ETS and the “Big Test” – The SAT, Past, Present, and Future

ETS and the “Big Test” – The SAT, Past, Present, and Future
Betty Ford: Education, Arts, Letters and Ideas

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: One week


In 1948, the same year that Gerald and Betty Ford were married, the Educational Testing Service came into existence and began to promote the SAT as a means of separating the wheat from the chaff in college admissions, especially in elite colleges and universities in the east.  ETS has since become the world’s largest private testing and measurement organization, with a budget of $900 million.


The purpose of this lesson is to give students an opportunity to research the history, current status, and future of the SAT, an examination that, along with the ACT, often has a major impact on their lives with respect to attending college.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; access to print materials; paper and writing materials, or a word processor.


1.  Depending upon the age of the students, begin the lesson by asking if they know about the SAT, or have taken it, or have taken the PSAT.  Spend a little time discussing their experiences.
2.  Then, using the websites (and book, if available) listed below, have students research the history and current status of the Educational Testing Service and the SAT.    
3.  Each student will be writing a research paper on their findings.  Attention in the paper must be given to the following:

  • A brief history of the Educational Testing Service
  • A brief history of the SAT
  • Strengths and weaknesses of the SAT
  • Current issues with the SAT (each student may choose a different issue; many issues are elaborated upon in the series of New York Times articles, below).
  • A prediction of the future of the SAT – why or why not it should continue to be an important part of applying to college.

4. Grading of the papers can follow accepted practice and/or be aligned with current state standards.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson can be extended by expanding the study to include the ACT and/or the Praxis Exams, as well as state level achievement tests written and graded by ETS that are part of the state’s compliance with No Child Left Behind.

Sources & Resources:

Lemann, Nicholas, The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000.
Educational Testing Service – Home Page 

Educational Testing Service on Wikipedia 

SAT on Wikipedia 
A History of the SAT 

Criticism of the SAT 

Secrets of the SAT – from Frontline 

Interview with Nicholas Lemann on the SAT 

New York Times Articles about ETS

This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.