college successOne of the biggest issues in the last several years with regards to college testing is the validity of ACT and SAT scores. Several questions have been raised about whether or not ACT or SAT predicts college success. Although there are a lot of individual factors that go into a student’s overall success level, a high score on the SAT or ACT can be a reliable indicator of college success.

More than 2 million students took the SAT during the 2010 – 11 school year, and since its inception in 1926 nearly 100 million students have taken the SAT. Approximately 1.2 million students took the ACT during the same school year. 

The ACT and SAT tests are very different – it’s like comparing apples to oranges. Students can choose to take one or both tests in order to include their scores in their college application information. If a student decides to take both tests, normally only one is considered by admissions boards. 

What is the Controversy over ACT and SAT scores?

Two separate papers in 2008 and 2011 called the validity of the SAT and ACT into question. The 2008 paper focused on the new SAT that included a written portion and the 2011 paper was focused on the ACT. 

Although both papers caused a great deal of controversy, both college admissions officers and the testing boards have been able to show links between the test and college success. 

Nearly all four-year undergraduate college and universities in the United States accept and use the SAT and ACT as a reliable measure of readiness. Despite these two papers, research has consistently shown that high scores on these tests can lead to higher grades in college. 

The SAT and ACT were never meant to be exact measures of intellectual preparedness but this doesn’t mean that they should be ignored. Without these tests, colleges would place more emphasis on high school grades and other activities. These measurements are even more widely disproportionate. Schools have different measurements for grades, some inflate their grades and activities can be added on to school transcripts in order to give a boost to students who need it.

How the SUNY System Showed the SAT Works

Looking at one of the largest university systems in the United States can show how the SAT and ACT can indicate college success. The Provost of the State University of New York implemented a review of the admissions profiles and 6 year graduation rates of the entering classes of 1997 and 2001. The review included SUNY’s 16 baccalaureate programs and over 200,000 enrolled students. 

The multiple SUNY admissions departments use a template for admissions that includes applicant’s high school grade point averages and their SAT or ACT test scores. Some of the schools raised their bar for the minimum SAT score during this time period. The departments that raised their SAT minimum saw a substantial gain in graduation rates in just four years.

Although this sample size was only for these four years, and only considered SAT scores, its strong evidence that ACT and SAT scores can relate to college success. 

In short, scoring well on one of the college standardized tests is a good predictor for overall college success. It’s not the ultimate measure of intelligence, but scoring well can help high school students do better in college. 


Photo by Ericka Clouther