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How do SAT scores correlate with IQ? Brain Power Explored.

Have you taken the SAT and wondered how do SAT scores correlate with IQ? It’s a curious question many have pondered. SAT scores are crucial for college admissions, and the College Board, the organization behind the SAT, has designed this standardized test to evaluate a student’s readiness for college.


An IQ test, or Intelligence Quotient test, is a measure of intelligence, gauging a variety of cognitive abilities. The intrigue here is simple: can your score on the SAT give any hints about your IQ score, or vice versa? And what is the actual correlation between SAT scores and IQ? These are the questions we aim to tackle in this article.

Key Takeaways from This Article:

  • Understanding the correlation between SAT scores and IQ.
  • Both SAT and IQ tests measure intelligence but in different ways.
  • The role of socioeconomic factors and test prep in SAT results.
  • Instances of people with high intellect and a low SAT score or vice versa.
  • The debate on whether the SAT can measure intelligence in the same way traditional intelligence tests do.

Do SAT Scores Correlate to IQ?

When it comes to measuring intelligence, the IQ test has long been a traditional intelligence test standard. It assesses a person’s cognitive abilities and provides an IQ score that many believe is a solid indicator of general intelligence.


But in the realm of college admissions and high school grades, the SAT takes center stage. So, naturally, a question arises: is there a score correlation between the SAT and IQ tests?


The debate about the correlation between SAT scores and intellect has intrigued many.


What They Measure:


  • Managed by the College Board.
  • Assesses math, evidence-based reading, and writing skills.
  • Indicates academic aptitude and college readiness.

IQ Test:

  • Evaluate problem-solving, memory, attention, and logical reasoning.
  • Aims to measure general intelligence, not academic subjects.

Correlation Studies:

  • Some studies suggest a moderate to strong correlation between SAT scores and intellect.
  • However, correlation doesn’t imply causation: a high SAT score doesn’t guarantee a high IQ and vice versa.

Factors Influencing SAT Scores:

  • Test Prep: Companies offer strategies to improve SAT scores. Those with more resources (often linked to high income) can better train for the SAT.
  • High School GPA: Past academic performance can impact SAT readiness.
  • Test-taking Strategies: How a student approaches the test can affect their score.

While a study by the National Library of Medicine argues a strong correlation between SAT scores and IQ, they both measure different aspects of intelligence. SAT scores can be influenced by preparation and strategy, whereas IQ tests aim to gauge innate cognitive abilities. Remember, both are just numbers and don’t define one’s complete intelligence or potential.

Human intelligence

Why SAT Scores and Intellect Are Commonly Linked

Understanding the intrigue behind the linkage of SAT scores and is like diving deep into the history and purpose of these tests. Here’s why these two measures of intelligence often find themselves in the same conversation:

Historical Connection:

When the SAT was originally designed, it was rooted in the scholastic aptitude concept, seeking to gauge a student’s readiness for college.


Over time, the SAT became an admissions test, but its early days bore resemblances to general cognitive ability tests, much like the IQ test. This past connection is a primary reason why many people associate the SAT with the IQ scale.

The Allure of Comparison:

  • Both SAT scores and IQs offer a quantifiable measure, a test score, to represent a degree of intelligence or aptitude. The general population often seeks ways to categorize and understand intelligence.
  • Comparing an SAT score with IQ provides a framework to estimate one’s IQ or grasp how they might fare on an IQ test based on their SAT performance.
  • Given the importance placed on SAT results in the college admissions process, it’s tempting to see how this standardized test might correspond with IQs, a more general measure of intelligence.

Despite the allure, it’s essential to recognize the difficulty of comparing an SAT score directly with an IQ score. They might both gauge aspects of intelligence, but the nature, content, and purpose of each test differ significantly.

Why You Can’t Correlate SAT to IQs

While both SAT and IQ scores are often used to gauge aspects of intelligence and aptitude, directly correlating the two is a murky endeavor.

Here’s why:


  • Focuses on scholastic aptitude, primarily testing math, evidence-based reading, and writing.
  • The redesigned SAT now includes specific content areas that may not always reflect innate intelligence.
  • Factors like test preparation, SAT prep resources, and a student’s high GPA can influence SAT performance.


  • Aims to capture a person’s general cognitive ability, beyond just academic skills.
  • The IQ scale isn’t impacted by a student’s specific curriculum or the content of the SAT.
  • It assesses broader domains like problem-solving, memory, and logical reasoning.

Dangers of Oversimplification:

  • Drawing a direct line between an SAT score and IQ can lead to misleading conclusions. For instance, two students who score 1500 on the SAT might have differing IQs.
  • Intelligence is multifaceted. Reducing it to a single test score, be it SAT or IQ, overlooks the depth and breadth of an individual’s cognitive capabilities.
  • Oversimplifying such measures can perpetuate myths about intelligence. For example, the belief that a higher SAT score equates to a higher IQ, or vice versa, can be misleading.

There’s a danger in using SAT scores to predict outcomes in areas outside of academic readiness, just as it’s precarious to use IQ scores to estimate how one would perform on every section of the SAT.

How do SAT scores correlate with IQ?

The Socioeconomic Dimensions: SAT Favors Those from Wealthier Backgrounds

It’s widely discussed that socioeconomic factors can heavily influence SAT prep and performance. Here’s a closer look:

SAT Prep and Performance:

  • Students from wealthier backgrounds often have more resources to prepare for the SAT. This can range from private tutors, to test prep courses and access to numerous practice tests.
  • Such preparation can undeniably boost scores. For students who took the test multiple times, they might see an increase in their score with each attempt, especially with guided preparation.

