Results and Key Takeaways from the National SAT Validity Study

The College Board has released results from the first National SAT Validity Study that examined how well SAT scores predict first-year college grades and retention to the second year.

The College Board has released results from the first National SAT Validity Study that examined how well SAT scores predict first-year college grades and retention to the second year. This is among the largest SAT validity studies ever conducted, based on data from more than 223,000 students across 171 four-year colleges and universities.

In 2016, the College Board launched a redesigned SAT that focuses more on what is being taught in classrooms and what research shows is essential for college readiness and success. We wanted the SAT Suite of Assessments to go beyond delivering test scores to delivering opportunities designed to help students clear a path to college. 

Our goal in making these changes, was to better serve students while maintaining the strong predictive validity of SAT scores for use by higher education. Colleges and universities can continue to confidently use SAT scores as part of their admissions processes.

The results of this study show that SAT scores provide valuable information about college readiness. And, on its own and when paired with other factors, can indicate a student’s likelihood of college success, as well as whether they might need extra help or intervention to be successful. Higher education admission and enrollment leaders can be confident in continuing to use SAT scores as part of their holistic admissions process.

Specifically, results show that:

  • SAT scores are strongly predictive of college performance—students with higher SAT scores are more likely to have higher grades in college.
  • SAT scores are predictive of student retention to their second year—students with higher SAT scores are more likely to return for their sophomore year.
  • SAT scores and HSGPA are both related to academic performance in college but tend to measure slightly different aspects of academic preparation. Using SAT scores in conjunction with HSGPA is the most powerful way to predict future academic performance. 
    • On average, SAT scores add 15% more predictive power above grades alone for understanding how students will perform in college.
    • SAT scores help to further differentiate student performance in college within narrow HSGPA ranges.
  • Colleges can use SAT scores to identify students who may be in need of academic support before they start college and throughout their college education by monitoring predicted versus actual performance and help position these students for success.

Validity is one of the most fundamental considerations in developing and evaluating tests. It is the degree to which evidence and theory support the interpretations of test scores for proposed uses of tests. Without test scores that are valid for what they’re intended to be used for, a test serves no purpose.

In her recent scholarly paper, Assessment in American Higher Education: The Role of Admissions Tests, researcher Rebecca Zwick reminds us of the important role that test scores can serve in understanding the strengths and weaknesses that an applicant and ultimately, enrolled student, may arrive on campus with. Zwick writes, “Recent studies have shown that, although the college enrollment rate for high school leavers in the lowest SES quartile has increased substantially in recent decades (from 28 percent in 1970 to 46 percent in 2016), the percentage of low-SES young adults with bachelor’s degrees has changed by only a small amount…Resources and support services are needed to make sure they cross the finish line.”

The study we are sharing today shows that the SAT is a critical tool for identifying students who will be successful at an institution and also identifying students who may need additional resources and support in order to complete their degrees.