In 2012, Lumosity, a company that makes brain-training games, released a ranking of America’s smartest colleges based on students’ scores on its games. It was widely shared on social media and covered by publications like
Venturebeat, as well
as Business Insider.
The ranking was created by Lumosity as a “cognitive performance-based” alternative to traditional college rankings, which rely on test scores and non-cognitive figures like endowment size and student-faculty ratio.
However, there are two critical flaws with the rankings. First, their dataset is large but not systematic. They only sampled people who were willing to play their games, which left off a number of schools, including CalTech. Second, there is no peer-reviewed research demonstrating that the Lumosity games are reliable or valid measures of smarts.
Standardized tests like the SAT and ACT are actually highly reliable and valid measures of brainpower, as they measure a construct known as general intelligence or “g.”
Researchers from Case Western Reserve University published research papers, “Scholastic assessment or g? The relationship between the SAT and general cognitive ability” in the journal Psychological Science and “ACT and general cognitive ability” in the journal Intelligence, showing that both the SAT and ACT are excellent measures of general cognitive ability, even though they are called measures of “academic achievement.”
In order to create a more comprehensive and reliable ranking, we first recorded the 25th and 75th percentile SAT and ACT scores for each school from the U.S. News National University Rankings and National Liberal Arts College Rankings in 2014. This is based on the schools’ reported SAT and ACT scores for first-year, degree-seeking students in the fall of 2012. ACT scores were translated into SAT scores (maths + verbal) using this concordance table, so that all schools could be compared using one metric. Finally, an average of the 25th and 75th percentile was computed. This resulted in 501 universities and liberal arts colleges in the U.S. that made SAT or ACT data available.
Guess which school came out on top? It was the one that was clearly missing from the Lumosity data: the California Institute of Technology.
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