erikthered.com logo

late 1800s
Average Scores

SAT (1952–present)
Data | Graph

ACT (1970–present)
Data | Graph
By the end of the 19th century, tests for admission to U.S. colleges are specific to each school. (The arithmetic portion of Harvard's 1869 entrance exam can be seen here. The corresponding portion of MIT's 1869 exam can be seen here. These portions of the two tests are quite different in difficulty.) The content of the tests varies widely and can be highly dependent on the interests of the faculty conducting the exams. It is not unusual for a college to administer exams on campus a week or two before classes begin. As an alternative to testing, many colleges, especially in the midwestern U.S., use "admission by certificate": a high school would be certified by inspectors from the colleges to have an appropriately preparatory curriculum for college work, and students graduated from such a high school would be considered to be adequate without testing. By 1900, however, inspections are infrequent and college faculty are often not present.
1900The College Entrance Examination Board (or "College Board") is founded, consisting of a non-profit membership of twelve colleges and universities. The membership is comprised mostly of elite institutions in the northeastern U.S., including Columbia, Cornell, Vassar, Barnard, and New York University. The founders are worried that the lack of uniform admissions testing and the certificate system places too much control of college admissions with the high schools. Also, the certificate system is thought to be conducing students away from the northeastern colleges.

At this time, roughly 4% of high school graduates go on to college.
1901The "College Boards" are administered in June for the first time to fewer than 1000 students. Roughly 75% of these students are applicants to Columbia University, hence the practical effect of these tests is to distinguish excellent students from elite students. The essay tests, which require five days to complete, are curriculum-based achievement exams, designed to assess a student's mastery of nine subjects, including Greek, Latin, and physics. For the price of ten cents, an examinee could find out from the College Board, before taking the test, the area of knowledge that each subject test would focus on. (For example, the student could learn that this year's Greek test would cover the first three books of Homer's Iliad.) Scoring is done by hand and consists of five ratings for each subject, from "Excellent" to "Very Poor", with "Doubtful" in the middle.
1917An intelligence test developed by Robert Yerkes and other psychologists is administered to more than 1.5 million U.S. Army recruits. The test, called the Army "Alpha" exam, uses multiple-choice questions (invented two years prior) and is designed to help the Army make rapid placement decisions for prospective soldiers entering World War I.
1919Columbia University begins allowing prospective students to substitute the results of an intelligence test (the Thorndike test for "Mental Alertness") for its regular entrance exams.
1925By this time, about 20,000 prospective freshmen take the College Board's exams each year. However, this figure represents only about 10 percent of the number of students entering college in the U.S. Most colleges continue either to admit by certificate or use their own entrance exams.

In April, the College Board appoints a commission, headed by Carl Brigham, to develop a new test designed to measure general intelligence.
1926The Scholastic Aptitude Test (or "SAT") is administered for the first time to about 8000 students, 40% of whom are women. (Almost all of these students are taking the traditional boards as well.) Carl Brigham, a psychologist who helped to develop aptitude tests for the U.S. Army during World War I, is influential in the development of the 1926 test. The SAT is considered a "new psychological test" and a supplement to, but not a replacement of, the existing College Boards. Due to the completely different nature of the SAT compared to the boards, all students are required to take a practice test before the actual SAT (sample questions below). Five of the nine scored sub-tests of the first SAT are taken directly or with minor revisions from Brigham's 1925 "Princeton Psychological Examination", which itself was derived from the Army Alpha intelligence tests.

Unlike the College Boards, the SAT (administered in June) is designed primarily to assess aptitude for learning rather than mastery of subjects already learned. For some college officials, an aptitude test, which is presumed to measure intelligence, is appealing since at this time intelligence and ethnic origin are thought to be connected, and therefore the results of such a test could be used to limit the admissions of particularly undesirable ethnicities. The test is designed to assess ability independently of any particular secondary school curriculum, which has a more mainstream appeal: college admissions testing via the SAT is uniformly applicable across a wide range of high school students, and the test is firmly in the control of college officials.

The instructions for the test include the following: The pencil is preferable to the fountain pen for use in this sort of test. The test is comprised of nine sub-tests: two math tests (Arithmetical Problems, and Number Series), and seven verbal tests (Definitions, Classification, Artificial Language, Antonyms, Analogies, Logical Inference, and Paragraph Reading). Raw scores on the sub-tests are converted to a single scaled SAT score ranging from 200 to 800, with a mean of exactly 500. Using this scoring method means that an unusually strong group of students taking the test could push other students' scores down, unlike the modern SAT. Also, the scores in a particular year could not be compared with scores in another year. For example, a student obtaining a score of 600 in 1926 could be significantly weaker than a student obtaining a score of 600 in 1927, if the group of test takers in 1927 happened to be particularly good students overall compared to 1926.