The Debate on Standardized Tests:

  • Critics argue that the SAT, as a standardized exam, carries socioeconomic biases. For example, certain questions might be more relatable to students from specific ethnic groups or socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • The fact that SAT scores often correspond with household income highlights the argument. Students among high-income families generally fare better on the SAT, not necessarily because they have a higher level of intelligence, but potentially because they had more opportunities to prepare.

In essence, while the SAT is designed to be a uniform exam gauging scholastic aptitude, its scores can reflect more about a student’s background and resources than their innate abilities or intelligence.

High IQ With a Low SAT Score: Is it Possible?

The relationship between SAT scores and intellect can be complex. There are numerous instances where individuals with high IQs have secured a low SAT score. Let’s delve deeper into this phenomenon:

Factors Contributing to Disparity:

  • Test Anxiety: Some individuals, regardless of their intelligence level, may suffer from test anxiety which can hamper their performance on the SAT.
  • Preparation and Familiarity: A person with a higher IQ might not be familiar with the specific content or format of the SAT, impacting their scores.
  • External Factors on Test Day: Issues like personal health, mental well-being, or even external distractions on the day of the test can influence the results. This means that someone with a higher IQ might just have an off day when they take the test.

In essence, while there’s a general correlation between IQ and SAT scores, there are several nuances and external factors that can lead to someone with a higher IQ not performing as expected on the SAT.

Pre-1995 SAT to IQ

The SAT has undergone various changes throughout its existence. The period before 1995 holds a particular intrigue due to the notable correlation drawn between the two.

Pre-1995 SAT and Its Significance:

    • High IQs, Societies, and SAT: Before the significant SAT recentering in April 1995, many high IQ societies, including Mensa, utilized specific SAT scores as a criterion for membership. This implies that, historically, there was a recognized correlation between SAT performance and IQ.
    • Notable Distinctions: Mensa, one of the globally recognized high IQ societies, made an intriguing distinction in its required SAT scores for admission. A change was observed in 1974, raising questions about the stability and interpretability of SAT scores across different time frames.

Delving Into the Data:

    • The College Board Studies: Pivotal to understanding the SAT-IQ relationship are secret studies from the College Board in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. These studies offered insights into average verbal and math SAT scores for all 17-year-olds in the U.S during those periods. They shed light on the standard deviations of these scores and the percentage of teens capable of scoring 700 or higher on each SAT section.
    • Converting SAT to IQ: By leveraging the data from these studies, formulas were devised to convert the old, pre-recentered SAT scores into equivalent IQ scores for both the verbal and math sections. Furthermore, an analysis of combined scores yielded a formula for deducing full-scale IQ equivalents.

Rethinking the Correlation:

    • Mensa’s Conservative Stance: Upon analysis, it appears that the scores required by Mensa might have been somewhat conservative. The postulated figures for reaching the esteemed ‘Mensa level’—essentially, the top 2% or roughly 2 standard deviations above the U.S. mean—were reconsidered, suggesting potential adjustments.
    • The Fluidity of SATs: The larger takeaway revolves around the evolving nature of the SAT over the years. The changes, recentering, and shifts in testing paradigms challenge the direct SAT-IQ conversions, prompting a discussion on the true validity of such interpretations.

Does The SAT Measure Intelligence?

When exploring this question, it’s pivotal to first define what we mean by “intelligence.” Intelligence isn’t merely about acquiring and applying knowledge; it’s also about one’s ability to think critically, solve novel problems, and adapt to new situations. Here’s how the SAT weighs in this context:

Defining Intelligence:

  • Multifaceted Nature: Intelligence is complex and multifaceted. It encompasses various abilities, including memory, reasoning, problem-solving, and more. Moreover, cultural and emotional intelligence, which the SAT doesn’t evaluate, plays significant roles in one’s overall intelligence profile.
  • Beyond Bookish Knowledge: While good scores on IQ tests or academic achievements might be indicators of certain aspects of intelligence, they don’t encompass its entirety. Factors like creativity, practical wisdom, and interpersonal skills are integral parts of intelligence that standardized tests might miss.

The SAT and Intelligence:

  • Focused Assessment: The SAT primarily assesses a student’s readiness for college, focusing on math, evidence-based reading, and writing. While these skills can be indicators of certain Intelligence, they don’t provide a comprehensive view of an individual’s overall intelligence.
  • Limits of Standardization: By its very nature, a test like the SAT might not capture the unique intellectual strengths of every test-taker. For instance, a student who excels in creative or abstract thinking might find that the SAT doesn’t wholly reflect their intellectual capacities.

While the SAT is a good measure of specific academic skills and can correspond with certain aspects of intelligence, it’s not a holistic representation of an individual’s total intellectual prowess.


In our exploration of the relationship between SAT scores and IQ, we’ve uncovered several key insights. Both the SAT and the IQ test are designed to assess cognitive abilities, but they serve different purposes. The SAT is a tool for gauging college readiness, whereas the IQ test seeks to quantify general intelligence.


Historically, particularly before 1995, there was a tangible correlation between the two, with certain SAT scores even being accepted by high IQ societies. However, this dynamic has shifted in recent years. It’s also worth noting that socioeconomic factors play a significant role in SAT performance.


Access to resources, such as test preparation, can give some students an advantage, highlighting the complexities of equating SAT scores directly with inherent intelligence. True intelligence is multifaceted and cannot be wholly encapsulated by a single test score, be it SAT or IQ.


While both offer valuable insights into aspects of cognitive ability, they are not directly interchangeable. As tempting as it may be to draw direct comparisons between SAT scores and IQ, they each provide a window into different facets of cognitive prowess.


As we look to the future of standardized testing and intelligence evaluations, it’s crucial to remain discerning and informed, understanding the unique value and implications of each metric.