Millions of people in the US know what the SAT is from first-hand experience. It’s one of those hoops that lots of us had to jump through in the process of passing from high school into college. But what exactly does the SAT measure? It turns out that even the Educational Testing Service, which produces the test, really doesn’t have an answer to that. But a new study by the journal Psychological Science claims to prove that the SAT is actually an IQ test.
The authors … argue that the SAT actually measures "general intelligence" — or g, in the argot of psychometricians — more effectively than some IQ tests wielded by psychologists (which often ask test-takers to do things like discern patterns in strings of numbers). The authors even provide formulas for converting SAT scores into IQ scores. [Unfortunately, the formulas don’t seem to be online.]
For a variety of reasons, the folks at ETS don’t like the connection between SAT scores and IQ, even though the original test grew out the IQ tests given to American soldiers during World War I. Over the years ETS has changed both the name of the test and their definition of it. Originally the A stood for Achievement and was later changed to Assessment. Today, ETS wants you to think that the name of the test is just SAT and that the letters don’t stand for anything.
The whole idea of the SAT being an IQ test seems a little strange. Based on what little I remember from my psych classes, IQ is supposed to be something that’s set early in life and which can’t be altered much if at all. Maybe that definition has changed in these many years. On the other hand, there is a large, very profitable business that’s grown up around coaching students to improve their score on the SAT. ETS maintains that the SAT is "uncoachable" but that’s probably because they aren’t making any money from the prep industry.
In the end, none of this really makes any difference, of course. Although the format of the SAT is changing (a writing test will be required starting next spring), taking the test will continue to be one of those traditional challenges that a majority of high school students must face in order to pass into the next phase of their lives. Just like college applications, you don’t have to understand it, just do it.
Update (7/6/04): Chris Correa, a new-to-me blogger who seems to have a background in psychology, found the mysterious formula for converting SAT score into an IQ score: IQ = (0.095 * SATMath) + (-0.003 * SATVerbal) + 50.241. Now if I could just remember what my scores were. :-)