The questions in the reading sections include six-choice antonyms, analogies, and artificial language translations. A practice test given to students taking the 1926 test includes the following six-choice antonym question (there are six possible pairs of numbers as answers):
  • Which two of the following four words are opposite or nearly the opposite:
    1) obedient; 2) sincere; 3) dissembling; 4) torpid.
An example of a "classification" question is below (there are twenty possible answers):
  • Which three of the following words are most closely related?
    1) bean; 2) potato; 3) carrot; 4) beet; 5) lettuce; 6) cabbage.
1925 Princeton Test

Five of the nine sub-tests of the 1926 SAT were minor revisions or verbatim versions of portions of Carl Brigham's test given to incoming freshmen at Princeton University in September, 1925. The test, officially called the "Princeton Psychological Examination", owed much of its content to the Army Alpha test and other contemporary intelligence examinations.

The Analogies sub-test of the 1926 SAT is taken directly from Test 3 of the 1925 Princeton test. (See the table below for details of the content of the first SAT.) Except for the years 1930 to 1935, analogies will be used on the SAT until 2005. Each analogy question asks the student to identify a pair of words with the same relationship as a given pair of words. An example from the 1926 SAT reads:
  • Epilepsy is to carpenter as stuttering is to: 1) tongue; 2) minister; 3) cure; 4) stammering; 5) fluttering.
A typical "number series" math question on the 1926 SAT asks the student to complete the sequence given by filling in two numbers at the end. A difficult example from the 1926 practice test:
  • Which two numbers come next in the sequence: 1/8, 1/8, 1/4, 3/4, 3, ?, ?
Other math questions are open-ended arithmetic word problems, such as the following:
  • A boat that can make forty miles an hour in still water makes a trip of one hundred miles down a certain stream. If this trip takes two hours, how long will the return trip take?
(Answers to all of the test questions above appear at the end of this timeline.)

The original 1926 SAT and successive tests have an "experimental" section which is used to test new questions and question types. The section does not count toward the student's score, but it is not identified as the experimental section, requiring the test taker to apply himself or herself fully to this part of the test as well. The experimental section is 30 minutes in length until 2005, when it is reduced to 25 minutes. The structure of the 1926 SAT is shown below.
Excerpts are from the 1926 SAT, form A1. Samples are from the 1926 SAT practice test.
Content and Format of the 1926 Scholastic Aptitude Test
Sub-TestTitleQuestionsTime (mins.)Origin
1Definitions
(excerpt)
309A minor revision of sub-test 1 of the 1925 Princeton Test.
2Arithmetic
(excerpt)
208A minor revision of sub-test 7 of the 1925 Princeton Test.
3Classification
(excerpt)
406Developed and standardized by C. L. Stone at Dartmouth College.
4Artificial Language
(excerpt)
209A minor revision of sub-test 4 of the 1925 Princeton Test. Each question was worth from three to six points, for 74 points total.
5Antonyms
(sample)
4810A minor revision of sub-test 2 of the 1925 Princeton Test, which included synonyms as well as antonyms.
6Number Series Completion
(sample)
259 Developed and standardized by C. L. Stone at Dartmouth College, this type of question was widely used in other tests, including the Army Alpha test 6.
7Analogies406Identical to sub-test 3 of the 1925 Princeton Test.
8Logical Inference
(sample)
4010Developed by D. C. Rogers at Smith College.
9Paragraph Reading
(sample)
5030Developed at Yale for the 1926 SAT and based on J. C. Chapman's work in elementary school tests.
10Experimental Section60-20030These questions were being tested for inclusion in future SATs and did not count toward the student's score.

The first SAT is very hard for most students to finish: the scored portion of the test contains 313 questions to be completed in 97 minutes, or about 20 seconds to answer each one. (With 30 minutes for the experimental section and 22 total minutes of rest time between sub-tests, the total time of the test is about 2.5 hours.) On average, students taking the 1926 exam correctly answer only 173 questions. However, by 1929, the scored portion of the test will contain only six sub-tests and lasts 115 minutes (2 hours 40 minutes total with the experimental section and rest breaks). Subsequent changes to the test over the next 30 years will continue to make the verbal portion of the test less "speeded". By 1958, the scored portion of the SAT will be 2.5 hours in length, with a 30 minute experimental section, for a total time of 3 hours.
1928The Artificial Language and Logical Inference sections are dropped from this year's SAT (never to appear again). Both math sections are removed from the test as well.
1930 Free-response math questions reappear for the 1930 test. Test takers are expected to solve 80 math questions in 100 minutes. The SAT is split into a "verbal aptitude" section and a "math aptitude" section, and a score on a 200 to 800 scale is reported for each of these sections. These scores are not sent to either the student or to his or her high school: only colleges and universities receive scores at this time.

