The cards fall: The Truth About the SAT and ACT

This is pretty devastating , as in the truth is devastatingly real The Truth About the SAT and ACT

Myths abound about standardized tests, but the research is clear: They provide an invaluable measure of how students are likely to perform in college and beyond

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Pertinent passages:

A remarkable longitudinal study published in 2008 in the journal Psychological Science examined students who scored in the top 1% at the age of 13. Twenty years later, they were, on average, very highly accomplished, with high incomes, major awards and career accomplishments that would make any parent proud.

Yet, even within that group, higher scores mattered. Those in the top quarter of the top 1% were more likely than those merely at the bottom quarter of the top 1% to have high incomes, patents, doctorates and published literary works and STEM research.

This article echoes a TEDx talk from many years ago about how highest of scorers on the SAT have considerably higher rates of creative achievement as measured by literary output or publishing original research in a journal. Contrary to the popular but erroneous belief that standardized tests (along with IQ tests, which are related) only measure how well one does on the test, such scores are predictive of lifetime achievement, particularly for scientific and creative fields, but are also correlated with income and educational attainment, which is not surprising because people who are more educated tend to earn more money.

As far as the dating market is concerned, the two most important numbers of one’s ‘marketability’ are height and possibly shoe size. Hence, by this guideline Shaq has no problem getting action. Regarding lifetime achievement, the two most important numbers are IQ and then SAT score. Someone with an IQ of 130 and a corresponding SAT score of 1300 (going by the pre-1995 version of the test) has a good likelihood of being successful; it’s not guaranteed, obviously, but his odds are better than someone with an IQ of only 100 and a corresponding SAT score of 1000. In the comments there will always be someone who gives the predictable argument that goes goes as follows, “I know a friend or family member who has a high IQ but has done nothing with his with or her life.” The correlation between IQ and achievement, although positive, is not infallible. But this subtlety of how a correlation, which describes the relationship between two variables for aggregate data, is not always applicable to every individual case within that data, is lost on a lot of people. Scott describes this in better detail in his article Against Individual IQ Worries.

The article is devastating because it upends the popular belief, by left-leaning journalists especially, that the SAT is useless or meaningless, or that differences in scores are primarily due to environmental differences that can fixed through social programs, not due to innate/intrinsic biological factors that are impervious to such spending. The fact the SAT causes anxiety among test takers and generates so much controversy–the very fact the article in and of itself went viral–is evidence the SAT is important and predictive, as much as pundits wish it weren’t. Why is the test-taking industry so big, such as practice guides and tutoring, if it means nothing. Why do people get anxious or envious when discussing and comparing SAT scores, but much less anxiety exists when discussing, say, credit scores or golf scores.

Standardized tests are not just proxy tests of wealth, and many students from less affluent backgrounds do brilliantly on them. But the class differences in skill development are real, and improving the K-12 talent pipeline would be a huge benefit to the country.

According to Charles Murray, one of the purposes of the SAT was to help elite colleges identify high-achieving young people from low or average socioeconomic backgrounds for possible admission. Such a system, whereby advancement is based on test scores, will inevitably produce unequal outcomes, and this is why some on the left oppose the SAT, because, apparently, the fact that some groups tend to score higher than others is more problematic than lack of opportunity. The push for more extracurricular actives, which can be expensive and out of reach for low and middle-income students, is possibly an affront to the meritocracy the left decades ago championed but are now attacking.

Of the entire article, the most important part debunks that test prep and coaching produce large score gains. The cornerstone of the left’s argument against the SAT is that coaching allows the rich to gain an enormous advantage. If by ‘enormous’, they mean 10-15 points, which is what the data shows, not hundreds of points. The reason why some prep companies can tout such big gains is possibly due to deception: new students are given a practice version of the SAT that is deliberately modified to be very difficult, in order to set a baseline score. When the coaching is complete, their progress is evaluated on a normal or easy test, hence producing 100+ point gains.

Think about it–if coaching actually produced such huge gains, you’d be a fool not to do it given that the difference between a 1000 score and a 1300 score can mean the difference between attending an elite college, versus a no-name college, and a lifetime of higher earnings and connections that an elite college bestows, but also bragging rights and a boost to one’s social status that by comparison makes the $1000 or so for the coaching seem paltry. It would be a bigger ROI than even Bitcoin. If coaching worked, given the aforementioned benefits, everyone would do it, and the distribution of test scores would be rather peculiar, and rather than being bell-curve shaped would sorta resemble a step function and be very negatively skewed, with a large clustering of perfect or near-perfect scores. The mean would also rise significantly, forcing the test creators to make the test harder or do away with it completely, but new iterations of the SAT have gotten easier.

So why are the gains so meager? The reasons is because the SAT, which is similar to an IQ test, tests problem solving and critical thinking rather than ‘plug and chug’. People who are less intelligent, although with some practice can understated a problem after the solution is explained to them or by testing all the possibilities, cannot make the same sort of spontaneous and instantaneous inferences that smart people make. For a less intelligent person, when the problem changes they get stuck, but smart people get past the roadblock by quickly making a connection with a preexisting concept and then making some adjustments. Smart people have a panoramic view, whereas for the less intelligent they are looking through a keyhole. The verbal section is less coach-able than the math, because the ability to read and comprehend dense tests quickly is g-loaded and hence correlated with IQ. It’s not that smart people read more, which they often do, but also because they retain more of what they read and read faster. IQ is so pervasive, let’s consider, hypothetically, the entire verbal portion of the SAT were made public and people were allowed to memorize the questions, reading passages, and vocab words before taking the test…smart people would still come out ahead owing to superior crystallized memory, so no matter how easy or hard one makes the test, although everyone would likely get a a higher score, relative score differences would still exist due to IQ.