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Study gauges universities with psych., not standardized scores

Boston University was ranked as the 26th smartest university in a recent study using psychological tests instead of standardized test scores for data. However, some BU professors said they doubt the legitimacy of the study.

“All they are really doing is taking information from these online games and plotting it in different ways,” said James Cherry, a psychology professor.

The numbers do not provide a comprehensive view of the intelligence of the students, he said.

“They are just numbers,” Cherry said. “We don’t know if there is a significant difference between the top score from any other school. There is just no way of knowing whether these are major differences or not.”

The study, conducted by Lumosity, analyzed the cognitive performance of students from 403 different colleges, according to the study released Thursday.

Daniel Sternberg, data scientist for Lumosity and creator of the ranking, said students logged on to the website and played games in five different cognitive areas to measure their intelligence.

“We have 45 training games online in five different areas,” Sternberg said. “We measured speed, attention, flexibility, memory and problem solving. We looked at people’s score on the game the first time they tried it and compared it to students across the country.”

These scores in each cognitive area were then added together and averaged to get the school’s median grand index number, which determined the ranking of each school, he said.

“It is highly correlated to the SAT scores, but it’s not exactly the same because of the different areas we measure,” Sternberg said. “These games are measuring something different than SAT. The SAT is a measure of college success. This is more about core cognitive abilities.”

David Somers, a psychology professor at BU, said he does not see a difference in this study measuring cognitive abilities compared to other rankings measuring standardized test scores.

“These are different tests, but they are effectively measuring similar things,” he said. “From a psychologist perspective, they are a step in the right direction, but they haven’t been validated. I am very skeptical of the validity of the test.”

Somers said he is not sure the samples were tested in a way that would produce a legitimate study.

“The big issues are sampling issues,” he said. “They don’t know for certain who took the test or who didn’t.”

Cherry said the data included schools where only 50 students took part in the tests.

“That is still a small population in large schools,” he said. “You don’t really know a lot about the people taking these tests.”

Despite the problems professors raised about the study, a number of students said testing cognitive abilities instead of test scores is appropriate.

“This study is legitimate because it’s not just about a test of intelligence,” said Lauren Tzirides, a College of Arts and Sciences freshman. “For example, I am not very good at standardized testing but there are other ways to test our brain capabilities and capacities.”

Kyle Pellerin, a CAS sophomore, said there are many mentally and academically sound students at BU, but academics are just one part of the students here.

“It is more beneficial to show that beyond a standard test score we can rank higher on something that requires a deeper thought process and something that requires more of a psychological mindset,” he said.

However, some students said they are not entirely convinced by the study’s results.

“I would want to see more before I believe it,” said Ari Bloom, a School of Management senior.

He said the study might be more accurate since it tests things other than academics.

“Academically, I don’t think we are nearly as driven as MIT or Harvard,” he said. “There are just different priorities there.”

Even though the study could use some work, it is still better to test psychological abilities than a standardized test score, he said.

“It is a much better way to get a sense of how a student processes thought and that is a better way of ranking someone,” Bloom said. “If you can develop a test that just looks at the mind and how someone processes thought, than you will get a better sense of their possibility to be academically successful.”

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