Analogies are dropped from the verbal section of the SAT.
1934Eight years after rejecting the SAT for use in admissions, Harvard begins requiring all prospective scholarship students to take the SAT. The president of the university, James Conant, feels that the test provides an accurate assessment of a student's intelligence. (Conant reasons that the SAT could then be used by Harvard to select scholarship candidates from among students other than those from well-known East Coast private schools.) By 1938, all of the College Board member schools will be using the SAT to evaluate scholarship applicants.
1936Math is once again removed from the SAT. Analogies are returned to the verbal section.
1937The College Board's Achievement Tests (officially called "Scholarship Tests") are administered for the first time to about 2000 students in April. Each hour-long test is a multiple-choice format assessment of proficiency in single subjects such as biology, chemistry, Spanish, and social studies, among others. The tests are developed by the Cooperative Test Service and funded by the Carnegie Foundation.

In conjunction with these subject tests, taken in the afternoon, the students take an SAT in the morning, making this SAT the first to be nationally administered in April. An April SAT date is appealing to colleges that want to notify applicants of their admission status earlier than late July, the earliest practical notification date with the June exams. The success of the Scholarship Tests will lead the College Board to offer an April SAT for admission purposes beginning in 1938.

Secondary schools are given the SAT scores of their students for the first time starting in this year; whether or not students can learn their own test scores is up to the high school.

At this time, the test fee for the SAT alone is $10 (about $155 in 2012 dollars). However, for the same fee, the traditional boards can be taken along with the SAT in June. (You can see how the SAT test fee has changed over the years in this chart.)
1940After a slow growth in acceptance of the SAT during the 1930s, the number of test takers exceeds 10,000 for the first time in April. (The total number of U.S. high school graduates in 1940 is roughly 1.1 million, meaning that only about 1% of these graduates take the SAT.)
1941The verbal portion of the SAT in this year is curved to an average score of 500 with a standard deviation of 100. To make a score in one year comparable to a score in another year, all future verbal SAT scores will be linked to this reference curve, via a process called "equating". For example, a student obtaining a score of 600 in one year would be considered equivalent in ability to a student obtaining a score of 600 in any other year. The same reference curve will be used until March, 1995. One requirement of equating is the necessity of keeping the SAT content and question types generally the same from one year to the next going forward. A side effect of equating is that average SAT scores are no longer fixed to be 500.

In December, administration of the original College Board examinations is suspended, and the exams are not used again. At this point, the SAT is the standard admissions test for almost all of the private colleges and universities in the northeastern United States.

From this time forward, the SAT is entirely machine scored, using a technique that measures electrical conductivity in the marks made by pencils.
1942Math returns to the SAT in April, in the form of multiple-choice questions with five-choice answers. To make a score in one year comparable to a score in another year, all SAT math scores on future exams will be linked to the curve used on the math section of this year's April exam. The same reference curve will be used until March, 1995.
1944The G.I. bill for U.S. veterans of World War II is passed into law. Among other things, the law provides cash assistance to the veterans for college tuition and board. Over the next 12 years, more than two million veterans will use these benefits to attend colleges or universities. At the height of the program in 1947, veterans will account for 49 percent of college admissions. The large increase in prospective college students and the lack of a significant competitor in admissions testing will help lead to a factor of eight increase in SAT test-takers during the 1940s and an additional factor of ten increase during the 1950s.
1946The SAT verbal section is changed to consist of antonyms, analogies, sentence completion, and reading comprehension, with somewhat less emphasis on "puzzle-like" reasoning questions and more emphasis on reading skills. This basic format will remain essentially the same for almost the next 60 years. The reading comprehension portions of the test are specifically considered to be "probably non-coachable".

In Brooklyn, New York, Stanley Kaplan begins teaching SAT prep classes. Each class consists of 4 hours of instruction per week for 16 weeks, at a cost of $128 per student. (About $1500 in 2012 dollars.)

At this time, the SAT test fee is $5 (about $58 in 2012 dollars).
1947The Educational Testing Service (ETS) is founded to consolidate development and administration of a variety of tests, including the Carnegie Foundation's Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the AAMC's Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and the College Board's SAT. The ETS assumes the testing activities of the College Board and other related organizations, but the College Board retains ownership and control of the SAT. To this day, the ETS develops and administers the SAT and AP tests as a contractor for the College Board. (The ETS now owns the GRE but is no longer involved with the MCAT.)

Starting with the April SAT, the number of antonym questions on the verbal section is significantly reduced to make the test less "speeded" and to discourage vocabulary "cramming".
1952Antonym questions on the SAT are changed to multiple-choice form with five possible answers. About half of the testing time allotted to the verbal section is devoted to reading questions at this point. The College Board begins to compute annual average SAT scores among all test takers at this time.
1958The number of verbal questions on the SAT is reduced from more than 110 to 90. This change is the final step to move the SAT away from a test that was designed so that few students could finish. (The scored portion of the test lasts 150 minutes, for 150 questions, or about one minute per question.) Reading comprehension makes up about 40% of the test at this time.

