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The College Board Says SAT Writing Section Is More Predictive of College Success Than High School GPA for Minorities

The writing portion of the SAT, added three years ago, is the best predictor of college performance for incoming college freshmen, according to a new report released by the College Board, owner of the SAT.


Lawrence Bunin, senior vice president of the College Board, reported during a teleconference Tuesday that the SAT overall was almost as predictive as four years of high school grades and asserted that the new writing section was more predictive than high school grades for all minority groups.

For Blacks, the SAT was a better predictor of first-year college success than the GPA by a measure of .03. For Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, the SAT was a better predictor of college success by .01. For Hispanics, the SAT was a better predictor of college success by .01.

GPA, however, proved to be a better predictor of first-year college success for White students.

Correlation of SAT Scores and High School GPA with First-year College GPA Subgroups





Asian, Asian American or Pacific Islander




Black or African American




Hispanics, Latino, or Latin American








College Board officials said the report was the most comprehensive since the writing section was introduced. The study was based on data from more than 150,000 students at colleges and universities across the country.

In terms of race and ethnicity, the sample consists of 69 percent White students, 7 percent African American students, 7 percent Hispanic student, and less than 1 percent American Indian students.

College Board Vice President of Research and Development Wayne Camera, insisted that the highest levels of predictability were ascertained when high GPA and SAT scores were combined, suggesting that universities should continue to use the exam as an admission’s requirement.

In 2005, the SAT underwent a major reorganization. To enhance the exam’s predictability for all students the College Board altered the verbal section, renaming it the critical reading section. Analogies were removed and replaced by questions on both short and long reading passages. The mathematics section was changed to include items from more advanced math courses such as algebra II and the writing sample, previously an SATII subject test, was added.

The test now takes three hours and 45 minutes, which is 45 minutes longer than the old exam. A perfect score is now 2400, up from 1600.

According to the report, the writing section improved the predictability of the old SAT by a measure of .02, statistically insignificant to some.

Critics of the SAT say the new exam does little to increase the predictability of college performance, hinting that the test should be eliminated as an admission standard.

“The findings tend to corroborate what much of the previous research on these high-stakes tests show: That the tests alone or in combination with a high school GPA explain a relatively small portion of the variance in college freshman grades. Moreover, they explain an even smaller portion of this variance for underrepresented minority students,” said Dr. Darnell Hunt, director of the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies and a professor of sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I take the College Board’s most recent studies as further support for the importance of more holistic admissions policies that give ample weight to nontraditional indicators of merit,” Hunt said.

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing noted that the College Board’s reports conclude that high school grades can be a more accurate predictor of college performance than the SAT.

“College Board’s inability to marshal any evidence that the ‘new’ SAT is a better predictor than the old version is an admission that the revision was not a serious attempt to improve the test,” said FairTest Public Education Director Robert Schaeffer.

“Combined with the revision’s failure to address long-standing concerns about biases, these reports will further accelerate the movement toward test-optional admissions,” Schaeffer said. 

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