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Scholastic Assessment Test

A test that measures verbal and mathematical abilities and achievement in specific subject areas.

In March 1994, the test formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test became the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT). The name change reflects the test's objectives more accurately, that is, to measure a student's scholastic ability and achievement rather than his or her aptitude. The format of the SAT remains basically the same, however; it is a series of tests, given to groups of students. The tests measure verbal and mathematical abilities and achievement in a variety of subject areas. It is offered on Saturday mornings seven months of the year at locations across the United States. Over 2,000 colleges and universities use the test scores as part of the college admissions process. The SAT scores provide an indicator of the student's ability to do college-level work. Intended as an objective standard for comparing the abilities of students from widely different cultural backgrounds and types of schools, the test can also help students, their parents, and guidance counselors make decisions in the college application process.

The two major components of the test are SAT I: Reasoning Test, and SAT II: Subject Tests (formerly called Achievement Tests). All SAT test-takers complete SAT I, a three-hour multiple-choice test. The Test of Standard Written English, which prior to 1994 comprised a half-hour section of SAT I, has been eliminated. The new SAT I has three verbal reasoning and three mathematical reasoning sections. However, not all of these are half-hour sections. For both the verbal and mathematical components, two sections take 30 minutes, and the third takes only 15. This brings the total test time to 2.5 hours. The remaining half hour is devoted to an experimental section called Equating, which can be either a math or a verbal section. This section is not counted in the student's score, but the test-taker does not know which one is the Equating section while taking the test.

The Verbal Reasoning sections in the SAT I no longer contains antonym questions, and a greater emphasis has been placed on reading comprehension (called Critical Reading), which, in some cases, requires the student to answer questions on two different text passages instead of just one. As before, the Verbal Reasoning sections also include sentence completion and analogy questions.

The Mathematical Reasoning sections consist of multiple-choice questions covering arithmetic, algebra, and geometry; quantitative comparison (which are also multiple choice); and a section of problems requiring students to calculate their own answers (multiple-choice answers are not provided). Students are allowed (and encouraged) to use calculators for the math sections.

SAT II includes a variety of tests in subjects such as English, foreign languages, math, history and social studies, psychology, and the sciences. SAT I and II cannot be taken on the same day. Raw SAT scores are calculated based on the number of correct answers minus a fraction of a point for each wrong answer. Subtracting points for wrong answers compensates for guesses made by the test-taker, and is called the "guessing penalty." The raw score is converted using a scale ranging from 200 to 800, with separate scores provided for the verbal and math sections, and for each subject test in SAT II. Scores are reported about six weeks after the test date to students and their high schools, and to the colleges of their choice. Students may take the SAT more than once, and many do, hoping to improve upon their initial scores.

The SAT has been criticized on grounds of cultural and gender bias, charges that the revised version has attempted to rectify. The widespread use of test preparation courses and services for the SAT has also generated controversy, with detractors arguing that the test is unfair to economically disadvantaged students, who have limited access to coaching.

Further Reading

Bartl, Lisa. 10-Minute Guide to Upping Your SAT Scores. New York: Alpha Books/ARCO, 1996.

Carris, Joan Davenport. SAT Success. 5th ed. Princeton, NJ Peterson's, 1996.

Inside the SAT. New York: Princeton Review Publications, 1995. (A multimedia format including laser optical disc, reference manual, and practice test.)

Introducing the New SAT: The College Board's Official Guide. New York: College Entrance Examination Boards, 1993.

Additional topics

Psychology EncyclopediaPsychological Tests & Methods