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Lucas Fink

What Does SAT Stand For?

what does SAT stand for?

There’s a story behind this one, so bear with me. The SAT has had a couple of official names over the years, starting with…

The Scholastic Aptitude Test

For the majority of its history, from the ‘20s up until the early ‘90s, the test was the “Scholastic Aptitude Test”. So why’d they scrap that?

Besides sounding like a cold, robotic form of torture (which you may or may not think the test actually is), the original name of the SAT didn’t sit right with a lot of people. “Scholastic” means academic, and “aptitude” means innate skill; it implied that they were able to test you on how well you were bound to perform in school settings. Even if you think the SAT is a pretty good measure of IQ—and it’s not an IQ test—there’s a whole lot more that goes into academic performance than just that, including motivation, social skills, creativity, and more. Your “scholastic aptitude” is much more complex than what the SAT tests you on. So they changed it! Great.

The Scholastic Assessment Tests

For years, nobody really understood the change that the College Board made. In 1993, the company started giving what we now know as the SAT Subject Tests (initially called the “SAT II: Subject Tests”). The original SAT was renamed the “SAT I: Reasoning Test”, and altogether they became the Scholastic Assessment Tests.

It made sense that they took out the “Aptitude” from the original name, since that’s what was causing the problem, but officially the original test was now called a “reasoning test,” which sounds more like an IQ test than it does a “scholastic assessment”. And the individual test wasn’t called the “Scholastic Assessment Test I”. That long form was only applied to the tests collectively. So what did SAT stand for, then?

Years later, the College Board finally cleared it up. SAT didn’t stand for anything at all.

The Abbreviation “SAT”

It’s pretty weird to think that an abbreviation could stand for nothing at all, but that’s what the College Board says about the SAT. The point of it is pretty simple: whatever words they used in the name (like “aptitude”), were automatically a possible target for critics to aim at. By taking away the words, they kept the brand recognition of the letters “SAT” but got rid of any other associations.

It’s pretty similar to how KFC took the words out of their logo to avoid having “fried” give them an unhealthy image. But that has to make you wonder: who do they think they fooled?
Personally, I think that’s not possible. It’s clearly an abbreviation when it’s all caps like that…. So maybe we should use lowercase and start calling it “the sat”, rather than spelling out the letters when we say it.

You know what? I’m going to start doing that, and see who understands what I’m referring to. Maybe I can start a trend.

The “New SAT”?

With the new test, the abbreviation is even more distanced from the original. Really speaking, SAT is almost like a brand. The New Coke, the New Ford Mustang. The fact that it once actually stood for something has become a piece of trivia. You’re better off knowing what the test is testing than what it actually stands for. Now crack open the new Official Guide and learn something that is actually useful.


About Lucas Fink

Lucas is the teacher behind Magoosh TOEFL. He’s been teaching TOEFL preparation and more general English since 2009, and the SAT since 2008. Between his time at Bard College and teaching abroad, he has studied Japanese, Czech, and Korean. None of them come in handy, nowadays.

2 Responses to “What Does SAT Stand For?”

  1. Heather says:

    Thanks for clarifying the name SAT and what it now stands for . . . apparently nothing.

    Just a note: SAT is not an acronym; it’s an initialism. Acronyms are initials that together form a word. Examples include NATO, UNICEF, SALT, AIDS, NAFTA, and so on.

    HHS, DOD, DOE, and so on are initialisms.

    Thanks again,

    • Lucas Fink Lucas says:

      You’re right about that, Heather—sorry for the inaccuracy! It looks like I got sucked into an error of common usage. “Initialism” is a bit technical, though, so I’m going to change it to “abbreviation,” which is more widely understood. 🙂

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