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The SATs (pronounced "S-A-T" not "sat") are standardized tests, formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Tests and Scholastic Assessment Tests, frequently used by colleges and universities in the United States to aid in the selection of incoming freshmen. The SAT is administered by the private, non-profit College Board, and is developed, published, and scored by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). This latter organization has a mailing address in Princeton, New Jersey, but is not associated with Princeton University.



Unlike many other countries' education systems, there are substantial differences in quality among U.S. secondary schools, both in regards to high schools in separate states and between high schools in the same state (see Education in the United States). The variability results largely from the American principle of federalism, whereby local jurisdictions have most of the control over school systems, and the tax system in the U.S., in which school districts are funded locally as well. Wealthier jurisdictions enjoy higher tax revenue, and as a result their public schools are better funded.

These differences make it difficult for universities to compare prospective students in an effort to identify and admit the most deserving and promising candidates. In the absence of centralized secondary education school exit exams (such as the French Baccalaureate, Irish Leaving Certificate, or British A-levels), there is a need in the U.S. for some sort of standardized tests. U.S. universities use tests such as the SAT and the ACT as a way of assessing students coming from schools using different class ranking or grading systems.

The tests are generally taken by high school students or graduates wishing to progress to higher education, though they are available to anyone. Test results of applicants are provided to colleges and universities identified by the student. Although admission criteria to these universities also includes GPA, teacher recommendations, and participation in extracurricular activities, some colleges have a threshold score that automatically qualifies a candidate for admission. Scores on the SAT are also sometimes used as a criterion for the awarding of many academic scholarships (see also PSAT).

SATs worldwide

Internationally, there is little widespread interest or knowledge of the SAT, because other countries usually have their own standardized tests. However, the SATs are available worldwide to interested students.

Graduates of schools outside of the United States seeking admission to U.S. colleges/universities are often expected to provide SAT (or ACT) scores. These students are often not informed of the availability of these tests, and most teachers outside of the U.S. (especially those in non-English speaking countries) are also not aware of this requirement. Usually, interested students must obtain information about the test on their own (typically from U.S. embassies, consulates, an international school and/or by obtaining a free "SAT Program Registration Bulletin, International Version"). This can require international travel and large fees. Because the SAT has been well established for many years, some universities outside of the U.S. may also consider SAT scores in their admissions process as well, although they are rarely required.

SAT Reasoning Test

The SAT Reasoning Test (formerly the SAT I: Reasoning Test and commonly referred to as the SAT I) consists of three sections: math, critical reading, and writing, which includes an essay. Beginning with the March 12, 2005, administration of the exam, the SAT Reasoning Test was modified and lengthened. Changes included the removal of analogy questions from the reading (formerly verbal) section and quantitative comparisons from the mathematics section. A writing section (with an essay) based largely on the former SAT II Writing Subject Test was added to the exam, and the mathematics section was expanded to cover three years of high school mathematics. Scores on each section range from 200 to 800, with scores always being a multiple of 10.

The new SAT contains ten sections and a total length of 3 hours 45 minutes; with the additional writing section, a "perfect" score on the new SAT will be 2400 (On the March 12, 2005 SAT, 107 students scored 2400; scores are calculated by the addition of the score on each section). The ten sections are divided up as follows: three math, three reading, and three writing, with one equating section which may be any one of the three types. The equating section does not count in any way towards a student's score; it is used to test questions for future exams and to compare the difficulty level of each exam. During the test, takers do not know which section is the equating section (however, it is never the essay or Section 10, which is always a 10 minute writing section). Each of the ten sections is ordered by difficulty (the test is commonly said to be "powered"), with the exception of the critical reading sections, which are organized chronologically. Each question now has five answer choices. Ten of the questions in one of the math sections are not multiple-choice. They instead require the test taker to input the result of their calculations in a four-column grid. For each correct answer, one raw point is added; for each incorrect answer one-fourth of a point is deducted. However, for the ten student-produced answers in the math section, no points are deducted for a wrong answer. The final score is derived from the raw score; the precise conversion chart varies from year to year due to minor variations in test difficulty.

What scores on the new test qualify as "excellent", "average", or "poor" are yet to be determined. One of the reasons for the new test was to broaden the range of scores by adding another section; however, this tends to make judging new scores difficult. Many American colleges will require the new test, but will continue to only consider the reading and math score combination in the criteria of their admissions process. Some colleges will now accept the writing section in lieu of the SAT II: Writing Subject Test, which has been discontinued. Most universities and colleges plan to study the results from the new tests for several years before setting expectations and requirements.