Students are allowed to view their own SAT scores for the first time.
1959 In the summer, the American College Testing (ACT) Program is founded by Ted McCarrel and E. F. Lindquist. Lindquist suggests that there is a need for a new regional or national test for college-bound high school students, for several reasons: 1) the SAT is used primarily by selective colleges in the northeastern U.S., but not by most public institutions as well as by universities in other regions of the country; 2) the new test should be used not just for admissions but placement as well; and, 3) the test should primarily be useful as an indicator of academic preparation, i.e., it should be an achievement test.

In November, the ACT Assessment is administered for the first time to about 75,000 students, and scheduled to be administered four times per year (in February, April, June, and November) starting in 1960. Based on
1959 ACT Logo
Original 1959 ACT Logo
the Iowa Tests of Educational Development (in fact, all the ACT exam questions for the first test had been pre-tested on a previous ITED), the test is comprised of four sections: English, mathematics, social studies, and natural sciences. Each section is 45 minutes long, for a total test time of 3 hours. Scores are reported on a scale of 1 to 36 for the test as a whole and for each sub-section. The test administration is primarily limited to the midwestern U.S at this time; the student's test fee is $3 (about $23 in 2012 dollars). The first ACT test and all successive administrations are scored by computers using optical mark recognition, at rates of thousands of test sheets per hour. (Lindquist developed optical mark reader machines which were in use for scoring the ITED by 1955.)

From the first test on, ACT scores are reported directly to the students as well as to the colleges. According to the post-test booklet given to students along with their results, "these few digits, which represent your scores on ACT, may help you make decisions that will affect many aspects of your future." However, taking the ACT more than once is not allowed except under unusual circumstances such as physical illness during the exam administration.

A new SAT math question type, "data sufficiency", is added. Each question is accompanied by two statements, and has five possible answers. A sample question:
Given triangle PQR, can the size of angle P be determined?

(1)  PQ=PR
(2)  The measure of angle Q is 40 degrees.


AStatement (1) ALONE is sufficient but statement (2) alone is not sufficient to answer the question;
BStatement (2) ALONE is sufficient but statement (1) alone is not sufficient to answer the question;
CBOTH statements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question, but NEITHER statement ALONE is sufficient;
DEACH statement is sufficient by itself to answer the question;
EStatements (1) and (2) TOGETHER are NOT sufficient to answer the question and additional data specific to the problem are needed.
(The answer appears at the end of this timeline.)

The first Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) is administered in the fall of this year. The test is a shortened form of the SAT and is designed to help students become familiar with the question types and format of the full exam.

At this time, the SAT test fee is $6 (about $47 in 2012 dollars).
1961The number of students taking the SAT this year is more than 800,000, roughly ten times the number taking the test in 1951. The number of students taking the ACT this year is about 300,000. (For comparison, the total number of U.S. high school graduates in 1960 is roughly 1.9 million.)
1965The College Board publishes "Effects of Coaching on Scholastic Aptitude Test Scores", also known informally as the "little green book". The book states that coaching for the SAT produces insignificant score increases. (The average increase attributable to coaching is said to be fewer than ten points per section.)
1968The number of students taking the ACT in the 1967-68 school year reaches about 950,000, more than seven times the number taking the test in 1959-60, the first ACT testing year.

The University of California begins requiring applicants to submit SAT scores. (Scores will only be used for students whose high school GPAs are less than 3.1.) Previously, the university had used only high school track records to determine admission and had rejected the use of the SAT once before in 1960. However, by the mid 1960s, the post-World War II population boom made it necessary to reduce the size of the university's eligibility pool, and the SAT requirement was seen as the most effective way to do this.
1970Starting this year, reported SAT scores are rounded to the nearest number divisible by ten. Previously, it was possible for students to receive scaled scores such as 501 or 789, for example.
1971The National Merit Scholarship Corporation begins co-sponsoring the PSAT, which is now also called the National Merit Scholarship Qualification Test (NMSQT). Scores on the PSAT will be used to determine which students will receive recognition of scholarship and/or scholarship money.
1972 The College Board releases a report on a study done by ETS researchers to determine the effects, if any, of coaching on SAT math question types. The researchers found that a 21-hour course of coaching in 7 weeks "produces both statistically and practically significant score gains on each of the three mathematics aptitude item formats." The average effective score gains are "conservatively estimated at about 33 SAT-M [SAT Math] points."

At this time, about 1 million students take the ACT each year. The test is administered five times per year (including a late July test date), and the test fee is $6 (about $32 in 2012 dollars).
1974Beginning with the October test, several significant changes are made to the SAT. The number of reading comprehension questions is reduced to about 30% of the verbal portion of the SAT, in favor of more antonym and analogy questions.

