The history of the SAT and ACT

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






  If you’re looking to attend any four-year college, chances are you’re going to have to take the SAT, the ACT, or both.

  One may think juniors are preparing for a rocket science exam or a half-marathon they way they live in their 1,000-page practice books and eat tuna for an entire week pre-SAT/ACT (apparently fish makes you smarter).

  These admissions tests have become infamous over the years. In fact, they’re prioritized so much to the point that parents pay for expensive private tutors and group classes, or just pay half-a-million for someone to take the test for their child.

  Now, some highly ranked schools are SAT-optional, meaning SAT scores are not a requirement to apply. The schools include George Washington University, Bryn Mawr College, Wesleyan University, and University of Chicago.

  Many students are also starting to opt for the ACT in place of the older SAT, meaning colleges need to adjust their requirements to match the student climate.

  But where did the SAT come from? How did it push itself into the spotlight? Is its day in the sun almost over?

  The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was created back in 1923 by Carl C. Brigham as a version of an army IQ test to be distributed to Princeton freshmen and applicants of a technical college in New York called Cooper Union. Brigham was approached by the College Board to curate a test that could be used by more schools, which was first administered to high schools in 1926.

  A turning point came in 1933 when Harvard decided to use the SAT to determine recipients of scholarships. In 1934, Harvard made the SAT a requirement for all candidates. By the end of the 1930s, all Ivy League schools made the SAT a requirement for scholarships tests.

  By 1957, the number of students taking the SAT surpassed half a million.

  As the years progressed, the SAT molded and changed and morphed into the test we know today. Most colleges require students to take the SAT as a means of determining where students stand on a 1600-point scale. It consists of typically four sections— two math sections and two reading/language sections. There is also an optional essay for those students that want to show off their writing skills.

  The comprehensive test has come under fire recently for its redesign. Math questions don’t feature just numbers and graphs, but long, wordy questions requiring in-depth analysis that some students say are not practical given only 55-minutes.

  The controversy has only pushed more students toward taking the ACT. Everett Franklin Lindquist, a professor at University of Iowa, created the test and then founded American College Testing. The exam was born as a competitor of the SAT in 1959 and was administered that same year to about seventy-five thousand students. By 1972, over a million students had taken the ACT.

  The purpose of the test was to test information learned in school rather than random cognitive reasoning— something the SAT was infamous for. The ACT also features a science section, straying from the strict math and reading/writing of its counterpart.

  These two tests have found themselves in the center of the college admissions vortex, meaning there is lots of money to be made by not just the College Board. Tutors cost an average of $70 per hour, but high school kids living in affluent areas can hire someone like Anthony Green, an online SAT teacher who charges $1,000 an hour.

  But times are changing, as colleges are no longer requesting students’ test scores and are instead focusing on other aspects of a scholar, like comprehensive grades and extracurriculars. This offers equal opportunities for kids who can’t afford private tutoring or kids who just aren’t great test-takers.

  In five years, maybe the ACT and SAT will be eradicated as we know it. For now, though, students will continue to forfeit hours that could be spent hanging with friends or reading a novel in exchange for rigorous tutoring sessions and 3-hour long practice tests.