First some brief history. The SAT was first administered in 1926 and was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test. This name lasted until 1990 when it was switched to the Scholastic Assessment Test, which lasted for only 3 years. In 1993 the letters S.A.T. officially no longer stood for anything. It is definitely silly that an exam whose name came about as an acronym is now an acronym whose letters literally don’t represent anything. And while the name has changed over the years, the basic tricky element of the exam itself remains present.
So what does all this mean?
The history of its name shows that the SAT by its very design is intended to be a reasoning exam. The definition of aptitude is “a natural ability to do something.” With the “Scholastic” adjective describing “Aptitude” the SAT (from 1926 to 1990) very clearly and officially claimed to measure someone’s natural ability to be good at school. Since anyone is capable of memorizing rote facts out of a textbook, clearly there is going to be some discordance between students who do well in school and students who do well on the SAT. The sheer fact a college admissions test can be so difficult for so many students who do very well in school is further evidence that the SAT measures a very specific way of reasoning that is not tested in schools.
As an SAT instructor, I’ve always found it odd that the college admissions test is so far removed from exams in high school. First and foremost, exams in high school are not designed to “trick” students. Unless you have a very eccentric high school teacher, your exams are relatively straightforward in the way they test material. Which brings us to the other tremendous difference between the SAT and school exams: exams in school test very specific information that was taught directly to the students whereas the SAT does not. The back of “The Official SAT Study Guide” (the SAT practice book made by the College Board – the company that makes the SAT) attempts to claim that the SAT tests the same subjects that are taught in high school: reading, writing, and mathematics. What is not written on the back of the official SAT guide is that the entire exam tests math, reading, and grammar in a way specifically designed to trick even the best of students. Simply ask any high school student who has taken an SAT if it tests these subjects in the same way they are tested in high school.
Whether or not it is appropriate for a college admissions test to be tricky in this manner is a whole other discussion. But in the meantime, please recognize that no matter how well you may do in school, it is completely normal to struggle with the challenge of the SAT.