’d like to believe that GRE scores don’t correlate with SAT scores, I highly doubt it. My bets are on Asian Americans and Whites in the number one and two spots. In third, the “Others.”


© 2007 Victoria Kraus

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"Half Enough" is Victoria's first regular column series. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Discover Nikkei.