What Does the SAT Stand For?

What Does the SAT Stand For?

What Does the SAT Stand For?

Whether you’re preparing for it, just took it, took it a long time ago, or are hearing a lot about having to take it in a couple years, the SAT is this weird monolith in contemporary educational culture. But nobody seems to know what the SAT stands for. Even when you take the test, there’s no actual acronym on the handbook; they just call it the “SAT.” So what does the SAT stand for? What’s the story behind it, anyway?

Origins of the SAT

So before colleges got everything standardized nationwide, they all had their hodgepodge of different testing mechanisms to determine who got to go to their campuses. Given that many recommend kids apply to like 7-10 schools, that would mean (under the old system), you’d take like 10 tests just to get into one school. In fairness, the same thing already happens, with college applications being a stupidly convoluted system. Many schools require the submission of their own unique essays and all that jazz anyway (especially “top tier” institutions). Also they charge you like $60 or more per application if you don’t get fees waived.

10 schools is a lot to apply to for some; lest you have the time and money for it.

Anyway, the purpose of the SAT was, in part, to reduce that testing clutter. Which is nice. It was also designed to be a kind of perfectly neutral exam. The SAT was created by psychology professor Carl Brigham to measure a college candidate’s potential. You know, opposed to one’s financial status or otherwise. Which, we know is not the case in practice today. But, you may argue, back then the SAT was different. Surely the early iterations of the SAT were more bias free, right?

Well the SAT was created in the 1920s. Given that it’s 2020 and we still haven’t fixed racism, that’s a pretty tall order. But let’s explore.

Carl Brigham

Unfortunately for us, Brigham was a eugenicist –a subscriber to the philosophy of improving the human race through selective breeding. It’s essentially the foundation behind the Nazi myth of the “ Aryan Master Race .” According to Brigham, intelligence was an innate trait. You couldn’t “train” someone to be smarter. Thus, the SAT was designed to actually serve as a gatekeeper of higher education so only the “smartest ethnicity” would have access to it.

According to a teacher at the Newark Academy in Livingston , tying intelligence to ethnicity was an incredibly desirable thing.

“For some college officials, an aptitude test, which is presumed to measure intelligence, is appealing since at this time intelligence and ethic 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.”

~Erik Jacobsen, 1929

Educators acknowledged that a test could be used to weed out undesirable ethnicities by asking questions geared towards specific ethnicities.

Brigham would call the early iterations of this test the Scholastic Aptitude Test. So we’ve found the origins of the name!

Administering the First Tests

The very first iterations of the SAT were passed out in 1926 to around 8,000 participants. This came in response to WWI , wherein standardized tests like the SAT were used to segregate soldiers.

The SAT in its early 1926-1930s iterations was heavily geared towards multiple choice. As such, it drew a lot of controversy for promoting guesswork and memorization–opposed to the intention of aptitude and potential. Plus, even in the 1930s, people were criticizing the test questions for being biased against nonwhite test takers.

But the SAT barreled on anyways, being used in college admissions for the first time in 1934–once Harvard administrators took interest in this new test. After Harvard adopted it, most post-secondary institutions would follow.

Contemporary SAT

Ever since its inception, the SAT has disproportionately failed test takers of color. Coinciding with earlier assessments ruling that the SAT could be used as a tool to phase out “undesirable ethnicities,” this wasn’t a great look. Especially in the contemporary socio-political landscape, where we’ve generally concluded eugenics is bad.

So it makes sense that the SAT would try to re-brand itself. The Collegeboard (a corporation most people hate) re-branded it as the Scholastic Assessment Test to pull away from the eugenicist roots. Since aptitude was rooted in eugenics and didn’t actually test subject mastery, the SAT basically inverted itself so it did reflect subject mastery.

Then the Collegeboard realized that didn’t work, and has since just dubbed the test the SAT.

So what does the SAT stand for? That’s right, SAT doesn’t actually stand for anything, because the Collegeboard realized that the SAT couldn’t test for aptitude or subject mastery. Today, it’s just three meaningless letters with roots in a guy who thought his test could discover a master race.

