# Students are more likely to retake the SAT if their score ends with '90'

##### January 19, 2011

High school students are more likely to retake the SAT if they score just below a round number, such as 1290, than if they score just above it. That's the conclusion of a study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, which found that round numbers are strong motivators.

The work was inspired by a study that found that a car's value drops suddenly when it passes a 10,000 mile mark—so a car that has 70,000 miles is worth markedly less than one with 69,900 miles. "We were talking about that and we started thinking about SAT tests," says Uri Simonsohn of the University of Pennsylvania, who cowrote the study with Devin Pope of the University of Chicago.

Pope had a set of SAT scores from 1994 to 2001—before the SAT scoring system changed—when the maximum score was still 1600. These scores were only the last score attained by each student, so if they retook the test, their first score didn't appear. The researchers found gaps just below 1000, 1100, 1200, and so on, indicating that people who got those scores were more likely to retake the test and have that just short of a "00" replaced by something else.

The change in SAT scores probably doesn't make a big difference in the students' lives, Simonsohn says. "The SAT doesn't matter nearly as much for admission as people think, so 10 points probably don't make a difference." (In fact, when Simonsohn looked at actual admissions data, he found that who scored 1390 were just as likely to be accepted as students who scored 1400.) His only worry is that students might be wasting their time retaking the SAT to reach a pointless goal rather than doing something more productive.

In experiments, the researchers also found that people who imagined running laps were more likely to say they'd do another lap if they'd just finished 19 than if they had already run 20. A look at baseball stats found that that players are four times more likely to end a season with a .300 batting average than a .299 average—they manipulate their batting average by making decisions about whether to walk or swing, or whether to have a pinch hitter come in.

The research "tells you how important self-motivation is," Simonsohn says. People are surprisingly driven by round numbers and will take major action—like sitting through a day of standardized testing, which hardly anybody enjoys—to reach these arbitrary goals. Economists in particular tend to focus on actual awards that come from outside, like money or another reward, he says, but this is a clear example of motivation coming from within.

Explore further: Study: SAT might predict life satisfaction

## Related Stories

#### Study: SAT might predict life satisfaction

February 23, 2006

A Vanderbilt University study suggests the SAT -- a test many students take prior to college admission -- might be able to predict a person's success in life.

#### SAT prep tools offer great advantages

August 14, 2006

U.S. students from higher-income families are most likely to use SAT preparation tools, thereby giving them an advantage in getting into college.

#### Eighth-grade ISAT standards not aligned with high school demands, college readiness

October 31, 2008

(PhysOrg.com) -- Students who just meet Illinois testing standards in eighth grade have virtually no chance of scoring a 20 or above on the ACT, according to a study released Friday by the Consortium on Chicago School Research ...

#### Psychological headwind keeps women, minorities from sprinting ahead of their peers, study finds

February 24, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Let's say a white student and a black student both score 1020 on their SATs. They're performing right around the national average, so based on their scores it stands to reason they're both typical students ...

#### Economist's study finds that immigration doesn't threaten US-born students' chances at college

February 4, 2010

High school students born in the United States need not view their immigrant classmates as a threat to getting a good standardized test score and, ultimately, into a good college, according to a Kansas State University economist.

#### Standardized tests not always best indicator of success

August 24, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT have long been used in college admissions to sort through thousands of applications. Whether or not such tests accurately assess a student’s ability to succeed ...

## Recommended for you

#### Supercomputers surprisingly link DNA crosses to cancer

June 19, 2015

Supercomputers have helped scientists find a surprising link between cross-shaped (or cruciform) pieces of DNA and human cancer, according to a study at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).

#### How the finch changes its tune

August 3, 2015

Like top musicians, songbirds train from a young age to weed out errors and trim variability from their songs, ultimately becoming consistent and reliable performers. But as with human musicians, even the best are not machines. ...

#### Long-sought discovery fills in missing details of cell 'switchboard'

July 22, 2015

A biomedical breakthrough published today in the journal Nature reveals never-before-seen details of the human body's cellular switchboard that regulates sensory and hormonal responses. The work is based on an X-ray laser ...

#### Scientists find evidence for 'chronesthesia,' or mental time travel

December 22, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The ability to remember the past and imagine the future can significantly affect a person's decisions in life. Scientists refer to the brain’s ability to think about the past, present, and future as ...

#### Machine Translates Thoughts into Speech in Real Time

December 21, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- By implanting an electrode into the brain of a person with locked-in syndrome, scientists have demonstrated how to wirelessly transmit neural signals to a speech synthesizer. The "thought-to-speech" process ...

#### What is 'Real'? How Our Brain Differentiates Between Reality and Fantasy

March 23, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Most people can easily tell the difference between reality and fantasy. We know that characters in novels and movies are fictitious, and we also understand that historical figures - even if we’ve never ...