The Legacy of the SAT

The SAT was born in 1926 as an acronym for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The College Board had just recently been formed, and the test was originally created as a sort of IQ test, stemming from the idea that a higher IQ will make one more likely to succeed in life. By 1993, controversy over the idea that the test was only measuring aptitude instead of growth pushed the college board to rename the test the Scholastic Assessment Test. Four years later, the acronym was stripped of all meaning, and currently stands for nothing but a trademark. Yet, the fact that the SAT is essentially a meaningless title in no way inhibits it’s ability to strike fear in the hearts of children.

“People place a lot of emphasis on the scores, and take them as a direct representation of how hard you work or how smart you are, which isn’t what it measures,” said sophomore Nalini Mizukami. “The constant pressure from parents and teachers and stuff makes it a lot more stressful than necessary. Plus, the SAT doesn’t really do that great of a job assessing how well you’ve learned the material in your classes or how prepared you’ll be for college, it just measures how good you are at taking the SAT.” In the Tam community especially, there is a stigma around the SAT that exists around no other test; but how does the value we place on it compare to its actual significance?

As sophomores, tam students begin to get emails from the school and counseling offices advocating taking the PSAT; a practice SAT that helps students get an idea of what taking the test is like, where they’re at and what they need to improve on. There are various SAT prep programs that parents are pointed towards, and the idea is presented immediately that the ultimate goal for a good student is to achieve as high a score as possible – because your SAT score determines what colleges you are able to get into, and, by extension, your entire future. Obviously.

While the SAT is already an established legend, the ACT is the eager newcomer, picking up popularity fast. Its foremost advantage over the SAT is probably that its name holds actual meaning; the American College Testing Assessment, although the last A isn’t included because… catchiness? They’ve almost figured out how acronyms work.

The ACT is a bit more modern than the SAT, following a “one size fits all” model designed to save time by not requiring the test taker to take multiple specialized subject tests. An estimated 1.7 million copies of the test are distributed annually, and these days it has become a vital step in the college applications process to check which test, or tests, are required and accepted by each individual administration. Many ambitious students take both the SAT and the ACT, although that technically defeats the ACT’s objective to save you time on standardized testing.

In early 2016, a new and improved version of the SAT was released… one that was designed to better reflect the curriculum of high school students and be less mystifying than the original. Instead of needing to cram for extravagant vocabulary that students’ have never heard before and will never use again, the new reading section focuses more on comprehension and analysis, and asks only for the test taker to derive the meanings of more common words using context clues. “The new SAT will align better with what kids are learning in school,” said Ned Johnson, the founder of a test-preparation service called PrepMatters. Tutors are recommending more long-term strategies such as lots of reading– particularly non-fiction– instead of drilling SAT vocabulary flash cards into a student’s brain just in preparation for the test.

What does this mean exactly? It means that parents who are forcing their teenagers to spend their weekends and vacations spending hours with an SAT tutor are missing the point of the current SAT test entirely; which is to actually evaluate where your child is at in their pre-established academic curriculum.

While the SAT has been proven to be a test you can actually get better at taking, you shouldn’t need to cram specifically for the SAT to do well on it if you are usually successful in school. Since this is a relatively new concept, it may take a while to sink in– after all, the test is so much of a trademark that it goes by a meaningless title for the sake of tradition– but times do change. And the SAT changes with them.