Some History of the SAT:

Nothing in this post will help prepare you for taking the SAT. …But that doesn’t mean it isn’t cool.

I took the SAT back in March. No, not the new SAT. I got bumped from that. I’m talking about taking the very first SAT from 1926, thanks to a very cool link from the Smithsonian website. 

Another nice feature of the Smithsonian site is the added yellow pop-up information boxes that give additional context information about the test (for example, in 1926, multiple choice items were pretty new and testers only had about 19 seconds per question if they wanted to finish the whole test). One of the few times I’ve gotten something useful from a pop-up! …This is what I do for a living. I find this stuff fascinating.

It’s amazing how some things have changed (no more translation to and from a fake language) but others have stayed remarkably similar (math story problems)!

Take a look at a sample page from the original SAT test below.

Did you know that only two of the nine sub-tests on the original SAT were devoted to mathematics?

Did you know that only two of the nine sub-tests on the original SAT in 1926 were devoted to questions involving mathematics? 

Impressionability and the Unanswerable Questions

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you take the SAT at the age of 36.”        

Mark Twain said that, I think. Please forgive any minor transcription errors.

Dear Matt,

May 7 is your big test day. I humbly offer a series of loosely connected, slightly cryptic quotes to impress upon you the momentousness of the occasion:

First, to quote you to you: “[S]tudents are impressionable. Their mindsets are shaped by the way the adults in their lives act…” That’s how you opened the final paragraph of a great entry in The Digest of Gifted Research last November.

Second, since television is apparently my primary reference point for all things, to quote “The Simpsons”:


Thank you,

Third, to quote Ecclesiastes (New International Version): “Is there anything of which one can say, ‘Look! This is something new’? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time.”

Fourth, to quote Yogi Berra: “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

The new SAT is nothing new. It’s another opportunity for a particular student with a particular set of life experiences to encounter a particular set of questions that, to some indeterminate, inevitable degree of fallibility, compares his/her intangible something to everyone else’s intangible something.

We’re always looking for clear-cut answers to unanswerable quandaries. But clear-cut answers are so rarely forthcoming. The big questions (Why am I here?, How do I live the best life possible?, etc.) necessarily have to boil down to smaller questions (What should my college major be?, What should I be when I grow up?, etc.). And even then, trying to coerce your SAT score into telling you what you should do with your life is a tall task.

All of this can be wrapped up with another quote, one that sounds like a tricky combo-Math/English SAT question but is really just a beautiful invitation to calm down and remember to maintain the perspective I wrote about earlier:

“The intellect is to truth as an inscribed polygon is to the inscribing circle. The more angles the inscribed polygon has, the more similar it is to the circle. However, even if the number of angles is to increase ad infinitum, the polygon never becomes equal to the circle.” (Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance, 1440)

In the end, even if we ace the SAT, there’s no surefire way to arrive at the right answers to the big questions. Some of the questions are supposed to be unanswerable. We take the test, we let our scores help gauge what what we do with our futures, yet we remember all the while that not even the SAT can quantify the unquantifiable. (Well, you do all that; I plan on eating pancakes and playing tennis on May 7.)

Best wishes,


Editor’s note: TIP Researcher Matt Makel is taking the new SAT on May 7th to see how his test scores compare with those he earned while a mere lad in high school many moons ago. Ivan Ross is TIP’s Media Coordinator and a former tutor to students taking the SAT. This post is Ivan’s response to a request by Matt for advice on taking the SAT. We don’t know about you, but we are pretty sure that it may take Matt until May 7th to figure out the meaning of this post….



Ode on a Grammatical Turn

I present to you an ode to the grammar questions that no longer appear on the SAT.

Every sentence in this post, with the exception of the previous sentence (but not the sentence you’re currently reading), contains a grammatical error for which the SAT and the College Board no longer holds students accountable. Arcane and frustrating to some, we must now bid adieu to these short-lived grammar questions.

No longer will you see “Sentence Error” or “Improving Sentences” questions while you’re taking the SAT, which ask you to identify and correct grammar rules in complete isolation from any larger context. Misplaced modifiers, parallel constructions, sentence fragments, pronoun/antecedent agreement, subject/verb agreement, redundancy, misused idioms, the SAT won’t focus on them anymore!

