Each academic year, millions of students take the SAT at nearly 7,000 test centers in more than 170 countries. Nearly all four-year colleges and universities in the U.S. — including test-optional institutions — use SAT scores because the SAT is a reliable measure of college readiness as well as a fair and valid indicator of likely college success for students from all backgrounds.
The SAT measures the reading, mathematics and writing knowledge and skills that are part of a rigorous high school curriculum, and how well students can apply that knowledge. The SAT also measures academic preparedness for college by examining how a student reasons, communicates and solves problems.
The SAT measures the reading, mathematics and writing skills that are part of a rigorous high school curriculum and that students need to be successful in college.
- The reading section assesses students’ ability to draw inferences, synthesize information, distinguish between main and supporting ideas and understand vocabulary as it is used in context.
- The mathematics section requires students to apply mathematical concepts, solve problems and use data literacy skills in interpreting tables, charts and graphs.
- The writing section requires students to communicate ideas clearly and effectively; improve writing through revision and editing; recognize and identify sentence-level errors; understand grammatical elements and structures and how they relate to each other in a sentence; and improve coherence of ideas within and among paragraphs.
The College Board periodically conducts curriculum surveys of high school and college educators to ensure the SAT reflects the skills and knowledge considered important by both high school teachers and college professors.
A Valid Predictor of College Success
Admissions officers use the SAT in conjunction with other measures such as high school GPA to predict how well a student will perform academically at a particular college or university.
In college admissions, predictive validity refers to the ability of an admissions factor (SAT scores, HSGPA, etc.) to successfully predict a specific outcome (first-year GPA, retention to second year, etc.).
The College Board conducts regular validity research to evaluate the efficacy of the SAT. Research shows that the combination of the SAT with high school grades is a better predictor of college success than SAT scores or high school grades alone.
In 2006 the College Board initiated a multi-year, national validity study to follow cohorts of students through their college years, enabling the College Board to acquire longitudinal data about the efficacy of the SAT to predict college outcomes beyond the first year. To date, more than 200 four-year colleges and universities have participated in the national validity study. The participants represent a broad cross-section of four-year higher education institutions, based on size, sector (public/private), selectivity and geography.
The national validity studies have found that the SAT is not only a valid predictor of first-year college GPA, but also predicts fourth-year cumulative GPA equally as well as high school GPA. As always, the combined use of the SAT and high school GPA is the best predictor of college GPA.
Validity of the SAT and High School GPA in Predicting College Outcomes
Each section of the SAT is a valid and strong predictor of college performance.
The SAT (CR, M, W) predicts first-year GPA and fourth-year cumulative GPA as well as high school GPA.
The combined use of the SAT (CR, M, W) and HSGPA is the best predictor of both first-year GPA and fourth-year cumulative GPA.
SAT + High School GPA
Research shows that the SAT along with high school grades is a highly effective combination for predicting how well a student will perform in college.
Fair for All Students
The College Board is committed to ensuring that the SAT is fair for all students. As a rigorously researched and designed standardized test, the SAT is consistently shown to be a fair and valid predictor of college success for all students, regardless of gender, race, or socio-economic status.
Great care goes into developing and evaluating every question that appears on the SAT. College Board test development committees made up of experienced educators and subject-matter experts determine the test specifications and the types of questions that are asked.
Before appearing in a test form that will count toward a student’s score, every potential SAT question is:
- Reviewed by external subject matter experts (math or English teachers) to make sure it reflects the knowledge and skills that are part of a rigorous high school curriculum.
- Subjected to an independent, external sensitivity review process.
- Pretested on a diverse sample of students from around the world in live testing conditions (this is the extra “unscored section” that test-takers complete as part of every SAT test). Any question that performs differently for any gender or racial/ethnic group is eliminated.
There are numerous research studies demonstrating the fairness of the SAT, including studies by researchers at the University of California–Santa Barbara and the University of Minnesota. In particular, a recent study [i] published in Psychological Science showed that the SAT and high school GPA remain essentially as predictive of first-year GPA after controlling for student socioeconomic status, indicating that the SAT is not a measure of socioeconomic status.
Mean score differences among various groups of students reflect the many underlying factors related to performance on the SAT, including access to — and participation in — core courses and more advanced course work, family background and parental education.
Integral to College Admission
With more students than ever pursuing a college degree admission officers consider college entrance exams such as the SAT integral to the college admission process. In the most recent “State of College Admission” report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC), admission test scores ranked as the third-most important factor in college admission, behind only grades in college preparatory courses and strength of curriculum, and ahead of factors such as grades in all courses, application essay and class rank. Nearly 60 percent of admissions officers stated admission test scores were of “considerable importance,” up from 46 percent in 1993.
Factors of Considerable Importance in College Admission
The SAT is an important tool for college admissions officers seeking to build the most promising freshman class for their particular institution. What each college or university defines as “most promising” may differ, but the SAT is a valuable predictor of college success regardless of an institution’s specific goals, as evidenced by the national SAT validity research discussed earlier.
Recently published research[ii] also has demonstrated that the SAT adds incremental value above HSGPA in the prediction of cumulative GPA across all college majors and that the SAT tended to be most predictive of cumulative GPA in the STEM majors.
Validity Studies by Colleges
Colleges and universities utilize a variety of academic factors such as high school GPA, SAT scores and strength of curriculum to assess an applicant’s likelihood of success at that institution. As a result, college and universities need to be sure that each admission factor is a valid and reliable predictor of desired college outcomes for their specific population of students.
Colleges and universities are encouraged to conduct regular SAT validity studies, either independently or through The Admitted Class Evaluation Service™ (ACES™), the free College Board validity study service. Last year, more than 175 colleges and universities conducted nearly 250 separate validity studies through ACES.
[i] The Role of Socioeconomic Status in SAT-Grade Relationships and in College Admissions Decisions. By Paul R. Sackett, Nathan R. Kuncel, Adam S. Beatty, Jana L. Rigdon, Winny Shen, and Thomas B. Kiger. University of Minnesota (2012).