Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Ask the Narrator: SAT

Q: Does the college SAT accurately measure one’s intelligence level, or is it simply a comparative tool?


The SAT is not about intelligence. It is testing English grammar, writing, and reading skills; and algebraic interpretation and computation, along with some statistics and a bit of geometry and trig. It does not go a very good job of predicting success; high school transcripts are better, and correlate with college success fairly well.

What the SAT does do well is help the college admissions staff. Is this A average as good as that one? Does this student’s straight A transcript represent good grades in hard math courses or are the courses mislabeled? Are the teachers over- or under- grading?

If you got As in math through “precalculus” but score a 450 in math, that’s telling. If there’s nothing else in the application that explains this discrepancy, like documented test anxiety, then the school’s math department is doing a lot of “social promotion”. The SAT is a pretty good “comparative tool”, but perhaps not in the way you intended.

So why is your transcript a better predictor of college success?

Because the transcript (HS grades, really) correlates with hard work, willingness to learn and accept extra help, self-motivation, willingness to do assignments and homework as well as possible. Innate ability is a factor, but can easily be derailed by a lack of the other characteristics.

Perhaps not too surprising, those are the same characteristics that make a great college student. Innate intelligence is great in college but as a newly-minted adult with all of the responsibility and none of the external “controlling factors”, college students are far too often sabotaged by their own lack of control.

Also, Narrator:

With this attitude so widespread, is it any wonder that college kids can't get their heads straight?

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