Grammar, you might say, is like the United States Constitution: one’s interpretation of them can be considered either “elastic” or “rigid.” We ask ourselves if we are right to amend old rules in order to meet society’s evolving needs and predilections. On the one hand, the new test’s insistence on testing concepts in context rather than in isolation are a clear step forward. To my fellow grammar nerds and I, though, it’s hard to contend with the fact that grammar is getting more and more elastic with every super-casual Tweet and every tongue-in-cheek text message. Whoever thinks that Vine is blameless in these matters, I should add, have apparently forgotten the best Vine of all time: “Officer, I got one question for you: what are thooooooooose?!”

I totally understand why these grammar questions have fallen by the wayside: they don’t test how prepared you are for the college experience, don’t ask you to think critically or creatively in any way, and they give an unfair advantage to those who have the economic means to afford targeted tutoring sessions. Often, these are the very objections on which most opponents of the SAT usually harp. They want the test to refrain for being a game that one can learn to play and perfect.

Take a look at this video and consider how the SAT’s old grammar section might represent a lot of what makes people hate the test, which pits an SAT tutor against a foremost critic of the test.

Now it’s your turn; let’s turn to the comments section and have a good ol’ fashioned argument about grammar that’s friendly and clean.

I still like grammar, this was a painful post to write. Brain hurt now.

Initial Reactions to the New SAT: Mostly Positive

This past Saturday, while TIP’s researcher Matt Makel did not get to take the test, more than a quarter-million high-school students did. When it was all said and done, they participated in several surveys and took to social media (#SAT) to vent their reactions. You can see a nice summary here, courtesy of the Chronicle for Higher Education.

Thumbs Up

While the jury is still out on whether the revamped SAT is an improvement, many students reacted positively after the first administration of the new test on March 5th.

Did the College Board make good on their promise to deliver a fairer and more straightforward test? Let’s just say the debate has begun — but student reaction, as a whole, seems positive.

Social media opinions were mixed: some student felt drained, others were insulted the test was not harder. But anectodal evidence aside, a few surveys do provide clues: the SAT appears to be making progress toward its goal of being a more relevant test of knowledge learned.

For example, Kaplan Test Prep surveyed more than 500 students who took the SAT on Saturday and 59% of them gave the new test high marks for “having questions that were straightforward and easy to follow.” However, a near equal amount (58%) said the length of the test’s sections was “tiring.” When it came to whether the new SAT reflected what students had learned in high school, 16% of respondents said “very much so,” 56% said “somewhat,” and 23% said “not too much.”

The College Board, which administers the SAT, surveyed 8,000+ SAT takers shortly after they had taken the new version of the test. According to that survey, students prefer the new SAT to the old one by a 6-to-1 ratio, and nearly 75% felt the test reflected what they are learning in school. In addition, 80% of students felt that the words that appeared on the SAT (its revamped vocabulary garnered much press prior to the test)  would be useful to them later in life. This compares with just over 50% of test takers who felt the same way a year ago.

If you are a future test taker, what does this mean for you? It means relax, keep working hard in school, and stand by for more reactions, advice, and information via this blog. We’ll keep the blog posts coming.

Stay with us a little longer….

come back later message on yellow sticker

The College Board has asked me to reschedule my SAT to May… but you should back here often as we have many more posts in store for you on the new SAT and the testing experience.

Looks like we’ll be blogging about the new SAT a little longer than we anticipated. Five days before I was scheduled to take the SAT on Saturday, March 5th, I received an email from the College Board informing me that my test date had been bumped to ensure that everyone taking the test for college and scholarship application purposes would have an available seat. Obviously, I would feel horrified if I had taken the spot of someone who needed scores in the next few months, so I will happily wait until May 7th (the Saturday right in the heart of AP exam schedule, when demand to take another standardized test is likely lower than it is in March) to take the SAT.

Or Maybe I’m a “High Security Risk?”

Update: It seems that the testing situation may not have been as dire as I first thought when I was bumped. Apparently, according to the Washington Post, the College Board views me as a “high security risk,” and have moved a lot of “high security risk” individuals to the May testing date. Their desire to maintain test security is understandable, especially given some previous security problems they have had.

The good news: we’ll be able to bring you more advice and research on taking the SAT in the weeks ahead as we count down to my new test date!