SAT and ACT have changed drastically since their inception in the 1900s

September 9, 2019 — by Oliver Ye

The SAT and ACT are infamous among the high school community — dreaded 4-hour long tests with countless bubbles to fill and an essay that results in a single numerical result with implications lying with college admissions. How did these tests become what they are today? 

1899: College entrance tests vary widely per school, and it is difficult to determine which college is harder to get into, relative to others. A group of “elite” colleges, including Columbia, Cornell, Vassar, Barnard, Brown and New York University join together to create a College Board and administer a standardized test.

1926: Carl Brigham, a psychologist who helped develop aptitude tests for the U.S. Army during World War I, aids in the creation of a “Scholastic Aptitude Test,” abbreviated SAT, which is used in conjunction with the standardized test administered by the College Board. The SAT is a test of aptitude for learning rather than of knowledge, consisting of nine tests — arithmetical problems, number series, definitions, classification, artificial language, antonyms, analogies, logical inference and paragraph reading. The test is 315 questions and lasts for 97 minutes, a time of approximately 20 seconds per question.

1940s and 1950s: The SAT slowly gains acceptance in the high school community but never takes off because of the high registration fee and lack of awareness. Only 10,000 students take the test in 1940. 

However, various bills like the G.I. Bill, which grants cash assistance to veterans who are applying to college, raise interest in college and thus the number of SAT-takers. In addition, the Educational Testing Service administers the SAT to high schoolers  in 1951; those who score high enough get deferred from the Korean War Draft, further raising recognition of the SAT.

1959: The ACT is created by Ted McCarrel and E. F. Lindquist as an achievement test that measures academic preparation for college, not just intelligence. 

1961: The number of students taking the SAT exceeds 800,000, roughly ten times the number of those who took the test in 1951. Approximately 300,000 students take the ACT.

1993: In response to growing popularity of the ACT, the College Board decides to change the name of the SAT from the “Scholastic Aptitude Test” to the “Scholastic Assessment Test.” The test is divided into two parts: the  “SAT I: Reasoning” exam tests for aptitude, while the “SAT II: Subject” test focuses on academic achievement.

2014: The SAT drops the vocabulary section and the essay becomes optional. Scoring for the test changes to a scale out of 1600 for the sake of testing knowledge “students will use consistently in college and beyond.”

For better or for worse, the standardized tests offered by colleges have changed drastically over time. Supported by some yet hated by others, the SAT and ACT have grown to become an integral part of the high school experience.

Sources: Manhattan Review and tutor Erik Hered

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