These SAT Scores Show That We Really Are Getting Smarter

SAT composite

Photo: The Flynn Effect Puzzle

SAT maths

Photo: The Flynn Effect Puzzle

There’s been a lot of debate lately over whether IQ or hard work determines success.Then there’s the “Flynn Effect,” which is the theory that worldwide intelligence has increased at the rate of 10 IQ points every 30 years for nearly the past century.

Some new research by Jonathan Wai and Martha Putallaz of Duke University, shows that SAT scores have indeed steadily risen, even among the top 5 per cent of scorers. In their paper, “The Flynn Effect Puzzle,” Wei and Putallaz looked at about 1.7 million test scores, including SAT and ACT, between 1981 and 2000.

There are a few interesting takeaways from the study:

  • Scores improved across gender
  • Scores improved primarily in the maths sections, which indicate that problem-solving ability has improved

The researchers also offered some potential reasons for the increase:

  • Improved education and nutrition
  • “More cognitive stimulation arising from the greater complexity of more recent environments, for example, the broad exposure to television and video games”

The authors concluded that:

IQ gains extend to every level. This result, along with the finding that the rate of gain in the right tail on the maths subtests is the same as in the middle and lower parts of the distribution, illustrates for the first time that it is likely the entire curve that is rising at a remarkably constant rate.”

Of course, there could be other factors, too, such as easier SAT and ACT tests — or students are simply better at preparing for standardized tests.

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