How the SAT became the standard college aptitude test?

How the SAT became the standard college aptitude test?

In 1926, the SAT made its debut among a few thousand college applicants as the ‘Scholastic Assessment Test’.

Soon after in 1934, James Bryant Conant, then president of Harvard College, established a scholarship program for low-income students that required candidates to take the SAT in an effort to make the university more inclusive.

As the test grew in popularity with many universities following in Harvard’s footsteps, it later became known as the ‘SAT I: Reasoning Test’, then the ‘SAT Reasoning Test’, then finally the ‘SAT’.


Initially designed as an adaptation of the Army Alpha - a mass-administered IQ test used to determine the intelligence of US Army recruits during World War I, the Scholastic Assessment Test was purposefully formed apart from high school curricula.

Through the years, however, several adjustments have been made to the test’s content, and the SAT now reflects the Common Core standards more closely.

For example, in 2005, the test underwent a major content overhaul in response to criticism from the UC system which found minimal correlation between standardized test scores of the time and UC freshman grades.

To ensure that the test better reflected high school curricula, not only were analogies eliminated from the verbal section and comparison items removed from the math section, but a separate essay component was also added to the test to assess clear and effective writing.

Within the new section, students were challenged to defend or reject a thesis within 25 minutes.

Students were also encouraged to draw upon general knowledge and structure their essay in a style they felt would be most compelling. Most significantly, the maximum test score also jumped from 1600 to 2400. 

Further changes were then made to the aforementioned essay section in 2016, after Les Perelman, a research affiliate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, concluded that there was a high correlation between essay length and score received.

To level the playing field and address issues of inequality, the essay section was made optional and testing for obscure vocabulary was replaced with more evidence-based questions throughout the test.

The 1600-point scale was also reinstated, while penalties for wrong answers were done away with.


Most recently, College Board – a private, not-for-profit organization in the United States that develops the SAT – also announced a new testing format for the SAT that will be both fully digital and adaptive.

Launching internationally in 2023 and in the United States in 2024, the College Board has noted that the fully digital and adaptive format would not only improve testing security, but will also ensure a shortened test day for both students and educators, as the length of the exam will decrease from three hours to two.

The College Board has also expressed that less rigidity should hopefully lead to less stress and greater equity and access for students across the world.

Alongside changes to the SAT, many higher education institutions are currently reassessing how much weight should be given to standardized test scores.

Although most universities still invite the submission of scores, be they mandatory, recommended, or optional, some are of the firm opinion that standardized testing may in fact become obsolete in the near future.