Data Mining the University: College GPA Predictions from SAT Scores
27 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2010
Date Written: April 14, 2010
We analyze a data set composed of academic records of undergraduates at the University of Oregon from 2000-2004. We find correlations of roughly 0.35 to 0.5 between SAT scores and upper division, in-major GPA (henceforth, GPA). Interestingly, low SAT scores do not preclude high performance in most majors. That is, the distribution of SAT scores after conditioning on high GPA (e.g., 3.5 or even 4.0) typically extends below 1000 (the average among test takers). We hypothesize that overachievers overcome cognitive deficits through hard work, and discuss to what extent they can be identified from high school records. Only a few majors seem to exhibit a cognitive threshold – such that high GPA (mastery of the subject matter) is very unlikely below a certain SAT threshold (i.e., no matter how dedicated or hard working the student). Our results suggest that almost any student admitted to university can achieve academic success, if they work hard enough.
In addition to our primary result, we find that the best predictor of GPA is a roughly equally weighted sum of SAT and high school GPA, measured in standard deviation units. Using a sub-population of honors college students, we can estimate how students at elite universities would fare at a typical state university, allowing us to comment on issues such as grade inflation. Finally, we observe that 1) SAT scores fluctuate little on retest (very high reliability), 2) SAT and GRE scores (where available) correlate at roughly 0.75 (consistent with the notion that both tests measure a stable general cognitive ability) and 3) the SAT distribution of students that obtained a degree does not differ substantially from that of the entering class.
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