Timeline of Changes to the SAT and ACT

By Huntington Learning Center

Have you ever wondered where the SAT and ACT tests came from? Or how long they’ve been used by U.S. colleges and universities to evaluate students for admission? Here’s a quick overview of the history of both exams:

The SAT

  • 1900 – The College Entrance Examination Board (today simply the College Board), a group of 12 colleges and universities, was formed to simplify the application process for students and college admission offices and administer annual exams to be used for college entrance evaluation.
  • 1901 – The first College Boards were administered in June at 67 U.S. locations and two European locations. Most test takers were from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and more than one-third came from private schools, more than one-fourth came from public high schools and the remaining 13% were from other institutions.
  • 1923 – Carl Brigham published a book called A Study of American Intelligence, which concluded that American education was on the decline. He was hired to create an exam for Princeton University freshmen and Cooper Union, a New York technical College. The College Board subsequently hired Brigham to develop a test that could be used by many schools, which ultimately became the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).
  • 1926 – The SAT was administered to high school students for the first time and replaced the College Board exam.
  • 1934 – Harvard University began requiring all candidates for admission to take the SAT.
  • 1947 – Educational Testing Service, a nonprofit organization, was founded by the College Board, the American Council on Education and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to take over testing activities for those organization’s exams, including the SAT, the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and others.
  • 1994 – The SAT went through a major update, altering the verbal section, increasing passage-based reading sections and renaming a section Critical Reading. The Math section was also updated to include free-response questions and allow calculator use.
  • 2005 – The College Board revised the SAT to rename the Verbal Reasoning section as the Critical Reading section and add a Writing section. The score scale of the new SAT became 600-2400 (with three sections: Critical Reading, Math and Writing).
  • 2014 – The College Board announced plans to overhaul the SAT, the biggest changes since its 2005 update. The test went back to a 1600 scale (200-800 for math, 200-800 for reading), the essay became optional, a no-penalty-for-wrong answers policy was implemented, and the testing of obscure vocabulary words was removed, among other changes.
  • 2016 – The newly revised SAT was administered for the first time in March.

The ACT

  • 1959 – The American College Testing Program was formed to administer the ACT Assessment, which was designed to help students make better decisions about which colleges to attend and which programs to study, and provide information helpful to colleges in the process of admitting students. The exam was administered for the first time in November, with more than 75,000 students taking the exam.
  • 1989 – ACT introduced a revised exam, replacing the Social Studies section with a Reading section and renaming the Natural Science section as Science. Updates to the Math and English sections were also made and the overall ACT became longer.
  • 2015 – ACT changed its scoring methodology. Students began receiving four new subscores for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), English language arts, career readiness and text complexity. In addition, the optional ACT Writing test changed, giving test-takers three perspectives on a topic and inviting analysis of those three perspectives.
  • 2019 – ACT announced that in 2020, students would be able to test online during national ACT test dates, take single section retests, and report their best individual section scores, also known as superscoring.

Of course, both the SAT and ACT have gone through many other changes through the years: splitting into different sections, addition/removal of various content, scoring methodology changes and more.

If you have a teen preparing to apply to colleges, we’ll help you learn everything you and your teen need to know about the SAT and ACT, including how to prepare effectively. Learn more about the current iterations of the SAT and ACT by contacting Huntington at 1-800 CAN LEARN.

History of ACT exam (ACT.org)

ACT timeline

History of the SAT (PBS.org)


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