SAT gauges more than collegiate success

On February 13, high-school juniors and seniors were able to access their January 2006 SAT scores through the College Board website. The test is an important step toward gaining college acceptance. But new research shows that the test may go far beyond predicting college success; when taken in the early teens, it may actually foretell a person's success and life satisfaction after university.

According to Vanderbilt University psychology researchers David Lubinski and Camilla Benbow, along with Rose Mary Webb (Appalachian State University) and April Bleske-Rechek (University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire), high SAT scores at young ages can reveal individuals who have cognitive and creative potential for future success as doctors, engineers and professors. Their study provides evidence that students who scored in the top .01 percentile of their age group on the SAT before age 13 were more likely than a comparison group of graduate students to later achieve a MD degree, earn an annual salary of at least $100,000, or secure a tenure-track position in a top-50 ranked institution.

The findings are reported in the article "Tracking Exceptional Human Capital Over Two Decades" in the March issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science (previously the American Psychological Society).

The study compared 380 young SAT takers and 586 graduate students. Students under age 13 who scored in the top .01 percentile of their age group on the SAT in the early 1980s were considered having exceptional cognitive abilities; 20 years later (2003-2004), these students were surveyed on their education, career, success, and life satisfaction. Graduate students who had been enrolled in a top-ranked engineering, mathematics, or physical science program in 1992 also took the survey in 2003-2004.

Survey results found education levels and career paths to be very similar between the two groups. A minimal difference was found between the percentage of graduate students and young SAT-takers who obtained a doctoral-level degree from a highly-ranked institution. Likewise, similar careers were frequently reported between the two groups, including careers in postsecondary education, engineering, science, medicine and law.

Success of graduate students and young SAT-takers was measured by tenure and income. Survey results revealed higher income and tenure status as a university professor among the SAT-taking group than the graduate students in the follow-up study. More doctoral-level graduate students were found in academic positions than were SAT-takers who went on to receive a doctorate, but those SAT-takers who did go into academia secured more tenure-track positions at highly ranked institutions than the doctoral-level graduate students did. The young SAT-takers also reported higher incomes.

Despite income and tenure differences, both SAT-taking and graduate student participants reported high overall life satisfaction, including career fulfillment, perceived success, and positive relationships with significant others.

The results of this longitudinal study on the ability of the SAT to predict long-term achievement and life satisfaction come as other research is demonstrating the potential flexibility of the SAT to be an accurate measure of IQ.

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For more information, contact David Lubinski at david.lubinski@vanderbilt.edu.

Psychological Science is ranked among the top 10 general psychology journals for impact by the Institute for Scientific Information.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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