University News

Poll finds correlation between SAT scores, area of study

About 40 percent of physical science concentrators report 2300 or higher on SAT

By
Senior Staff Writer
Monday, November 7, 2016

Though the SAT may be a distant memory for some college students, it continues to play a significant role in college admission as high school students aim to gain entrance to their dream colleges.

According to The Herald’s fall 2016 undergraduate poll, physical science concentrators tend to have higher SAT scores than non-physical science concentrators. Roughly 39 percent of students concentrating in the physical sciences — which encompass physics, chemistry, math, computer science and engineering — reported applying with a score above 2300, compared to about 26 percent of non-physical science concentrators. Additionally, 6 percent of physical science concentrators scored below 2000, compared to 14 percent of non-physical science concentrators.

According to multiple student sources, a possible reason for the correlation between physical science concentrators and higher scores is that these students tend to have stronger math skills, which can carry them through a third of the test.

Physical science concentrators’ “solution-oriented” mindset and experience with problem sets from high school classes may have trained them to solve problems more quickly, said Alyson Singleton ’19, an applied mathematics concentrator. This may be helpful because the test is so time-sensitive.

The ability to break down problems may have helped physical science concentrators strategically approach and navigate each section during the test, said Connor Lynch ’17, a coordinator for the physics departmental undergraduate group.

Data from the poll also show a correlation between socioeconomic status and SAT scores. For example, only 6.3 percent of students who reported scoring above 2300 were first-generation college students, even though first-generation students composed 14.1 percent of respondents. Additionally, 64 percent of students who reported scoring above 2300 do not receive any financial aid, higher than the 51.2 percent of overall respondents who do not receive financial aid.

Nathan Buchwald ’19, a chemistry concentrator, said some people believe science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields have an intimidating “aura.” This can dissuade students who lack adequate STEM-centered resources in their high schools  — and thus feel less confident in their abilities — from staying in the field, he added.

Logan Powell, dean of admission, said that the Office of College Admission’s data on the class of 2020 does not show evidence of an association between physical science concentrators and higher SAT scores. There is a correlation between physical science concentrators and higher scores on the math section, but humanities concentrators tend to score better on the critical reading and writing portions, he added.

Overall, any difference in cumulative SAT scores between physical science concentrators and non-physical science concentrators is minimal, Powell said. The SAT scores for all groups are so high that it is difficult to determine whether one group truly scores higher than another, he added.   

Many students do not believe the SAT is an accurate indicator of intelligence or college success. Kevin Li ’18, a computer science-economics concentrator, said studying for the test was about repetition, and most people could probably score well if they spent enough hours working on practice problems.

But a high SAT score does not necessarily reflect work ethic, said Stephen Leung ’19, a computer science concentrator. The scores also do not reflect other factors of success, such as how well a student communicates and works with other people in a school environment, Lynch said.

Despite the criticism, several students said they believe the SAT should be maintained as part of the admission process. It is a “necessary evil” to get to college, said Shreya Ramayya ’19 MD’23. Even with its shortcomings, the test has some value in assessing basic math skills, reading comprehension and time management ability, Lynch added. Students said scores should be a factor in determining admission because there has to be a standardized measurement, but they should not be overly emphasized.