In the math portion of the SAT, data sufficiency questions are replaced with "quantitative comparison" questions, which have four possible answers. The quantitative comparison questions ask the student to determine whether two quantities are equal, different (and which is larger), or indeterminate. The new questions are thought to be as effective as the data sufficiency questions, but less complicated and less time consuming. A sample question:
x percent of y is z , z > 0
Column AColumn B
100xy / z
Choose:
Aif the quantity in Column A is greater;
Bif the quantity in Column B is greater;
Cif the two quantities are equal;
Dif the relationship cannot be determined from the information given.
(The answer appears at the end of this timeline.)

The total time of the SAT verbal and math portions is reduced from 3 hours to 2.5 hours in order to accommodate the half-hour Test of Standard Written English (TSWE) that is newly added to the SAT. The TSWE is scored on a separate scale (20-60) and consists of multiple-choice questions designed to evaluate grammar and writing skills. The results of the TSWE are expected to be used by colleges for the appropriate placement of the test taker in freshman English class.

In order to reduce the possibility of a student cheating by copying the answers of a nearby student, changes are made in how the test booklets are distributed. Previously, the five-section SAT had two section arrangements for each test date, distributed in two booklets. However, each test administration site would receive only one of the two arrangements. Starting with the October test, the new six-section SAT has six section arrangements, distributed in six booklets, in a procedure called "scrambling". The booklets that each test site receives are "spiraled": the first student receives the first arrangement, the second student receives the second arrangement, and so forth. However, by October, 1980, the number of arrangements (and the number of different booklets needed) will be reduced to three for each test administration. (See After The Test for information about how the modern SAT is arranged and distributed.)
1975The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) begins an investigation into the Kaplan Educational Center, a test preparation company. The FTC is investigating whether Kaplan is making false claims in its advertising. The Kaplan advertisements running in Boston say that, on average, Kaplan students raised their (combined verbal and math) SAT test scores by 100 points.

The number of seniors taking the SAT increases to 996,452 students, which is about 32% of all graduating seniors at this time. The percent of seniors taking the SAT at least once will increase to 42% by 1993-94 and reach a peak of about 49% for the senior class of 2004-05.

The senior class of 1975 is the first in which more girls than boys take the SAT. Girls will continue to be the majority of SAT test takers from this point forward. (As of 2012, 53% of senior class SAT test takers are girls.)
1977The number of dates on which SAT tests are administered nationally per year in the U.S. increases to six.
1978The College Board begins including an entire sample SAT in its handbook (called "Taking The SAT") given to students. This particular sample test is the first complete SAT to be made public. The previous handbook (called "About The SAT") included sample questions, but not an entire test.

At this time, the test fee for the SAT is $8 (about $28 in 2012 dollars).
1979The FTC releases the final report of its investigation of the ETS, Kaplan, and other test preparation companies. The report suggests that coaching can improve SAT scores on average by 50 points (combined math and verbal). In a re-analysis of the FTC data, the ETS suggests that the result could be due in whole or part to the increased motivation and desire of students who choose to be coached, compared to those who do not.

In July, New York State passes the Standardized Testing Act as part of the Admissions Testing Law, often called the "Truth-In-Testing" law. The law, to take effect in January, 1980, requires that students taking standardized tests in New York be allowed to see actual copies of any of their tests and answer sheets.

In December, the ETS announces that copies of some previously administered SATs will be released to students nationally, on an ongoing basis.
1980The College Board begins selling previously administered SAT tests directly to students, with the release of the booklet "4 SATs", to be followed by "5 SATs" in 1981 and "6 SATs" in 1982. In 1983, the College Board will begin regularly publishing tests in books, available nationally in book stores, called "5 SATs" and "10 SATs".

To comply with the New York truth-in-testing law, the College Board reduces the total number of SAT administrations in that state from eight to four, and increases the SAT fee from $8.25 to $10 for New York students. Each student can receive a copy of the test with his or her answers and the correct answers, for an additional $4.65.

The number of administrations of the GRE and ACT is also reduced in New York. In response to the truth-in-testing law, the AAMC decides to have no administrations of the MCAT in the state. However, by 1996, the law (New York Education Law, Title 1, Article 7-A, Section 342) will require only four SAT administrations per year to be disclosed. Similar exceptions will be made for the TOEFL and GRE tests, but not for the ACT test. The MCAT is also excepted and the AAMC is required to disclose only one test every four years.
1981The College Board raises the math scores of nearly a quarter million students who took the PSAT administered in October, 1980. This PSAT is the first to be released to the test takers; a student notices that the ETS answer to one of the math questions (dealing with pyramids) is incorrect.