In the early 1990s, the SAT consisted of six sections: two math sections (scored together on a 200-800 scale), two verbal sections (scored together on a 200-800 scale), the Test of Standard Written English (scored on a 20-60+ scale), and an equating section. In 1994, the exam was modified, removing antonym questions, and adding math questions that were not multiple choice. The average score on the 1994 modification of the SAT I was, in theory, 1000 (500 on the verbal, 500 on the math), though the most recent national average was 508 for math and 518 for verbal. The most selective schools in the United States (for example, those in the Ivy League athletic conference) typically had SAT averages exceeding 1400.

SAT Subject Tests

The SAT Subject Tests are 20 one-hour multiple-choice tests given in individual subjects. A student chooses which ones he or she will take, depending upon individual factors, such as college entrance requirements. Until 1994, the SAT Subject Tests were known as Achievement Tests; until January 2005 they were known as as SAT IIs, the name by which they are still well known. The exception to the one-hour time was the Writing test, which was divided into a 20-minute essay question and a 40-minute multiple choice section; it was discontinued after January, 2005. A student may take up to three SAT Subject tests on any given date, which are the same dates as for the administration of the SAT Reasoning Test.

The 20 Subject Tests are, by category:

  • Literature

History and Social Studies

  • U.S. History (formerly American History and Social Studies)
  • World History


  • Math Level 1 (formerly Math IC)
  • Math Level 2 (formerly Math IIC)


  • Biology E/M (Ecological/Molecular)
  • Chemistry
  • Physics


  • Chinese with Listening
  • French
  • French with Listening
  • German
  • German with Listening
  • Spanish
  • Spanish with Listening
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Italian
  • Latin
  • Japanese with Listening
  • Korean with Listening

Previously offered tests (discontinued after January 2005):

  • Writing
  • English Language Proficiency Test (ELPT)

Each individual test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800, except for the ELPT, which was scored on a scale of 100 to 999. More selective colleges often require a math test and a test of the student's choice. The Writing test was often previously required as well. Engineering schools typically require a science test and prefer Math Level II.

Taking the test

The SAT is offered seven times a year in the United States, on the first Saturday of October, November, December, January, March, May and June. In other countries, the SAT is offered on the same dates as in the United States except for the March test date, which is not offered.

Candidates may either take the SAT Reasoning Test or up to three SAT Subject Tests on any given test date, except the March test date, when only the SAT Reasoning Test is offered. Candidates wishing to take the test may register online at the College Board's website (, by mail, or by telephone, at least three weeks before the test date.

For candidates whose religious beliefs prevent them from taking the test on a Saturday, they may request to take the test on the following Sunday. Such requests must be made at the time of registration and are subject to denial.

Raw scores, scaled scores and percentiles

The student receives a score report approximately 3-4 weeks after administration of the test, with each section graded on a scale of 200 to 800. In addition to their score, students receive their percentile (i.e. the percentage of other candidates scoring lower than them). The raw score, or the number of points gained from correct answers and lost due to incorrect answers (ranges from just under 50 to just under 60, depending upon the test), is not included; however, one can easily calculate the raw score from the information provided on the score report. Students may also receive, for an additional fee, the Question and Answer Service, which provides the student's answer, the correct answer to each question, and online resources explaining each question.

The corresponding percentile of each scaled score varies from test to test – for example, in 2003, a scaled score of 800 in both sections of the SAT Reasoning Test corresponded to a percentile of 99, while a scaled score of 800 in the SAT Physics Test corresponded to the 94th percentile. The difference in corresponding percentiles reflects the number of students who take the test. Generally speaking, the more popular the test, the higher the percentile corresponding to a scaled score of 800.

History and name changes

The initials SAT have been used since the test was first introduced in 1901, when it was known as the Scholastic Achievement Test and was meant to measure the level achieved by students seeking college admission. The test was used mainly by colleges and universities in the northeastern United States. In 1941, after considerable development, the non-profit College Board changed the name to the Scholastic Aptitude Test, still the most popular name. The test became much more widely used in the 1950s and 1960s and once was almost universal.

The success of SAT coaching schools, such as Kaplan and the Princeton Review, forced the College Board to change the name again. In 1990, the name was changed to Scholastic Assessment Test, since a test that can be coached clearly did not measure inherent "scholastic aptitude", but was influenced largely by what the test subject had learned in school. This was a major theoretical retreat by the College Board, which had previously maintained that the test measured inherent aptitude and was free of bias.

In 1994, however, the redundancy of the term assessment test was recognized and the name was changed to the neutral, and non-descriptive, SAT. At the time, the College Board announced, "Please note that SAT is not an initialism. It does not stand for anything."

