What Does SAT Stand For?

The SAT is the most frequently used standardized test for college admissions in the United States. Nearly 2 million students in the US class of 2018 took the test, showing how frequently high school students come into contact with the exam.

Because of its popularity and importance to many young people, it is essential to understand the meaning of the SAT. Throughout this blog, we will look at the basic and more formal definitions of the SAT and also learn a bit about the test’s history. 

What Did the SAT Originally Stand For?

The SAT originally stood for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. In 1990, they decided to redesign the test and removed this name. The name change stemmed from their belief that this name was misleading as the test did not truly define a student’s aptitude.

As an attempt to remove controversy from the name, they decided to change the name of the test. This likely reflected the common idea that too much value was being given to tests, when, in reality, tests are not a reflection of overall aptitude. 

What Does the Acronym SAT Stand For?

Now, after the change occurred in 1990, SAT is not necessarily an acronym. The creator emphasized it should not be written as S.A.T., but rather simply SAT. Still, the test is commonly referred to as the Scholastic Assessment Test. This new name for the test helps to focus on what students have learned and achieved, rather than saying the test defines their aptitude or intelligence. 

History and Timeline of the SAT

The original SAT was an adaptation of the Army Alpha IQ Test and founded in 1926 when it was only taken by a few thousand prospective college students as an experiment. Carl Brigham, the original creator of the SAT, originally used the Army Alpha test created by Robert Yerkes to test the intelligence of Americans overall and concluded that American education is declining. The test has undergone several changes throughout the last century in its style, length, sections, and scoring process. 

Carl Brigham, Founder of SAT. Courtesy of Alchetron.com.

James Conant, the former president of Harvard, began to implement the SAT as a means of determining who would receive scholarships in 1933 and then began requiring potential candidates to take it in 1934. 

By 1938, the different schools that were associated with the College Board were signed on to use the SAT for their admission processes. 

In 1947, the Educational Testing Services (ETS) was created in Princeton, NJ, and the testing agency began to work to get colleges to adopt the SAT as a requirement for admission. 

Since its founding the test has changed greatly, with one of the greatest changes being the division of the test into two separate sections: Math and Reading. 

The grading scale of the SAT has also changed greatly over the years. In 2005, the test changed from a 1600 scale to 2400 scale with altered question formats. In 2016, the test changed back to a 1600 scale with students no longer being penalized for incorrect answers. 

The test also underwent other changes in 2016 as the creators adjusted its content and requirements. The essay section of the SAT became optional and different types of passages were added to the Reading section of the exam such as passages from other disciplines like science and social studies. The vocabulary requirements for the SAT also changed as test-takers were no longer expected to memorize different words for specific questions. 

In 2021, the SAT with Essay was removed entirely from the available testing options in the United States. SAT Subject Tests, originally created in 1939, were also removed. 

What’s the Purpose of the SAT?

The purpose of the SAT is not to test the aptitude or intelligence of students, but rather to measure their readiness for college. The SAT is useful to help colleges have a singular data point that they can use to easily compare students. 

This does not necessarily mean that it is only the data point that they use to evaluate students, but it can help colleges to track student readiness. It is especially important to have data like this when comparing across different schools that may have different grading difficulty or entirely different grading scales.

In some situations, SAT scores can actually help students by balancing a lower GPA. Sometimes students may receive a lower GPA than they would desire as a result of external factors in their lives or overly difficult grading. In these situations, SAT scores may demonstrate a student’s true potential readiness for college. 

College applications are usually viewed holistically, meaning SAT or ACT test scores can factor into the admissions process. These achievement tests are usually very important to gain admission to top schools, like Ivy League schools, which are looking for well-rounded students who can score well in SAT Math, SAT Reading, and SAT Writing while also maintaining an impressive GPA and extracurricular activities. For this reason, SAT test prep is extremely important.

What are SAT Subject Tests? 

SAT Subject Tests are daunting and the good news is that these tests are no longer administered in the United States. There are some schools that previously required or strongly encouraged students to submit at least two or three subject tests, but with recent changes to the SAT, this is no longer the case.

These subject tests were graded on an 800 scale, similar to how the math or reading sections of the real SAT are each on an 800 scale. Each test specifically focused on one subject, such as Spanish or US History. The lowest possible score was a 200 as the scale was 200-800.

Subject tests were different from the actual SAT as you could be penalized for getting questions wrong. For each question right, you would receive points, but each question that you marked wrong would lead to a fraction of a point being deducted. If the question was left blank, however, there would be no effect on the score. 

PSAT vs. SAT Score Conversion 

Despite the change in the name of the actual SAT, the PSAT is typically referred to as the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test. The PSAT is similar to the SAT, but the actual test is a bit shorter and typically seen as easier than the actual SAT. It is essentially a practice test that can help students and parents know the level that the student is currently performing at. It can serve as a guide to how much a student may need to study and what area they may need to practice the most for. 

There are actually three different types of PSATs: PSAT/NMSQT, PSAT 10, and PSAT 8/9. It is typical that 10th or 11th grade students will take the PSAT/NMSQT, but 10th grade students may also take the PSAT 10. Students in 8th or 9th grade thus take the PSAT 8/9. In many areas, schools will have students take these tests during the school day, but they do not necessarily always offer all three tests. 

The PSAT/NMSQT stands for the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test and can help students qualify for scholarships or recognition. Some of the top performing students in their area may receive a scholarship as a result of their good performance on the exam.

The PSAT 10 and PSAT 8/9 do not result in scholarships for students, but rather can simply familiarize students with the test. It is often students’ first experiences with the exam and can help them understand its requirements.

Taking the PSAT will also help students with SAT prep, but taking the PSAT alone is not enough to score as well as possible on the SAT — the SAT is slightly harder, meaning you need additional practice after taking the PSAT before heading to any SAT testing centers.

Recent Changes to the SAT

Just as the test underwent changes in 1990, the test is continuing to change in the present day. Currently, in the United States, the College Board no longer offers SAT with Essay or SAT subject tests. 

This decision comes as a result of the changing realities of the college admissions process as more and more colleges are recognizing that tests do not always capture the full image of a student. The College Board is also aware of how much these tests can demand from students and how there is already an overlap that exists between subject tests and AP testing. 

As for the SAT with Essay, most schools did not require the essay section, which likely made it less beneficial for the College Board to even administer. This means college admissions officers will likely look to your personal essays and Reading and Writing section scores to gauge your language abilities.

As a student that was once a junior in high school that had just learned what subject tests were, I think this is a step in the right direction. There are many students that come from schools that never stressed the importance of taking subject tests for getting into college, which puts them at a disadvantage. There are also many students who cannot afford to take all of these tests as they may not have the access to resources to get free tests or they might not have the time to sacrifice to take them. Schools like Georgetown who previously required 3 SAT Subject Tests were less accessible to many students as a result of this. 

Prepare for the SAT with SoFlo!

Now that you are familiar with the meaning of the SAT, we encourage you to get involved with SoFlo tutoring! SoFlo offers flexible tutoring that you can participate in from the comfort of your own home!

Our tutors are knowledgeable in the exam and very familiar with the SAT as many of our tutors have taken it within recent years. These SAT experts are willing to work with you so that you feel prepared and ready to take on the SAT with no delays or cancellations. Visit our page for more information or sign up for a free consultation!

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About the Author

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Becky Rosen

Becky Rosen is a sophomore at Princeton studying architecture. She’s a SoFlo tutor who scored 1540 on her SATs and 35 on her ACTs. When she’s not at school in New Jersy, she might be in her hometown of Tennessee looking at cute dog pictures from her friends.

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