In March, the College Board decides to provide all students nationally with copies of their SAT exams and answers, for at least some test administrations, for a fee of $9.25 (about $25 in 2012 dollars). The new policy will take effect in the 1981-82 testing year.
1985In the summer, ACT publishes a 56-page student preparation handbook (titled "Preparing for the ACT Assessment") which includes a complete sample test for the first time.
1986In the 1985-1986 school year, nine students out of about one million test takers (roughly one in 110,000 test-takers) receive a perfect score of 1600 on the SAT.
1989In October, a new version of the ACT (called the "Enhanced ACT") is administered, replacing the previous version of the test. Two major changes are made: the "Natural Science" sub-test of the ACT is replaced with a "Science Reasoning" sub-test, and the "Social Studies" sub-test is replaced with a "Reading" sub-test. The new reading sub-test is designed to be a better assessment of "pure" reading ability and comprehension, whereas the social studies sub-test contained items testing, among other things, specific knowledge of U.S. history. The new science sub-test de-emphasizes specific scientific knowledge while primarily assessing analytical and problem-solving skills using reading material, charts, graphs, and tables drawn from scientific literature.

In addition, changes are made to the existing ACT mathematics and English sections. The math section will now include trigonometry as well as pre-algebra (arithmetic) content; the English section will place less emphasis on grammar and increase content related to testing of writing skills. The total time of the ACT test will increase from 2 hours and 40 minutes to 2 hours and 55 minutes.

With these changes, the scaled scores on the new ACT test are also "recentered". Although new scores will still be reported on the same 1-36 scale that has been used since the first ACT test in 1959, the recentering means that the scores for the previous test will not be directly comparable to scores for the new test. The change increases the average composite score from 18.6 for 1989 seniors (old scale) to 20.6 for 1990 seniors (new scale):

SeniorsAverage ACT Scores
Class YearCompositeMathematicsEnglish
198818.817.218.5
198918.617.118.4
199020.619.920.5
199120.620.020.3

At this time, roughly one million students (juniors and seniors) take the ACT each year, whereas about 1.2 million students take the SAT. (For comparison, the total number of U.S. high school graduates in 1990 is roughly 2.5 million. About 40% of all high-school graduates in the U.S. take the SAT in this year.)
1990In this year, ten students out of 1.2 million test takers (roughly one in 120,000 students) get perfect scores of 1600 on the SAT.

At this time, the test fee for the SAT is $16 (about $28 in 2012 dollars).
1991In June, calculators are allowed for the first time on a new version of the Math Level II Achievement Test, which is called the "Math Level IIC Achievement Test". Students are given the option of taking the standard (non-calculator) Level II Test; the Level I Test remains a non-calculator test. The scaled score range for the Level IIC test is the same (200-800) as the Level II test, even though scores from the II and IIC exams are not comparable. (In other words, a score of 500 on the Level II test does not reflect the same skill level in math as a score of 500 on the Level IIC test. According to the College Board, "the abilities and skills measured by the two tests are not identical".)
1993The SAT is renamed from "Scholastic Aptitude Test" to "SAT I: Reasoning Test", and the Achievement Tests are renamed "SAT II: Subject Tests". The first renamed tests will be administered in March, 1994. Collectively, according to the College Board, these tests are to be known as "Scholastic Assessment Tests" (plural), and the acronym "SAT" is no longer considered to stand for anything. However, for at least the next three years, the Reasoning Test is commonly (but incorrectly) called the "Scholastic Assessment Test" (singular).

The president of the College Board says that the renaming is designed "to correct the impression among some people that the SAT measures something that is innate and impervious to change regardless of effort or instruction."
1994 Significant changes are made to the SAT starting with the March test. Antonyms are removed from the verbal section to make rote memorization of vocabulary less useful. (For a list of the antonym words used in 45 SAT tests from 1977 to 1990, see this PDF file.) The percent of content devoted to passage-based reading material is increased from about 30% to about 50%, and the reading comprehension sub-sections are renamed "Critical Reading". The reading passages are chosen to be more like typical college-level reading material, compared to previous SAT reading passages. The changes for increased emphasis on reading as well as changes to the math section are made in response to a 1990 report issued by a commission established by the College Board. The commission recommended that the SAT should: "do more than predict college grades", "reinforce the growth of sound high school curricula", and "approximate more closely the skills used in college and high school work".

The TSWE is dropped from the SAT at this time; this test reappears as part of the SAT II Writing Test, which also includes a short essay. The time allocated to the math and verbal portions increases by 15 minutes each, keeping the SAT three hours in length and decreasing the impact of speed on test performance.

