As a researcher who specializes in the study of Asian-Americans and higher education, I see three factors that help explain this trend around test scores.
1. Many Asian-American students are socialized into test prep
As I document in my book, “Race on Campus,” many Asian-American students get frequent messages from an early age about the importance of doing well on tests. Test prep businesses may post an “honor roll” that features local youth and their elite college destinations. Relatives may stress that good test scores matter.
These messages are powerful, as explained in the book “The Asian American Achievement Paradox.” They set up high expectations for Asian-American students. Test prep becomes a way of meeting those expectations.
In many ways, these messages reflect the influence of East Asia, where college admission is decided on a single high-stakes test – such as China’s gaokao or South Korea’s suneung – and where intense test prep is a regular feature of teenage life. For that reason, many Asian immigrant parents see the SAT or ACT as the equivalent of Asia’s admissions tests. As a result, many conclude that test prep is a worthy investment.