"Schools that don’t use the writing portion of the SAT are foregoing an opportunity.... They’re really throwing out information that will help them choose a more qualified class."

David Mustard
Department of Economics

SAT: Writing best indicator of academic success

Study is first independent, academic analysis of redesigned SAT

By Sam Fahmy

students in classroom

The first independent, academic study of the redesigned SAT college entrance exam finds that the new writing portion is a much better predictor of academic success than the verbal and math portions of the exam.

Three economists in the University of Georgia Terry College of Business analyzed data from more than 4,300 test takers and, unlike a recent study published by the group that administers the test, accounted for factors such as level of parental education and the high school the student attended that strongly influence success in college.

The writing section of the test was introduced in March 2005, and the researchers note that the lack of data on its effectiveness has led nearly half of the nation’s colleges and universities to disregard the scores. David Mustard, associate professor of economics who co-authored the study with Professor Christopher Cornwell and student Jessica Van Parys, said the team’s finding suggests that schools shouldn’t ignore SAT writing scores.

“Schools that don’t use the writing portion of the SAT are foregoing an opportunity to choose a class of students that will have higher GPAs, enroll in more credit hours, will be less likely to withdraw from classes and are likely to do well in a whole array of different variables,” Mustard said. “They’re really throwing out information that will help them choose a more qualified class.”

The researchers found that with each 100-point increase in SAT writing scores, first-year students:

  • Earn GPAs that are, on average, .07 points higher;
  • Earn .18 points higher in freshman English classes; and
  • Earn .54 more credit hours.

The SAT verbal (now known as the critical-reading section) was also a significant predictor of collegiate success, but not nearly as powerful as the writing section. With each 100-point increase on the SATV, students earned freshman GPAs that were .03 points higher, less than one half the .07 increase for the SATW.

Cornwell points out that the significance of SATV scores diminishes when the writing score is taken into account.

“Statistically speaking, the verbal section doesn’t add much predictive value beyond the writing section,” Cornwell said

Still, researchers said it is too soon to eliminate the verbal portion of the test. “The writing section could be a better measure of academic ability than the verbal,” Van Parys said, “but another explanation is that it’s so new that students haven’t yet learned to game the test.”

For more information, contact Christopher Cornwell at:; David Mustard at:; or Jessica Van Parys at:


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