When you think of the SAT, you probably don’t think of drama and scandal. But that’s exactly what makes up the history of this standardized test. How can one test have such a dramatic and conspiratorial history? What does SAT stand for? Are you taking the same test as someone who took the very first SAT?

What Does SAT Stand For?

The short answer for what does SAT stand for is, “it depends.” The meaning for these three little letters have changed a few times in the test’s 90 year history. And to understand how the SAT became what is today, you may need a little history lesson.

1899: The Creation of the College Board

Before 1899, college admissions were based on two things: your grades and your school counselor’s perception of your “character.”

Sounds a little biased, right?

Well, it gets worse when you realize that colleges typically only accepted students from schools they knew. There was no feasible way for you to break out of your small town school into the elitist echelons of what we know as the Ivy League.

So right before Christmas in 1899, the College Entrance Examination Board was created at Columbia University. You know this group better as the College Board. With the help of eleven other universities like Princeton and Cornell and three private high schools, the College Board strove to create a fair college admissions process.

You see, there was no way for colleges to fairly compare students against each other on a national level. Different teachers taught different subjects and gave different grades on these subjects. No consistent education existed. This is a hard thing for us to understand, because of how accustomed we are to national education standards. Those still needed to be created at that point and that’s exactly what the College Board sought to do.

In 1899, the following subjects were considered important for students like you to master before advancing to the college level:

  •    Botany
  •    Chemistry
  •    English
  •    French
  •    German
  •    Greek
  •    History
  •    Latin
  •    Mathematics
  •    Physics
  •    Zoology

Quite the combination, isn’t it? If you think about your high school curriculum today, you’re more than likely studying biology instead of botany or zoology and your foreign language requirement is usually restricted to one language instead of four.

In 1901, the College Board administered its first test, but it would take another twenty years before the first real SAT test was released to high school students.

1926: Meet the Scholastic Aptitude Test

It would take three years to develop the SAT as we know it today. Even though the College Board was trying to create a solution, they ended up creating a different kind of problem for themselves. The SAT’s first acronym, The Scholastic Aptitude Test, is where the issues start. Why? Let’s break down that acronym a little bit.

The word “scholastic” is innocent enough, meaning “of or concerning schools and education, academic.” Makes sense when you consider the College Board’s mission, right? No real drama there. The scandal introduces itself with the second word, “aptitude” which is defined as “a natural ability to do something; talent.” Essentially, the College Board was claiming that some people are naturally more intelligent than others.

The scandal increases when you realize the original SAT was created to be more like an IQ test. That’s because the man who designed it, Carl Brigham, had worked with IQ tests during World War I to ensure only the most intelligent candidates were advanced to officer status in the Army. Brigham believed that using a different version of his Army IQ test would help colleges and universities diversify their student body, because admissions would be based on intelligence instead of social circles.

During the initial stage of testing, test prep companies emerged and proved that you can learn to get a better score on the SAT. This completely contradicted accepted beliefs at the time: intelligence, it was believed, was an ability you were born with, not something you could ever improve. As time went on, ideas about education broadened, acknowledging that your academic ability had more to do with your environment and character than innate ability.

1993: Introducing the Scholastic Assessment Test

In the face of these discoveries about academic ability, the College Board changed the answer to the question what does SAT stand for. “Aptitude” was replaced with “assessment” and divided the test into two parts: SAT I: Reasoning Test and SAT II: Subject Tests. “Assessment” was viewed as more accurate, because the SAT evaluated how you grew intellectually during your high school years.

Then the College Board ran into another problem: “assessment” is a synonym for “test.” So, we had the Scholastic Test Test. With a name like that, you can understand why the College Board changed the name one last time.

1997: It’s SAT not S.A.T.

Nothing. The SAT is no longer an acronym, it’s simply a moniker like KFC or AT&T. The reason behind the name change? Well, considering the drama caused by what the College Board chose to call its test, they might have decided that it would be less hassle and less controversial to just be known by their letters. The ACT, your other standardized testing option, went from being called American College Testing to simply being known by its letters as well.

What Does SAT Stand for Now?

Although the answer to what does the SAT stand for has changed over the years, its purpose is still to help colleges evaluate what students are a better fit for their campus. There are plenty of issues with this, but the creation of the College Board, national high school standards, and standardized testing was a monumental achievement in education. The SAT is a living test that adapts to its times, as seen by the 2015 redesign of the materials on the test and the scoring. There remains debate over how useful the SAT and standardized tests are for evaluating success, but for now, you will still have to take them for college admissions.

What are your thoughts on the SAT? Do you think it’s a good method for evaluating students? Or do you think it’s a way to hold certain students back? Let us know in the comment section below. We can’t wait to hear from you!