Here’s a quiz about going through the primary, secondary, and post-secondary schooling systems.

Comments

Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and has just finished his undergraduate at the University of Washington. He’s been writing for Sporcle since 2019 and has accumulated so much random, general knowledge he’d rather not think about it. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.

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What Does SAT Stand For?

What Does SAT Stand For?

Over its 90 years in existence, the SAT’s meaning has changed in a number of meaningful ways. Perhaps you have wondered, “What does ‘SAT’ stand for?” Originally, “SAT” stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test, and it was designed as an assessment that evaluated a given student’s college-specific skills. In 1993, the College Board renamed the SAT to stand for “Scholastic Assessment Test,” to better reflect the fact that it does not measure innate intelligence—in fact, the name change came about to “correct the impression among some people that the SAT measures something that is innate and impervious to change regardless of effort and instruction.” The exam has also been known as the SAT I: Reasoning Test, the SAT Reasoning Test, and, now, simply as the SAT.

“> Timeline of Major SAT Changes
“> 1926“> Scholastic Aptitude Test first administered
“> 1993“> Scholastic Assessment Test — name change
“> 1997“> SAT — name change (SAT does not stand for anything)
“> 2005“> SAT scoring changed to a 2400 scale
“> 2016“> SAT scoring changed to a 1600 scale

When high school students across the country and around the world sit down to take the SAT this year, they will face an exam quite unlike the one their classmates took in the past, and this can make preparing for SAT test day that much more difficult. Why? For the first time in 11 years, the SAT has been revised, and the result is a new SAT that is vastly different from its famous predecessor. According to the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT, among the test’s official changes are its challenging evidence-based reading sections and its more difficult, multi-step math problems.

The origins of what the SAT stands for

With so many changes, what does “SAT” stand for today? To learn more about the SAT’s present meaning, it is helpful to first delve into its past. What follows is a summary of the SAT’s history, described in “Secrets of the SAT,” a 1999 PBS publication, and in a 2003 College Board report titled, “A Historical Perspective on the Content of the SAT.”

After the United States entered World War I in 1917, an American psychologist named Robert Yerkes developed a test that was designed to assess the intelligence of his country’s new Army recruits. Scores on the Army Alpha, as his IQ test came to be called, would help decide a soldier’s ability to serve, which jobs he would take, and his potential for leadership positions. It measured the “verbal ability, numerical ability, ability to follow directions, and knowledge of information,” according to the U.S. Army.

Carl Brigham, a Princeton University instructor, helped Yerkes develop and administer the test. Once the war ended, Brigham modified the Army Alpha to evaluate the intelligence of college freshmen at Princeton University and applicants to The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City.

The College Board (which was founded in 1900) then tasked Brigham with developing a college entrance exam to screen high school students who were applying to other colleges. The result of Brigham’s work was the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which was administered on June 23, 1926, to more than 8,000 high school students at about 300 test centers.

The 1926 SAT was very different from the current exam. It was made up of nine subtests that measured students’ verbal and mathematical skills with a total of 315 questions, which students were expected to speed through in 97 minutes. According to the College Board, students were not expected to complete the entire exam. To help ease students’ struggles with this timeframe, several subtests were removed and the time limit was increased, in 1928 and 1929.

Critics of the 1926 SAT worried that the exam could harm education practices. As a response, in 1930, the SAT was divided into two sections—one measuring students’ verbal abilities and the other measuring their mathematical skills. These two scores would be reported separately, letting colleges’ admissions departments place different weights on students’ scores as a reflection of their college type and curriculum.

From 1930 to 1935, the Verbal portion of the SAT included only antonyms, sentence completion, and reading passages. From 1936 to 1946, it included these kinds of questions, plus analogies. Time limits varied from 80 to 115 minutes for the Verbal part of the test, based on what year the SAT was taken in.

At this time, the Mathematical section was made up of 100 free-response questions, which students had to solve in 80 minutes. Questions were straightforward, and designed so that students could answer the greatest number of questions in the least amount of time.