Three major changes are made to the math section of the SAT: the tested math content is expanded, free-response questions are added, and students are now allowed to use calculators. These changes are made in response to the suggestions of the NCTM, which in an influential 1989 report had emphasized the use of the "real-world" problems, probability and statistics, and calculators in the K-12 math curriculum. At this time, the tested math material is expanded to include: questions with more than one correct answer (via the free-response section); data interpretation, including pie charts, bar graphs, and scatterplots; slopes of lines; probability; the concepts of median and mode; logic problems; and, counting and ordering problems.
1995Starting with the April SAT, scaled scores are "recentered". By the early 1990s, the average SAT verbal scores were about 425 and the average SAT math scores were about 475. The table below shows average SAT scores for seniors graduating in the listed class year:

SeniorsAverage SAT Score
Class YearMathVerbal
1952494476
1962495474
1972484453
1982467426
1992476423
1996508505

(For all of the yearly average SAT scores from 1952 to the present, including SAT scores on the original (pre-1995) scale, see this PDF file for the data and this PDF file for a plot.) The recentering is done in order to return the average scores of the verbal and math sections closer to each other and closer to the midpoint of the scale (500), as seen in the last line of the table above. Although new scores will still be reported on the same 200-800 scale, the recentering means that the old test scores (prior to April 1995) will not be directly comparable to later scores. For example, a May 1995 score of 600 in math will not reflect the same ability level as a May 1994 score of 600 in math.

The primary problem with the pre-1995 scale is that test scores are still linked to the 1941 and 1942 reference groups of students, and the test-taking population changed significantly in the decades after World War II. Mathematically, this meant that it was not unusual, especially for verbal section scales, to have a perfect raw score correspond to a scaled score of less than 800. (The scoring policy, however, was to award an 800 for a perfect raw score.) A group of about one million seniors in the class of 1990 is chosen to be the reference group for the new scale.

Another effect of the recentering of SAT scores is a significant increase in the number of students achieving a perfect score of 1600. Previous to the new scaling, a single mistake or question left blank would result in a score of less than 1600. Starting with the April, 1995, SAT test, students can miss as many as four questions and still get a perfect 1600. In 1994, 25 students got perfect scores out of about 1.25 million (about 1 in 50,000 students). The first recentered SAT in April has 137 perfect scores out of about 200,000 test takers (about 1 in 1,400 students).

The number of dates on which SAT tests are administered nationally per year in the U.S. increases to seven when the October test date is made available in all states. (The dates of all past regular SAT administrations can be found in this PDF file.)
1996In September, the ACT (both the test and the company) is renamed so that "ACT" is no longer an acronym: the letters "ACT" no longer stand for anything.

Starting in October, calculators are allowed for use by students on the math section of the ACT test.
1997The College Board, in an attempt to clear up confusion about the naming of the SAT, says that the SAT by itself is not properly called the "Scholastic Assessment Test". Instead, the term "SAT" is not to be considered an acronym: the letters "SAT" no longer stand for anything.

In the fall, the PSAT/NMSQT is updated to include a 30-minute, multiple-choice writing skills section based in part on the now-discontinued TSWE. The four additional sections on the PSAT are decreased in time from 30 minutes to 25 minutes in order to keep the length of the test roughly the same. PSAT scores remain on a scale of 20 to 80, and three scores are now reported: Verbal, Math, and Writing. The National Merit qualifying scores are now calculated using the sum of the three scores, with a top score of 240. (Previously, the verbal score was doubled and added to the math score resulting in the same top score.)

Online registration for the ACT test via the Internet is made available.
1999At this time, the test fee for the SAT is $23 (about $31 in 2012 dollars).
2001Concerned that the SAT is not nearly as good a predictor of college success as either high-school grades or the SAT II Subject Tests, the president of the University of California suggests dropping the SAT I as a consideration in UC admissions. Criticisms of the SAT at this time also include the apparent disconnection between what high-school students are learning in their course work and "esoteric" items on the SAT such as verbal analogies and quantitative comparison questions.
2002"Score Choice" for the SAT II Subject Tests is dropped. Previously, a student could decide whether a Subject Test score would be sent to a college or university. After the change, all scores of any tests taken are sent, matching the policy of the SAT I.
2003The last version of the "10 SATs" books (the third edition of "10 Real SATs") is published by the College Board. A similar book (with ten or even five previously administered SATs) has not been published since. (As of this writing.)
2004The SAT is again renamed, dropping the roman numerals, so that the official names are "SAT Reasoning Test" and the "SAT Subject Tests".
2005Beginning with the March SAT, the content of the test is changed, at least partly in response to the UC criticisms. The "Verbal Reasoning" section of the SAT is renamed "Critical Reading", and the verbal analogy questions are dropped. The new reading section includes short passages (fewer than 20 lines) as well as the traditional longer reading selections. Newly added is a writing skills section, with essay, based on the now discontinued SAT Subject Writing Test. Three SAT scores, for Critical Reading, Math, and Writing, each on a scale of 200-800, are reported, making the perfect score 2400 instead of 1600.

In SAT Math, quantitative comparison questions are dropped. Several new topics are added: exponential growth; absolute value; functional notation; equations of lines; rational and radical equations; and, manipulation of fractional and negative exponents. (The rational and radical equations as well as the fractional and negative exponents are added to reflect content from typical third-year high-school algebra courses.) Greater emphasis is placed on linear functions, and properties of tangent lines.

