SAT aging gracefully?

Po-ta-toe, Pa-tah-toe, To-may-toe, To-mah-toe . . .

Favorite moments in SAT history, aka why some people say SATs and others say SAT.

Let’s dial back to the dark ages of the SAT. The year is 1926. And it turns out – your (Great) Grandparents really did walk uphill both ways . . . at least when it came to the SAT.

Imagine this, the scored portion of first SAT contains 313 questions to be completed in 97 minutes and “Is designed primarily to assess aptitude for learning rather than mastery of subjects already learned.” The test was scaled so that 500 was the middle score for the group of test takers. First SAT Test8000 students sit for the exam, 40% of whom are women. Scores are not comparable year to year due to scaling. So a student who scores a perfect 800 in 1926 is not directly comparable to a student who scores a perfect 800 in 1927 – it depends on the cohort taking the test. You might be the best of the best or the best of the worst.

1941 The reference curve for verbal was created to make a 720 this year comparable to a 720 any other year. Math had been dropped so . . .
1942 Math is reinstated and the reference curve is created. These curves will persist until 1995.
1968 The University of California requires the SAT for admission, an effective way to reduce the number of eligible Baby Boomer candidates.
1975 More women than men take the SAT. Still holding strong through 2013.

Scoring Shenanigans

1990 Ten students out of 1.2 million test takers 1:120,000 earn perfect scores of 1600 on the SAT.
1994 Twenty-five out of 1.25 million, 1:50,000, but once they recenter in April, “137 perfect scores out of about 200,000 test takers,” 1:1,400.
2001 University of California suggests dropping the SAT I as a consideration in UC admissions.
2005 New scale increases the perfect score from 1600 to 2400, and 107 students earn a perfect score, 1:2800. SAT Writing section becomes the single most coachable standardized test item.
2007 ACT becomes a valid test at every 4-year college or university.
2014 The College Board announces that it will move the SAT perfect score back to 1600. The test to be administered in 2016 will at least in part reflect what high school students learn in the classroom.

“It is time for an admissions assessment that makes it clear that the road to success is not last-minute tricks or cramming but the challenging learning students do every day,” – David Coleman, President of College Board

So why do you say SATs and I say SAT?

In the heat of the scoring shenanigans, the SAT attempted to re-brand. A few times. Like New Coke in the 80s. Similar results.

March 1994 the SAT became the SATs with SAT I and SAT II and the S. A. and T now mean “Scholastic Assessment Tests” rather than Scholastic Aptitude Test (since 1926). In 2004 the I and II are dropped in favor of SAT Reasoning and SAT Subject Tests. The SAT Reasoning is now appropriately called the SAT. So if you’re calling it the SATs, you were in high school between 1994 and 2004. That’s useful for bar trivia and Jeopardy.

Big thanks to Erik Jacobsen for pulling together the rich history of the SAT and ACT. For even more information, visit his full timeline here: 


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