In an attempt to diversify the Harvard University student body, Harvard President James Bryant Conant began a new scholarship program in 1933 for academically gifted male high school students who did not attend East Coast boarding schools. He assigned his assistant dean, Henry Chauncey, the job of finding a suitable test to evaluate the gifted students for scholarships. Chauncey recommended the SAT, which Conant liked because he felt it was a good measure of the boys’ “pure intelligence” and did not reflect where each student attended high school.

Chauncey recommended that all member schools of the College Board begin using the SAT as a standardized admissions exam for scholarship applicants. By 1942, all applicants to College Board member colleges were required to take the SAT. This test incorporated multiple-choice questions, followed by five options, into the math portion of the exam for the first time. It was the SAT in this form that Chauncey administered to more than 300,000 people across the country on the same day, under a contract from the U.S. Army and Navy.

Given the success of the SAT in evaluating the intelligence of both military recruits and students, in 1948, the Educational Testing Service (or ETS) was founded to help administer the College Board’s exam to high school students nationwide. It was then that the SAT’s purpose began to more closely represent that which it holds today: a standardized measure of high school students’ college readiness.

The SAT expands nationally

Small changes to the SAT would follow as the exam grew in popularity. By the 1950s, a significant percentage of the Verbal test focused on reading passages, each of which ranged from 120 to 500 words in length. Students were required to answer common-sense questions about the content of the passages. Time limits were tight, with students required to answer between 107 and 170 questions in 90 to 100 minutes. Gradually, the College Board increased time limits and curbed question counts.

From 1958 to 1993, SAT creators made few changes to the Verbal part of the test. Yet several alterations were made to the Math portion, which incorporated a new question type that tested students’ abilities to evaluate whether or not the provided data was sufficient to answer each question. These were later replaced with questions that asked students to compare two mathematical quantities. This was done after studies revealed that students, especially those who had taken less complex high school math courses, could answer quantitative-comparison questions more quickly and reliably than data sufficiency questions.

But in 1994, both the Verbal and Math sections underwent drastic overhauls.

On the Verbal test, more emphasis was placed on critical reading and reasoning skills, reading material was made more accessible and engaging, and the length of passages was lengthened—so that text more closely resembled that which students would likely have to read in college courses.

This greater emphasis on critical reading, SAT creators hoped, would help the SAT stand for positive change, influencing the educational establishment to better prepare students for college and beyond. The 1994 SAT changes helped the College Board more closely align its test content with a 1990 recommendation of the Commission on New Possibilities for the Admissions Testing Program to “approximate more closely the skills used in college and high school work.”

Antonyms were removed from the test, based on the premise that they encouraged rote memorization instead of critical thinking. Additionally, in an effort to influence schools’ curriculum to include more reading, the College Board increased the percentage of passage-based reading questions from 29 percent to 50 percent. This increased the testing time limit and reduced the number of questions.

For the first time on the Math subtest, test-takers were required to arrive at their own solutions to questions, rather than select from a set of answer choices. Students were also permitted to use calculators on the Math section. These changes were made to better align the mathematics portion of the SAT with high school students’ curriculum.

A major influence in these changes was the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), as well as similar organizations, that suggested that more attention should be given to problem-solving in the realm of mathematics.

Recent changes to the SAT

In 2005, the Verbal Reasoning and Math portions of the SAT underwent another major redesign. This time, changes were made to ensure the SAT would better align with mainstream American high school curriculum, and to highlight the importance of college readiness.

A new Writing section with multiple-choice questions and an essay was added. Analogies were removed from the Verbal Reasoning portion (now referred to as Critical Reading), and more passage-based questions were added. The Math section incorporated content from more advanced high school math courses, such as second-year algebra, while quantitative comparisons were eliminated.

The latest iteration of the SAT again works to more closely align the exam with what high school students are currently learning, and with what they can expect to learn in college.

Despite the College Board’s efforts to design a more equitable test that is better suited to today’s high school students, critics say the new exam’s emphasis on words may make it more challenging for students with less reading experience or those who speak a different language at home.

