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SAT: A College Tradition, Like it or Not

College Admissions Test Makes a Change… Again

For Tradition Thursday, we’re going to focus on something a little different. The SAT is a tradition that the admissions department of almost every American University has shared. This month, the College Board announced that big changes are coming for the old-school test.

Students study hard for the SAT and ACT photo: @allthatjasss

Students study hard for the SAT and ACT
photo: @allthatjasss

Beginning in 2016, the test will return to a 1600-point scale, the essay section will be optional, and test-takers will not be penalized for incorrect answers.  The notorious vocabulary section will be revised and updated to words in more common usage. For the first time ever, SAT takers will have the option to take the test on a computer.

History of the SAT

So how did the SAT become a factor for college entrance and where did the test come from?

Before the SAT, college’s each hosted their own entrance exams. The questions varied wildly and the knowledge required to master the exams was heavily contingent on the professor’s interests and the high-school from which the student was graduating.

The military developed the test that would become the SAT during WWI. The “Alpha Test” was developed to help the Army make quick placement decisions for large numbers of recruits.  The test was designed in a way to reduce bias among people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.  Many would argue that with advances in SAT prep, tutoring, and disparities in public education, the test has become significantly less democratic since it’s inception.

In 1926 the Scholastic Aptitude Test, an evolution of the Army’s Alpha exam, was given to a group of college hopefuls. 8,000 students took the test, and only 40% were female. The population skewed highly Northeastern—with most students trying to gain entry to Ivy League universities like Smith College and Yale. The Test has been amended countless times since then and the new changes will be implemented on the 2016 version.

The controversy of standardized testing has a robust history. Critics argue that the tests don’t take a student’s full intelligence into account, or that the tests are culturally or economically biased; while admissions counselors argue that they need some way to sort through the thousands of applications they receive each year. While many schools have switched to the ACT, as a more accurate predictor of student’s future college performance, the SAT is alive and well. And rolling with the times.