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At Age 13, SAT-M Can Predict Science Success

What if there were a simple measure that you could use to help gauge the probability of a person achieving future success in the sciences?

What if that measure already existed and was widely administered, just not at the right age to do much good?

Researchers Park et al., writing in the October issue of Psychological Science, suggest that the measure is the SAT-M, the math portion of the SAT (the test most high school students take for college admissions). And, if given at age 13 (usually long before it is traditionally taken), it can be a predictive measure of success in science. Success, in this case, is measured by either publications in a scholarly journal, or patent applications.

Teens who scored in the highest quartile on the SAT-M at age 13, and then who go on to earn doctorates or master’s degrees will have more scholarly publications (only in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics field, but not the humanities), and will also have filed signifcantly more patents.
In other words, the SAT-M — administered at age 13 (and not the traditional age of 16 or 17) — can be a helpful predictor of potential future success in one of the fields of science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Why the earlier age? Because by the time a student with the highest mathematical skills takes the SAT-M in high school, they are bumping up against the test’s ceiling score of 800. It therefore becomes less useful as a predictive instrument.

The researchers concluded that while educational credentials and opportunities are important, they cannot substitute for plain old brain power — cognitive ability—and that many researchers fail to measure or take into account this cognitive ability at earlier ages, when it is more readily measured by existing instruments (like the SAT).

The study also concluded that all that money you might pay to go to MIT may not be money well-spent. Whether you go into a top-ranked university isn’t as important as this existing innate cognitive ability, as both groups do just as well with patents and scholarly publications.

So if you want to find out if your child is a budding scientist, let them take the SAT when they’re 13. A score of 702 or better indicates a potential doctorate in one of these fields.


Park, G., Lubinksi, D. & Benbow, C.P. (2008). Ability differences among people who have commensurate degrees matter for scientific creativity. Psychological Science, 19(10), 957-961.

At Age 13, SAT-M Can Predict Science Success

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). At Age 13, SAT-M Can Predict Science Success. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 24, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 30 Nov 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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