In addition, some students are worried that the new changes may affect what an average SAT score is, and thus, college admissions chances. This, The New York Times has reported, has left a number of students considering whether they should try their hand at the new SAT or sit for the more familiar ACT.

The College Board, however, asserts that the new changes will not drastically alter students’ outcomes. “We are very mindful of the verbal load on this test,” Cyndie Schmeiser, the Chief of Assessment at the College Board, told The New York Times. “We are keeping it down. I think kids are going to find it comfortable and familiar. Everything about the test is publicly available. There are no mysteries.”

In all, some major changes are coming to the March 2016 SAT. The redesigned SAT will feature:

  • more practical math questions (though they are not necessarily easier)
  • a no-calculator math section
  • a long reading section
  • more applicable vocabulary
  • a shorter overall test
  • an optional essay

Furthermore, students will no longer be penalized for wrong answers, meaning that, unlike previous versions of the SAT, guessing incorrectly will not result in a points deduction. This may lead students to ask themselves, “How is the new SAT scored?” The new SAT will be scored on a scale of 1600, the same scale on which the exam was scored until 2005, when the scoring changed to a scale of 2400.

A shift in the testing landscape

Most colleges and universities allow students to choose between the ACT or the SAT (or to sit for both). Geographically, students in the Midwest tend to opt for the ACT, while students on the East and West coasts prefer the SAT. Despite this distribution, more students ultimately take the ACT.

After surpassing the SAT in popularity in 2012, the ACT continues to dominate as the standardized college entrance exam of choice in the United States. This is partly because the ACT was quick to align its content with the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSS).

The Common Core State Standards, or CCSS, were released in 2010. They are designed to prepare high school students for college or employment after graduation, and they are focused on comprehension, critical thinking, and research, rather than rote memorization. To date, 42 states and the District of Columbia have adopted the CCSS. The ACT’s emphasis on the CCSS, and its connection to classroom curriculum, can make the ACT seem like a natural choice for many students.

This year’s changes to the SAT presumably partially reflect the SAT’s desire to regain its position as the dominant college entrance exam. The changes also reflect other developments now occurring in the high school testing landscape—with most states implementing the CCSS, some individuals have discussed the possibility of replacing students’ final exams with a test already taken by many people, such as the ACT or SAT.

As of January 2016, the U.S. Department of Education has given seven states permission to use either the ACT or the SAT as an official high school assessment. This approval is part of a provision in the Every Student Succeeds Act. But states must conduct studies on the efficacy of the ACT and SAT as general high school assessment exams in order to use them, according to Education Week.

Four states won approval to use the SAT—Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, and New Hampshire—and three states have approval to use the ACT—Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. The ACT is now discussing its exam with 10 other states that are interested in using it as a federal high school assessment.

For the College Board, such a change in high school testing policies could conceivably augment its exam numbers.

But just as states are becoming more enthusiastic about the ACT and SAT, higher education appears to be doing the opposite: since 2004, more than 140 U.S. colleges have declared themselves “test-optional.” This list of 140+ institutions includes schools like Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut; Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina; George Washington University in Washington, D.C.; and, most recently, the University of Delaware in Newark, Delaware.

In total, there are more than 850 colleges across America that have deemphasized the importance of standardized college entrance exams when making admissions decisions. One school, Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, even refuses to consider submitted test scores.

Of course, just because certain colleges are placing less importance on standardized college entrance exams does not mean that few students are taking the ACT or SAT. Millions of high school students continue to register for these tests each year. This is likely due to the fact that some colleges still require at least one of these exams as part of a college application.

It may also be the result of increased admissions competition, especially at the country’s most selective schools. Because nearly all test-optional colleges still accept exam scores, many students take the ACT and/or the SAT in an attempt to improve their admissions chances.

So, what does “SAT” stand for?

Ultimately, what does “SAT” stand for? Today, the College Board’s goal is to gauge high school students’ understanding of their curriculum and their readiness for college. Still, some studies have highlighted the belief that high school grades may be better predictors of college success than ACT or SAT scores.

