Teaching the Sociological Imagination with SAT Data


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A growing body of scholarship suggests that sociologists who teach undergraduate students must first confront students’ preconceived ideologies and misconceptions before teaching them how to think sociologically (Garoutte and Bobbit-Zeher 2011; Goldsmith 2006). This in-class activity builds on the work of Goldsmith (2006) to assess students’ perceptions of recent test score gaps by gender, ethnicity, and family income both before and after instructor led discussions of the sociological imagination. This exercise is best introduced at the beginning of an introductory level sociology course and should allow for anonymity so that students feel free to express their candid perceptions. Using Powerpoint slides to reveal average test scores by gender, ethnicity, and family income in 2014 and a worksheet meant to anonymously capture students’ perceptions of these test score patterns, I noticed interesting trends among the forty three students engaged in the activity. Before discussions of the sociological imagination, explanations across students were generally stereotypical and non-sociological - although they differed based on the type of test score gap that was shown. After a 10 minute instructor lecture on the sociological imagination and a 15 minute lecture on empirical studies that link its tenets to SAT scores, students’ explanations became more sociological across the board. These changes were assessed using three outcomes. The third and highest order outcome revealed that seventy three percent of students presented critical - sociological imagination informed -understandings of SAT score gaps on an exam essay question over one month later.


Resource Type(s):
Class Activity 
Reginald A. Byron, Southwestern University 
Date Published:
Subject Area:
Class Level:
College 100 
Class Size:

Usage Notes:

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Time: 65 minutes Preparation - Print out one exercise handout (included below) for each student in your class and put the average SAT scores on three different Powerpoint slides (one for gender, one for ethnicity, and one for family income). Average SAT scores can be found at the following link:...

Learning Goals and Assessments:

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Goal 1:
Students will learn about the sociological imagination as a concept.
Assessment 1:
Students will answer a multiple choice exam question asking them to identify tenets of the sociological imagination. Ninety three percent of the students in my classes were able to do this correctly.
Goal 2:
In the short term, students will be able to explain if and/or how learning about the sociological imagination has altered their perceptions of SAT score distributions compared to those they held before our discussions of the sociological imagination.
Assessment 2:
In step #6, I asked the students to turn their papers over and answer one final question. Ninety five percent of students suggested that the sociological imagination discussions affected their ideas about the distribution of SAT scores and explained how.
Goal 3:
In the longer term, students will be able to apply their sociological imaginations to SAT scores, critique SAT score gaps, and produce sociological answers to explain them.
Assessment 3:
On their midterm exam (over one month after our discussion), I asked students to answer an essay question about the sociological imagination and how it helps them to evaluate SAT score gaps. Seventy three percent of students gave sociological answers.

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