The SAT and Its History of Change

A look back through time reveals that the SAT is, in fact, an exam in a constant state of change. This is only natural and acceptable. It is entirely appropriate to learn lessons from the past, to adjust to the present, and to prepare for the future. It is also entirely appropriate to learn from one’s competition. From its introduction in 1926 through the 2016 incarnation, which has been dubbed “The Redesigned SAT,” the most iconic exam in America has undergone eight revisions. Prior to the 2016 upgrade, the last round of changes occurred in 2005, when analogies were eliminated and a writing section was added. In 1952, another set of profound changes formed the basis for the verbal section that would stay with the SAT in one form or another until now.

Originally referred to as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT was designed to measure scholastic aptitude. More specifically, it was designed to measure the kind of thinking that would guarantee success at America’s most elite colleges. That was the idea anyway, when it was first administered to approximately 8,000 students in 1926. Back then, Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States, the Great American Depression had not yet occurred and Ford’s Model T was the most popular car in the world. Ninety years later, the SAT is taken by millions of students in more than 175 countries, each hoping that a strong performance will give them the boost they need to rise above their peers and help them gain admission into a college of their dreams. What was once a requisite test for the elite is now a prerequisite test for the masses. So iconic has it become that it has been the feature of Hollywood movies, the topic of too many conversations to count, and quite literally an exam that is either revered or feared all around the world.

Owing to its iconic stature and the undeniable importance of a strong performance in the college admission process and even in the career placement process, each change along the way has elicited a strong visceral, sometimes emotional, response from students, parents, the test prep industry, and admission officials alike. Each has been met with suspicion and skepticism and a wait-and-see attitude. More seasoned officials typically view test changes with a more laid-back approach since they understand that SAT scores are merely a part of the puzzle rather than the puzzle itself.

On the surface, it certainly seems as though no prior revision of the SAT is as all encompassing as this one. However, it is important for those who are learning to master this “New SAT” to have a holistic and historical view. Think about this: When car manufacturers set out to design the new car of the future, they do not start by reinventing the wheel. They evaluate the existing assets by examining their own lineup of cars to see what can be re-purposed. They also look at their competitors’ cars to see which useful innovations and designs they can emulate. So despite its title, the New SAT is, still, a math, reading, grammar, and writing test, just as before. And if you still don’t like it, you could try your hand at the friendly ole test from the Midwest.  You won’t be alone!