Lyle Burkhead (
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 22:06:30 -0500 (EST)

Damien Broderick writes,

> For the benefit of people outside the United States, for whom these
> grading arcana are entirely opaque, could someone please briefly
> explain what SATs are [scholastic aptitudes tests?], and the range of
> scores?

Your guess is correct, SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. The
test is given in two parts, verbal and mathematical, and the scores on
each part range from 200 to 800, so the highest possible score is 1600.
The original idea was that the average score would be 1000, like an IQ
of 100. But the scores have been falling for decades. Most students --
even those who are in fact admitted to universities -- score less than
1000. The decline has occurred at all levels. Thirty years ago, at
elite schools (Harvard, MIT, Caltech), the median score for incoming
freshmen was about 1500. By 1990 it had fallen to about 1400. As a
result of this persistent decline, the scores were recalibrated a couple of
years ago.

The SAT is concerned with general knowledge of high school math and
English; geometry, algebra, trigonometry, a little calculus; vocabulary,
synonym recognition, and basic reasoning ability. For example, the
student reads a paragraph, and is asked what it is about; there are four
choices, three of which are absurd; but most people who take the test
miss these questions. Most people who take the test miss *most* of the
questions. A mystery.

The SAT is given in the morning. In the afternoon, the students take
three tests in specific subjects (such as chemistry, history, etc). The
whole battery of tests is known as the "college boards." The afternoon
tests are also scored on a range from 200 to 800. Even thirty years ago,
it was extremely rare for anyone to have an average score of 750 or
better for all five tests. But some did.