“No test can truly measure ‘aptitude’ for academic success because school performance is not based on a single factor,” Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), told The Washington Post. “Math and verbal skills—the qualities measured by tests such as the SAT, GMAT and LSAT—are just one component. Non-cognitive traits, such as creativity, motivation and ‘grit,’ also play significant roles. High school grades are a more accurate predictor of college outcomes than any test because grades better capture the many characteristics that improve the chances of graduation.”

Indeed, this 2014 study found almost no difference in the cumulative GPA and graduation rates between students who submitted standardized test scores to colleges and those who did not.

Despite such criticism and research, despite pressing competition from the ACT, and despite the fact that some colleges no longer require students to take standardized entrance exams, it seems that the SAT is here to stay. Those students who are planning to take the revised 2016 test (and all exams thereafter) should familiarize themselves with the new format and work through SAT practice tests, available on both the College Board’s website and in the free Varsity Tutors SAT Prep Book.

Any topics you want to know more about? Let us know! The Varsity Tutors Blog editors love hearing your feedback and opinions. Feel free to email us at blog@varsitytutors.com.

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The Complete Story: What Does SAT Stand For?

New_SAT_Logo

The SAT was first introduced in 1926, and since then it has continued to be a major test for college admissions standardized testing.

But what does SAT actually stand for? To answer that question, we have to look more closely at the history of the SAT. The truth is that the name of the test has changed four times over the past 90 years!

Knowing how the name of the SAT has changed can help you better understand the significance of this major test in the college admissions process. The reasons point to controversies and scandals about the test that have affected how the test is perceived by colleges. Continue reading to find more about the history of the SAT and the reasoning behind the name.

The Very Beginning: 1899

The College Board (formerly the College Entrance Examination Board) was organized at Columbia University on December 22, 1899 . The board consisted of 12 universities and three private high schools, including well-known schools like Columbia, Princeton, and Cornell. (Fun fact: all of these schools are Ivy League schools!)

The goal of this board was to agree on a set of standards that should be taught in high school and and to create a test that could assess how well students were prepared in these subjects.

Before this point, there really was no reliable way to compare students to each other on a national level. Students from different schools would have different grades and different teachers, and it would be hard for a college to reliably compare students to each other. The College Board aimed to solve this problem by establishing standardized learning objectives and clear methods for assessing students’ readiness for college admission.

So what subjects did the College board want to teach and access? In the early years of the College Board, Botany, Chemistry, English, French, German, Greek, History, Latin, Mathematics, Physics, and Zoology were deemed the core subjects. Since that time, Botany and Zoology have been merged into Biology, and Greek and Latin are clearly no longer popular languages!

The very first test given by the College Board was in 1901, but this was a prototype essay test. They retooled the test for a while, and then came out with the very first SAT in 1926.

NBC_1926

In 1926, the SAT was launched. and so was the National Broadcasting Company, which is now known as NBC!

1926: The Scholastic Aptitude Test

The SAT began life as an acronym: the Scholastic Aptitude Test. To be precise about what this name means, let’s define the words:

Scholastic : “of or concerning schools and education; academic”

So we know that this test relates to the student’s education in some way. Now, let’s define “aptitude”:

Aptitude : “a natural ability to do something; talent”

Whoa, wait a second. “Natural ability” and “talent” refer to a quality that you’re born with and don’t have the ability to change. Aptitude implies that some people are born good at certain things while others aren’t so lucky . . . and that’s just how it’ll stay for the rest of their lives.

Yes, that’s right— the SAT was originally designed to be more like an IQ test . The suggestion was that people with higher IQs were more likely to succeed in college and in life. Based on that notion, the College Board believed that you couldn’t score higher on the test by preparing. The questions on the test were specifically designed NOT to test things that you had already learned in school. That’s what lies behind the loaded term “aptitude.”

This also explains part of why the SAT is such a weird test and tests questions that you’ve never seen before in school. Even now, over 100 years since the College Board was founded, high school students are still feeling the legacy of the test.

For Fun: What was tested on the 1926 SAT?

