A brief history of the SAT and ACT

Recently a reader reached out to me and asked what the difference between the SAT and ACT was and why her child, who had a high GPA, ended up with a moderate ACT score. This is something that many parents have been wondering and, as testing season is fastly approaching, this is a perfect time to discuss these tests. Today’s objectives are to understand the history of the SAT and the ACT.

In December of 1899 the College Entrance Examination Board (later known as the College Board) was founded as a non-profit by 12 colleges and 4 high schools. The purpose of the group was to create a test that could be administered to students so colleges could know their readiness level. The original test (not known as the SAT) was administered over five days and given the fourth week in June (the first test being administered in 1901). This test covered the subjects of: English, History, Latin, Greek, French, German, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Botany, and Zoology. (A copy of the initial charter can be found at: https://tinyurl.com/SATcharter)

This was administered for several years until the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was developed and administered in 1926. Unlike the previous test, which was mainly an essay test, this was predominantly a multiple choice test in which students had 90 minutes to answer 315 questions. The SAT saw an increasing number of colleges administer the test as an entrance requirement and, after Harvard began using it in 1933, it quickly became the standard for almost all American colleges on the east coast by the 1940s. This test has undergone many changes over the years, the most recent being in 2016. One interesting change is that SAT is no longer an acronym (meaning the letters no longer stand for any specific words). Also, the subjects covered in the test have varied over the years. In its current iteration, the SAT consists of 3 sections testing critical reading skills, 3 sections testing mathematical skills, and 3 sections testing writing skills. The tests are administered 5 times a year.

In 1959, Everett Franklin LIndquist, a University of Iowa professor felt that the SAT was not meeting the needs of most colleges. As the SAT measured a student’s intelligence and ability to learn, he believed that colleges should be assessing what students have actually learned in school. Also, at this time the SAT was was not being used by most public schools and only mainly by colleges on the east coast. Due to this, Lindquist founded the American College Testing Program (ACT). The ACT consisted of four sections: Math, Social Studies, English, and Science. Within fifteen years of being developed, the ACT was being administered to 1 million students nationwide. As time has gone on, the ACT has quickly become the most popular standardized test administered to students in the United States. The ACT is the most often used in the midwest, though the SAT is still popular in the east and west coast states. An interesting fact about the ACT is that in 2012, the ACT surpassed the SAT in number of participants, with over half of the graduates in the United States taking it.

In North Dakota, the most popular (almost to the point of exclusivity) assessment is the ACT. By the time students in North Dakota graduate, many of them will have taken the ACT (according to The Condition of College & Career Readiness 2016 published by ACT, Inc. “In North Dakota, 7,379 students in the 2016 graduating class took the ACT”) North Dakota colleges and universities require students to have taken either the ACT or the SAT and many of them have minimum score requirements (usually, if the students did not meet the minimum score requirement, they will be required to take remedial courses before being allowed to take college level courses). Students in North Dakota also have the option of taking the WorkKeys assessment which assesses a student’s skills for entering the workforce (this test was created and is assessed through ACT). Most North Dakota universities, at this time, do not accept the WorkKeys assessment for entrance.

In the next article, I will discuss how the scoring for the ACT and the SAT works and why a student who has a high GPA may still score low on these assessments. Until then, class is dismissed.

Jacob Jenkins is an English teacher at Central Campus High School. He holds a Master of Educational Leadership degree from UND and is currently working on completing a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership through UND. The opinions and views expressed in these columns represent those of Mr. Jenkins and are in no way representative of Minot Public Schools or the University of North Dakota. Please contact Mr. Jenkins with any comments,

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about at: jjenkins@minot



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