Middle School Test Scores Predict Tech Career Success

Companies that want creative and innovative employees should be looking at a candidate’s middle school test scores, new research shows.

A Vanderbilt University study discovered that that early spatial ability — the skill required to mentally manipulate 2D and 3D objects — predicts the development of new learning and innovation abilities, especially in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

One of the study’s authors, psychology researcher David Lubinski, said we currently live in the age of human capital and that creativity is the currency of the modern era, especially in STEM disciplines.

“Having a better understanding of the human attributes that facilitate innovation has clear practical implications for education, training, business and talent development,” Lubinski said.

Using data from a study that began in the late 1970s, researchers analyzed 563 students who had scored exceptionally well — in the top 0.5 percent — on the SATs at age 13. The researchers also examined data on the participants’ spatial ability at age 13, as measured by the Differential Aptitude Test.

Confirming previous research, the data revealed that participants’ mathematical and verbal reasoning scores on the SAT at age 13 predicted their likelihood of producing scholarly publications and patents 30 years later. But spatial ability at the same age yielded additional predictive power, which researchers said suggests that early spatial ability contributes in a unique way to later creative and scholarly results, especially in the STEM areas.

Despite long-standing speculation, and this study’s results, that spatial ability may play an important role in supporting creative thinking and innovation, Lubinski said there are very few systems in place to track skill in spatial reasoning.

“Current procedures for identifying intellectually precocious youth currently miss about half of the top 1 percent in spatial ability,” he said.

Lubinski believes cultivating these skills is imperative for ensuring scientific innovation.

“These students have exceptional and underchallenged potential, especially for engineering and technology,” Lubinski said. “We could do a much better job of identifying these students and affording them better opportunities for developing their talents.”

The study was recently published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.