Feature: History of the SAT: From Equality Promoter to Status Quo Defender

Photo Credit: Sarah Hoover

A copy of one of the college board's many tests as it exists today

Approximately seven million students take the SAT exam each year. However, recently, there has been criticism  regarding its validity in measuring student aptitude, its formulaic nature, and its ability to be fair towards students of different educational, economic, and even racial backgrounds. Here’s a look at how the test has evolved over time.

1901: Leaders from several colleges collaborate to form the College Entrance Examination Board with the goal of democratizing the college admissions process. Together, they administer “College Boards,” or essay-based standardized evaluations;  precursors to the SAT.

1926: The Scholastic Aptitude Test, or S.A.T., a multiple choice test, is first administered, with over 8,000 students participating. It was meant to increase the fairness of such an examination and to reduce its demonstration of economic status or quality of high school education. It ultimately replaced the “College Boards.”

1937: The first Achievement Tests, now known as Subject Tests, are administered, originally taken in the afternoon after the S.A.T..

1941: A normalized test structure is established in order to reduce variation based on which version of the test a student had taken.

1958: Students have the ability to view their scores for the first time.

1965: The College Board takes action after hearing reports of African-American test takers being turned away or sent to a separate testing room, sending representatives from the Board to individual testing centers to ensure that all students received equal opportunity.

1969: Low-income students are given the opportunity to take the test for free for the first time.

1984: The College Board releases the first preparation books to help students study for the exam.

1985: FairTest, an organization dedicated to equalizing the process of standardized testing, is founded. It became a large opponent of the SAT, claiming that the test did not meet the diverse needs of students from all backgrounds. The same year, Bates College became one of the first colleges to initiate a “Testing-Optional” policy because of similar concerns.

1994: The College Board drops the meaning behind the acronym, now calling the test SAT instead of S.A.T., a reaction to disputes over the accuracy of its claims to effectively measure student performance.

2004: The College Board requests that FairTest remove statistics regarding SAT scores by race, income, and sex from its website.

2005: The College Board introduces a writing section including an essay to the exam and changes the scale from 1600 to 2400. MIT Writing Director Les Perelman conducted a study that found a nearly direct relationship between essay length and score, raising suspicions on the test’s adherence to formulaic and regimented writing.

2009: The College Board initiates Score Choice, allowing students to decide which scores to send to colleges.

2012: A requirement for photo identification upon registration was established in reaction to a large cheating scandal in which several students were paid to take the test in place of others, a demonstration of the pressure the exam places on students.

While the SAT began as a step towards equality and levelling the playing field for college admissions, opposition to the test has risen in recent years as flaws have become apparent. As students, we often become frustrated with the exam, with good reason, but we must remember that it is, and will only ever be, a test.