The test scoring was initially scaled to make 500 the average score on each section. As the test grew more popular and more students from less rigorous schools began taking the test, the average dropped to about 450 for each section. Various attempts to balance out this decline led to complex statistical anomalies. For example, in certain years it was impossible to get a score of 780 or 790 on a section; one could only get a 770 or below or an 800. To combat the trend toward declining scores, the SAT was "recentered" in 1995, and the average score became again closer to 500. All scores awarded after 1994 are officially reported with an "R" (e.g. 1260R) to reflect this change.

In 2005, the test was changed again, in response to various criticisms. Because of issues concerning ambiguous questions, especially analogies, certain types of questions were eliminated (the analogies disappeared altogether). The test was made marginally harder, as a corrective to the rising number of perfect scores. A new writing section was added, in part to increase the chances of closing the opening gap between the highest and midrange scores. Other factors included the desire to test the writing ability of each student in a personal manner; hence the essay. The New SAT (officially the SAT Reasoning Test) was first offered on March 12, 2005, after the last administration of the "old" SAT, the 1994 revision, in January of that year.

The March 12th test was reported to have 107 perfect "2400" scores, above College Board estimates but at a far lesser rate relative to the old proportion of perfect scores on the 1600-point test. The first essay question ever given for an SAT Reasoning Test dealt with majority rule and its effectiveness.


The SAT Reasoning Test is not without its critics in the United States. They claim that it is biased towards males and whites (if true, this is ironic, as one of the original touted advantages of the SAT was that it would give immigrant children an equal chance with traditional elites). Opponents of the SAT propose different solutions, including the offering of different SAT tests targeted at different demographic groups. Furthermore, many of the multiple-choice questions and word analogies have been found to be ambiguous, and some math scores have had to be changed because of errors in scoring.

Approximately 400 colleges and universities in the United States, including Bowdoin College, Bates College, and Mount Holyoke College [1] (, have made the SAT Reasoning Test optional and have begun to pay more attention to other measures of student ability in their undergraduate admissions decisions. The University of California system has started to weigh SAT IIs more heavily instead. Other colleges have encouraged the use of the alternate ACT exam. Overall SAT averages of admitted students are still the subject of self-promotion by colleges and universities, however. Unlike the SAT Reasoning Test, the SAT Subject Tests have received less controversy, partly because they are more content-oriented.

In a 2001 speech to the American Council of Education, Richard C. Atkinson, president of the University of California, urged dropping the SAT Reasoning Test as a college admissions requirement:

"Anyone involved in education should be concerned about how overemphasis on the SAT is distorting educational priorities and practices, how the test is perceived by many as unfair, and how it can have a devastating impact on the self-esteem and aspirations of young students. There is widespread agreement that overemphasis on the SAT harms American education." [2] (


"In 1996, [the College Board] dropped the name altogether and said that the "SAT" was the "SAT" and that the initials no longer stood for anything. Rather than resolving the problem, this rhetorical sleight-of-hand served to underscore the mystery of what the SAT is supposed to measure." [3] (

In response to these various criticisms, the College Entrance Examination Board announced the restructuring of the SAT, to take effect in March 2005, as detailed above.

However, abuse arrived even before copies or even sample questions were available. FairTest, an organization against standardized testing in general, stated that the old test did a "particularly poor job of predicting how females, students of color, and older test-takers will do in college" [4] ( They also commented that "the gender gap may be reduced slightly" on the New SAT, "but will probably not be completely eliminated" [5] (

IQ and the SAT

According to a 2003 study by Frey and Detterman, there is a significant correlation between ("old") SAT scores and IQ. Methods are available for estimating a test taker's IQ from his SAT score, and vice-versa.

Mensa used to accept individuals who scored a 1300+ on the SAT prior to 30 September 1974, and 1250+ on tests up to January 31, 1994. After the test was recentered in 1995, Mensa decided that SAT scores were no longer an effective measure of intelligence and high scores are no longer accepted.

See also

  • PSAT, a "Practice" SAT test taken by sophomores and juniors; also used to qualify for National Merit Scholarships, administered by the College Board.
  • List of admissions tests


  • Hoffman, Banesh. The Tyranny of Testing. Orig. pub. Collier, 1962. ISBN 0738204331 (and others).
  • Owen, David. None of the Above: The Truth Behind the SATs. Revised edition. Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. ISBN 0847695077.
  • Sacks, Peter. Standardized Minds: The High Price of America's Testing Culture and What We Can Do to Change It. Perseus, 2001. ISBN 0738204331.
  • Zwick, Rebecca. Fair Game? The Use of Standardized Admissions Tests in Higher Education. Falmer, 2002. ISBN 0415925606.

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