Which Better Predicts College Success: Grades or Test Scores?

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We all know that standardized test scores and grades are both important metrics that colleges use during the college admissions process. But which academic measure has more of an impact on your success as a college student? In this blog, we’ll explore if whether grades or test scores are a better predictor of college success. 

While most colleges continue to ask students for their ACT and SAT scores, the predictive power of GPA and grades can no longer be denied. Recent research suggests that GPA—not standardized testing—better predicts students’ success in college. In fact, researchers found that GPA was five times better at making this prediction when compared to the ACT. Another study showed that grades were a better predictor of graduation rates than test scores. These findings have led to a major shift in educational views.

Why Is GPA Better at Predicting College Success?

Because GPA isn’t as standardized as the SAT or ACT, many people previously thought GPA wasn’t objective enough to serve as an effective measure of students’ college readiness. Grades, critics of GPA argued, are determined individually by teachers, and schools have different grading systems and standards by which they evaluate students’ academic progress. 

This, however, isn’t the case. Research has shown that, while the means of calculating GPA does vary from school to school, grades offer a fuller educational picture of student readiness than do standardized tests. Because students’ GPAs are affected by a greater range of academic skills deployed across a broader range of subjects, GPA is a much more robust indicator of a student’s ability to succeed in college. College success, after all, similarly requires a great range of skills deployed in many different arenas.

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Standardized tests are definitely more uniform in their methods of grading. When looking at test scores, colleges can see how students stack up in certain areas like reading comprehension, math, and writing. But, these tests are limited and don’t take into account a student’s full capabilities. Many other areas of education—such as retention of factual knowledge, the ability to work collaboratively, and life skills like organization and determination—are completely ignored by the SAT and ACT, which makes them less effective overall in predicting college outcomes. 

Educators and other student advocates had already been rallying against standardized tests’ unfairness for years, claiming in particular that test scores are biased against low-income students, women, and people of color. The recent research in favor of GPA, simply confirms these critics’ claims that we need to put less stock in SAT and ACT test scores and more in GPA and other metrics that better capture students’ potential as college students. 

GPA Is Slowly Becoming More Important Than Standardized Test Scores

In response to critics, many colleges and universities have started to drop their test score requirements. In fact, a lot of well-known schools have completely phased out their SAT and ACT requirements in 2022. While this deemphasis of test scores remains a slow development, its adoption was hurried by the pandemic, when students’ inability to take the exam led many schools to reevaluate their policies, as well as a landmark court ruling preventing the University of California schools system from using test scores in its admissions process on the grounds that many testing centers were physically inaccessible to disabled students. 

So, just how well does GPA predict college success? But when we look at the research, this isn’t the case. For example, a recent study by researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that GPA is a very strong indicator of college graduation, finding that high school students with a GPA of 1.75 and below had a 20 percent chance of graduating from college, while students with a GPA of 3.75 or above had an 80 percent chance of finishing school. 

Of course, there have been doubts about the validity of the SAT and ACT for years. There is still some pushback against completely letting go of standardized college entrance exams, but these studies show how much better grades indicate students’ academic abilities and their performance in college and beyond. 

What Should Students Applying to Colleges Do with This Information?

At the moment, a high SAT or ACT score combined with good grades can help guarantee you a spot in college. While GPA is gaining more importance in college admissions decisions, as some schools deemphasize test scores, that doesn’t mean you should neglect standardized testing. While the SAT and ACT aren’t the best indicator of your success in college, they generally remain an important part of the admission process. 

Research the schools you are applying to and see if they require test scores. If they do, make sure you take time to prepare for your exam so you can increase your chances of getting into your dream schools.

We at HelloCollege aim to help you get the most out of your university preparations. For more information about college admissions, testing, and practice, read our other blogs or contact us to learn how we can help you!

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The Hello College Team

HelloCollege CEO Andrea Emmons has spent the last 15 years guiding students and families across the country on their path to college. Andrea knows the profound impact proactive college planning has on the lives of students and is passionate about mentoring families through the process.
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About Our Founder

Kevin Krebs

Inspired by his parents, Kevin’s journey from a first-gen, diverse, low-income background to Northwestern University shaped him. After experiencing challenges, including student loan debt, he founded HelloCollege and has spent the last 25 years helping students successfully navigate college admissions.

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