To accommodate the new writing section and essay, the total time of the SAT (including a 25-minute equating section) increases to 3 hours and 45 minutes. The test fee for the SAT increases to $41.50 (about $47 in 2012 dollars), from $29.50 just two years before. (You can see how the SAT test fee has changed over the years in this chart.)

About 300,000 students take the first "new" SAT in March, with 107 of them (roughly 1 in 2,800 students) receiving a perfect score of 2400.

The ACT test adds a 30-minute writing section, beginning with the February administration; the section is optional for test takers. With the writing section, the total time of the ACT test increases to 3 hours and 25 minutes.
2006Out of 1.38 million seniors taking the SAT, 238 (roughly 1 in 5,000 students) receive a perfect score of 2400. In 2004, approximately the same number of seniors took the SAT, and 939 (about 1 in 1,500 students) received a perfect score of 1600.

In comparison, 216 seniors in the class of 2006 out of 1.21 million taking the ACT (about 1 in 5,600 students) receive a perfect composite score of 36.
2007The ACT becomes a valid admissions test at every four-year college or university in the U.S. when Harvey Mudd College accepts ACT scores for fall admissions.
2009"Score Choice" for the SAT is returned: Students are allowed to report any or all of the SAT or SAT Subject Tests that they take, depending on the score policy of the recipient colleges. (However, the honor system is used: no verification is made by the College Board that a student reports all scores to a college that has an "all scores" policy.) Previously, all SAT and SAT Subject scores would be reported.
2010For the first time since the ACT test has been administered, the number of high school seniors taking the ACT (1.57 million) is greater than those taking the SAT (1.55 million). (See the table below. At this time, the College Board counts only those seniors taking the SAT no later than March of their senior year.)

In December, the College Board stops selling unused test booklets from prior PSAT administrations. Previously, the booklets were available directly from the College Board store for $3 each.
2011The College Board revises its SAT statistics to include those seniors taking the test as late as June of their graduation year, as opposed to March, the previous cutoff date. This change has the effect of both reducing mean SAT scores and increasing the number of seniors included in the statistics.

* Includes seniors taking the SAT as late as June of their senior year.
SeniorsTaking the SAT or ACT Average SAT Reading Score
Class YearSATACTpreviousrevised*
20071,494,531 1,300,599502501
20081,518,859 1,421,941502500
20091,530,128 1,480,469501499
20101,547,990 1,568,835501500
20111,647,123*1,623,112N/A497
20121,664,479*1,666,017N/A496

2012 Even using the College Board's revised accounting methods, the number of seniors taking the ACT surpasses the number taking the SAT. (For charts showing the number and percent of seniors taking the SAT and ACT tests over the last 20 years, see this PDF file.)

For the first time since 1963, an SAT is scheduled to be administered in August. The test administration is to be available only to people enrolled in a test preparation program for gifted students at Amherst College. However, the College Board later cancels the August test date, calling it "inappropriate".

Starting with the October tests, new security measures intended to reduce cheating are put into place for the SAT and ACT. Students are now required to submit a photo and high school code when registering for an exam. The high school will receive the scores for each student and will be provided access to the student's submitted photo for verification purposes.
2013In February, the College Board announces that the SAT will be redesigned "so that it better meets the needs of students, schools, and colleges at all levels." The time frame and details of the changes are not provided. (In August, the president of the College Board says that the new SAT will debut in 2015.)

In May, ACT Inc. announces that a computer-based version of the ACT test will be made available starting in the spring of 2015 for schools that administer the ACT during the school day. The new version will retain the same content as the paper version of the test, which will remain available for the time being. The computer tests, to be administered via the Internet, will optionally include questions requiring the student to produce his or her own answers, along with the traditional multiple-choice items.

Starting with the graduating class of 2013, ACT Inc. begins including both standard-time and extended-time test takers in its annual report. This change has the effect of both reducing mean ACT scores and increasing the number of seniors included in the statistics. More than fifty percent of graduating seniors taking either the SAT or ACT are now taking the ACT test.

* Includes both standard-time and extended-time seniors taking the ACT.
Class
Year
Number Of
Seniors
Average ACT Score
EnglishMathReadingScienceComposite
20111,623,11220.621.121.320.921.1
20121,666,01720.521.121.320.921.1
20131,727,04120.421.021.320.921.0
2013*1,799,24320.220.921.120.720.9

In December, the College Board announces that the revised SAT will appear in the spring of 2016, one year later than expected. The correspondingly revised PSAT is scheduled for October, 2015.
2014 In March, some details of the upcoming changes to the SAT are revealed. The essay is to be made optional and scored separately, reverting the maximum combined score back to 1600; the guessing penalty will be eliminated; calculators will no longer be allowed for some of the math sections; the range of math content areas will be reduced; each test will include a reading passage "drawn from the Founding Documents or the Great Global Conversation"; some reading passages on each test will be accompanied by tables or graphs; and, the SAT will be available in both paper-and-pencil form as well as on a computer.