A brief history of SAT, part-1

Where and Why?  History of the SAT and ACT, pt. 1

You are here, at this blog, for a specific reason.  No, not time pass.  Please let it not be time pass.  No, you are here because you want to know about the SAT or ACT.  You want to learn little tips and tidbits and hints and ideas etcetera etcetera to help you master the standardised entrance exam, this one guardian at the gate of college that determines whether you are worthy of passing through.  You sigh deeply and perhaps a bit unhappily at the prospects of having to devote your time to preparing for this exam.  Maybe you feel particularly irritated or annoyed that such an exam could determine so much, that it could have such control over your future.

As you sit there, reading these words on your computer screen or smart phone or pad or whatever, you perhaps wonder, with a great deal of frustration, ‘Why do I have to bother?’  And of course ‘Who decided this anyway?’  So, today I’m going to take a day off from the hints and tips and such, and give you a crash course in the history of the standardised entrance exam.  Hopefully, by the time you walk away or close your laptop or turn off your pad, you’ll have a better understanding of how we got to this moment and how the test became…well…the test.  And in order to do that, we need to step back to the beginning.  The very beginning…….

1636 – Harvard College is the first institution of higher education started in the land that would later become the United States of America

1693 – The College of William and Mary, the university that educated Thomas Jefferson, is opened as the second school of higher learning in the USA

1701-1776 – Eleven more colleges are started before the American Revolutionary War, including colleges that would later become Yale, Princeton, Columbia, the University of Pennsylvania, Brown, Rutgers, and Dartmouth

1837 – Doors open for the first colleges devoted entirely to woman and to Blacks (Mount Holyoke and the African Institute – now Cheyney University)

1830-1860 – The building of colleges and universities boom as 133 of those still around today are founded, mainly due to expansion westward towards the Pacific Ocean

1861 – There are over 200 colleges and universities in existence when the American Civil War starts

1862 – Congress passed the First Morrill Act, which donates public land to states to set up educational institutions; this law led to the founding of many state and public universities throughout the country

1867 – Two years after the Civil War ends, the southern colleges are still in a state of ruin and the Department of Education is created to help restore order to all academic institutions

1870 – The so-called ‘Age of the University,’ which would last for forty years, begins as an increasing number of philanthropists encourages the concept of the ‘well-endowed university’

1890 – The Second Morrill Act expands the public land that can be used for colleges, thus allowing a surge in the number of academic institutions

1891 – Stanford University is founded in California


By the end of the 1800s, there are hundreds of colleges and universities throughout the United States.  All of them had their own admissions processes that gauged the success of prospective students through some similar and some very different criteria.  For example, from 1600 to 1800, the main foci of admissions were: knowledge of classical languages, specific readings, and my personal favourite, moral character.  Moral Character…this is not necessarily something that can be objectively tested, particularly in a country with such varying religious practices.

Through the 1800s, professors started to conduct the admissions processes rather than the university presidents, and thus accepted or rejected people as they saw fit.  This created a bit of chaos in the admissions process as not only did each college have different criteria, but also each DEPARTMENT within each college had its own criteria.  This made it impossible for high schools to properly prepare their students for the arduous journey to college.  Some kids would get in, while others wouldn’t.  Some colleges liked them, and others didn’t.  This became confusing and annoying and frustrating and made students and parents and colleges disillusioned with the whole process.  A change needed to occur, and fast.

And this is where our story continues…… in the next post.