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The SAT, originally known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test but now known solely by its initials, is the main standardized test used by colleges to determine the quality of applicants in The United States, covering reading and math. Generally, taking the SAT is considered a culminating moment in a teen's education and is the subject of much stress and studying. Its lesser known competitor is the ACT, which serves the same purpose but isn't necessarily the same thing. The main differences between the SAT and the ACT are:

  1. The SAT is more popular at private schools and schools on the East and West Coasts (mostly the latter two).
  2. The ACT is more popular at public schools and schools in the Midwest and South (mostly the latter two).
  3. The ACT also covers science and social studies in addition to reading and math; the ACT includes an optional writing section, which was eliminated from regular SAT administrations after the 2020–21 school year.
  4. Each section of the SAT is worth 800 points while each section of the ACT is worth 36 points (a student's composite ACT score is the average of the student's scaled scores for the test sections they did—whether or not they did the writing section in addition to the four required sections).
  5. Before 2016, the SAT had a "guessing penalty"—an incorrect answer took away points from a student's raw score. The ACT has never had such a penalty.

In 2005, the SAT was heavily revamped, most notably changing from a base-1600 score to a base-2400 score. Older programs will reference the original (and now-current) scoring system. The SAT was heavily revamped again in 2016, with the first exams under the new format administered in March of that year. Scores are back to being base-1600, and the guessing penalty is a thing of the past. The writing section was made optional, and was scored on a totally different scale from the rest of the exam (0 to 24, in one-point increments). After June 2021, the writing section was completely eliminated, with one exception. The SAT has a program called SAT School Day, in which the full test is administered during a regular school day. Since a few states require the writing section to be administered as part of this program, said section is still developed for use as part of that program.

Britain also has two exams called SATs, but they're pronounced as words ("sats") and taken before GCSEs.note 

The grad school version of this is the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), though some programs also accept the MAT (Miller Analogies Test). Most professional degree programs have their own versions:

  • Business school: GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test)
  • Dental school: DAT (Dental Admission Test)
  • Law school: LSAT (Law School Admission Test)
  • Medical school: MCAT (Medical College Admission Test)
  • Pharmacy school: PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test)
Veterinary schools used to have their own test, the VCAT (Veterinary College Admission Test), but they now require either the GRE or the MCAT, depending on the school.

The SATs as depicted in fiction frequently provide examples of:

  • Achievement Test of Destiny: For a long time, the SAT has reigned as the most important factor in college admissions. However, general grades seem to have overtaken it. Also, some colleges these days don't require students to take the SAT or ACT to get in (but students are still encouraged to take the test).
  • The B Grade: A common reaction by a straight-A student to getting a good, but not perfect, score (it's nearly impossible to actually get a perfect score on the SAT or ACT).
  • Bland-Name Product: Sometimes works don't refer to the test as the SATs, sometimes not referring to the test by name or simply inventing a new one.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Many students who do well on the SATs but have subpar grades are this. It's common for such characters to be able to test well, but not maintain enough focus to do well in school.
  • Child Prodigy: They're usually claimed to have aced their SATs at an early age.
  • Golden Snitch: The SATs are sometimes portrayed as so important that otherwise bad students can get in anywhere if they do well enough.
  • Pinball Scoring: Scores always end in a multiple of 10, and the lowest you can score on an individual section is 200 points (a common joke is that you get 200 points just for writing your name, although the truth is a bit more complicated), meaning you are guaranteed to score at least 400 points (600 during the 3-section era).