The original SAT looked very different form the SAT we’re used to today. Verbal skills tested included definitions, antonyms, and analogies, while math questions included a number series and logical inference. Test-takers were given around 90 minutes to answer 315 questions.

Just for fun, try a few sample questions from the 1926 SAT :

body_1926satmath

body_1926verbal

Despite its flaws, the introduction of the SAT was actually a huge game-changer for high school students. In the past, elite colleges would select from prestigious high schools that were known for serving wealthy, white families. The SAT enabled colleges to compare students across the country to each other and identify promising students that didn’t fit the traditional student mold. Given these benefits, more and more colleges began requiring the SAT as part of their admissions.

But remember how this was meant to be an “aptitude” test? Over time, that became an issue. People began pointing out flaws in the claim that the SAT only measures students’ aptitude.

First, test prep companies began showing that they could improve test scores through dedicated test prep (which still holds true for today’s SAT prep programs). This means that the SAT doesn’t test purely innate ability—you can learn to get better on this test.

Second, ideas around education began changing. Whereas people once thought academic ability had to do with natural talent, we now know it has a lot to do with environmental factors and individual character.

With all this controversy, the College Board decided to change the test name again, this time calling it the Scholastic Assessment Test.

politician-150383_640

In 1993, the College Board renamed the SAT again (sorta). This was the same year Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize.

1993: Scholastic Assessment Test

Facing pressure behind the “aptitude” part of the SAT, the College Board renamed the test to the Scholastic Assessment Test in 1993. Specifically, what we know as the SAT was called the SAT I: Reasoning Test. The subject tests were called SAT II: Subject Tests.

This shift was in response to the faulty idea that preparation for these tests would not improve scores. It was clear that test prep could improve SAT scores, and suggesting otherwise was misleading. That’s why the word “aptitude” was removed from the name of the SAT in 1993.

At this point, the College Board decided that the SAT should better assess student growth in “high school curricula” and test the skills used in college and career work.

But wait — doesn’t “assessment” also mean “test?” So this would be like calling the SAT the Scholastic Test Test.

Partly for this reason and others, the College Board decided to issue a new statement: SAT no longer means anything.

1997: SAT No Longer Means Anything

As of 1997, SAT is no longer an acronym and the name does not stand for anything. Here’s an official comment from the College Board about this change:

“The SAT has become the trademark; it doesn’t stand for anything,” said Scott Jeffe, a spokesman for the College Board in New York. ”The SAT is the SAT, and that’s all it is.”


But why keep the SAT name at all if it doesn’t mean anything?
By the time the name was changed again in 1997, millions of students were taking the SAT. Generations of students recognized the SAT name and it was a fixture in the culture of college admissions. Changing the name – say, to the ART, or “Academic Reasoning Test” – would be confusing for students, parents, and colleges.

So what does SAT stand for? Now you know – the SAT no longer stands for anything. It escaped the original problems involved in calling it an “aptitude” test and now avoids the redundancy in “assessment test” by simplifying the name to just SAT.

Today, the SAT continues reinventing itself to become a better test. Though it’s possible that the name of the test will change again in the future, the current SAT name eliminates controversy and presents a recognizable brand for college applicants around the world.

body-arrows-next-cloud-arrow

What’s Next?

Now that you know about the SAT, it’s time to take the test. But w hat’s a good SAT score for you? Read this guide to find out.

If you want to go to a top college, you’ll need to get a high SAT score. If you’re interested in making a perfect 1600 on the SAT , we’ve got the guide for you.

One way to boost your score is to use tried-and-true SAT testing strategies. Here are 23 strategies you should master before taking the SAT!

We also wrote a popular free guide to the top 5 tips to improve your SAT score by 160 points or more:

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As co-founder and head of product design at PrepScholar, Allen has guided thousands of students to success in SAT/ACT prep and college admissions. He’s committed to providing the highest quality resources to help you succeed. Allen graduated from Harvard University summa cum laude and earned two perfect scores on the SAT (1600 in 2004, and 2400 in 2014) and a perfect score on the ACT. You can also find Allen on his personal website, Shortform, or the Shortform blog.

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