In what the authors term the largest analysis of its kind in social science, University of Minnesota researchers have found that the widely used SAT test is a valid predictor of success in college.
Using the technique of meta-analysis, the researchers summarized previous research on how well the SAT predicts performance in college. The studies covered two- and four-year colleges, both public and private and of varying sizes.
Initial results show that scores on the test predict all the measures of college success the team has examined to date. The researchers will present their work Saturday, April 28, in the Sheraton Hotel and Marina in San Diego during a meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.
"We located more than 1,700 studies, representing over a million students, that had looked at how well SAT scores predicted first-year grade point average," said Sarah Hezlett, manager of the research team and a graduate student at the university. "People who do better on the test have higher GPA's in their first year in college."
The team also found the SAT predicts GPA during later years in college, as well as study habits, persistence and degree attainment. SAT scores also were related to scores on state nursing board exams; therefore, said the researchers, the SAT predicts success in entering the nursing profession.
One reason why some may have questioned the test's validity is that not everyone who takes the test goes to college, and this makes it harder to evaluate the test as a predictor of performance, the researchers said.
"Since lower-scoring test-takers may not attend college, the validity of the test has often been under-estimated," said Nathan Kuncel, a psychology research fellow who served as the project's scientific and technical adviser. "Meta-analysis allows us to make a better estimate of how well the test predicts."
In response to the question of whether the SAT rewards people who are simply good at taking tests, Hezlett said the results suggest otherwise.
"If the SAT reflected test-taking skills, it would not predict college success, except to the extent that test-taking strategies help you in college," she said.
The study also examined the validity of the SAT for predicting first year grades for different sex and racial groups. There are many ways of looking at bias in tests, Kuncel said.
"We asked, 'Does the test predict at more or less the same level for different genders and races?' The result is 'Yes, it's more or less the same,'" said Kuncel. "The SAT predicts slightly better for women. This is consistent with other studies."
"We haven't examined whether the same score in two groups predicts the same outcome in college," said Hezlett.
Although the SAT predicted success in different racial groups, differences in groups' mean SAT scores remain, said Kuncel. Differences in educational background and opportunities could lead to those results, he said.
"There are no perfect predictors of success," said Deniz Ones, an associate professor of psychology and one of the principal investigators heading the project. She added that if the SAT were scrapped for any reason, one should consider the consequences of replacing it.
The study was funded by the College Board. - By Deane Morrison