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Does The SAT Predict College Success?

You’ve worked hard, studied for months, and finally earned an impressive SAT score. While that part of the college preparation process is behind you, you might be left wondering if it’s any indicator that the rest of your college experience will go smoothly.

If you’ve earned an SAT score in the 99th percentile, meaning that you scored higher than 99% of other test takers, for instance, that should indicate that the grades you earn in college will be higher than most as well, right?

According to the College Board, yes!

A national SAT validity study found that students with higher SAT scores were more likely to have higher grades in college and that the SAT is “essentially as effective” as high school grades in predicting students’ college performance.

In fact, the study notes that SAT scores add 15% more predictive power above GPA alone when determining how well a student will do in college. Students with high SAT scores typically earn higher grades, and students with very low SAT scores often need additional academic support in college.

When combined with knowledge of a student’s high school GPA, the SAT is a powerful predictor of future college success.

If it seems strange that one single score can tell so much about how well a student will do in college, that’s because it is!

The reason for this is because this predictor is less about the score that a student earns and more about the skills that are measured by the SAT that typically translate into strong college performance.

As such, it is important to note that these scores do not always determine college success. There are certainly students who score highly on the SAT who do not earn impressive grades in college as well as students who do poorly on the SAT who are doing great in college.

Someone who has a high ability for taking tests and did not put in any time studying for the SAT might not have the study skills and critical thinking strategies necessary to handle the higher-level thinking that college courses require. Sometimes students score higher on the test than others, not necessarily because they worked harder, but because they went to a better school or their parents could afford private SAT tutors.

Similarly, a low SAT score is not indicative of the amount of effort a student will put forth during college. Some students study hard but get too anxious during a high-stakes test to perform well. Others lack the resources and preparation time that would give them a competitive edge on the test.

However, even though these cases are possible, overall there is a high correlation between SAT scores and college performance.

The correlation between SAT scores and college success is not arbitrary or coincidental in the least. The main reason why SAT scores are such a good indicator of future college success is that students who do well on the SAT typically possess the skills they will need in order to do well in college. 

Here are two key skills that can be measured by the SAT that translate to college success:

Growth mindset

Coined by psychologist Carol Dweck, a growth mindset is one where people believe they have the power to improve their present situation with hard work and dedication rather than giving into current circumstances.

Instead of saying, “this is too hard,” or “I’m not good at this,” or simply giving up when a task is challenging, individuals with a growth mindset say, “I can’t do this yet,” and keep working until they find success.

This type of mindset is common for students who earn high scores on the SAT.

For one, most test takers do not score in the 99th percentile or even earn their goal score on their first attempt taking the test. That is why it is recommended that students have taken the SAT at least once by the winter of their junior year and a couple more times before college applications are due their senior year.

When these students see that they have fallen short of their target score or of reaching a top percentile, they don’t give up and label themselves as bad test takers or unintelligent students who will never be able to do well on this test. Instead, they look at their score reports, spend countless hours studying, and try to learn from their mistakes.

Chances are that a student with a high SAT score has taken the test more than once, operating with a growth mindset to determine that they will eventually reach their target score if they keep working hard and studying.

This is the same attitude that is required of students who do well academically in college. In college, students will have challenging courses over challenging topics. To get good grades, they can’t throw in the towel the first time they encounter a topic they don’t understand. They have to be willing to go to office hours, join study groups, and spend time learning complicated material in order to find success.

If a student earns a high score on the SAT, it is likely that they have the growth mindset necessary for college success.

Strong study habits

For most students, doing well on the SAT requires months of dedicated study. 

Students who score in the 99th percentile on the SAT know how to forgo fun activities they would prefer to do after school and on weekends in favor of reviewing SAT practice questions, memorizing the format of the test, creating and studying flashcards, and making sure they know the ins and outs of every concept on the test.

The depth of studying required is also immense. Doing well on the SAT requires more than just answering questions on practice tests. It involves students thoroughly reviewing any incorrect answers so that they don’t repeat any of the same mistakes. It involves reading and reviewing detailed answer keys so that they know exactly why a correct answer is correct.

In this way, students who do well on the SAT typically have impressive study habits.

These same study habits are necessary for students to earn good grades in college. In college, it is not enough to simply read assigned texts. Students have to thoughtfully annotate and study these texts. It’s not enough for students to memorize key terms for a class. Students need to study these terms to the point where they can apply them.

The strong study habits that students develop in order to earn a good SAT score can also be used to help them do well when they go to college.

While your SAT score does not guarantee that you will perform well in college, it can indicate that you have these two skills that are important for college success.

Learn more about how these skills can help you improve your SAT score when you sign up for an SAT prep course or private SAT tutoring through Prep Expert.

Prep Expert

Written by Prep Expert

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