SAT诞生后不久，ACT就成为它的一个强硬对手。爱荷华州立大学( Iowa State)一位教授于1959年创建ACT考试，用以评估学生的实践性知识。尽管ACT一直是SAT不敢忽视的竞争对手，但它缺乏SAT考试的显赫声誉。而且在相当长时间里，ACT的市场主要局限在中西部。2000年，有100万多一点的学生参加了ACT考试。
为了履行让学生做好上大学准备的承诺，同时达到2001年通过的《不让一个孩子掉队》法案(No Child Left Behind)的要求——这项法案要求高中在中学教育阶段至少测试一次学生的阅读能力、数学能力和科学素养——许多州开始把ACT作为标准考核测试。就在此前几年，ACT推出了上大学准备标准，将考试成绩同实际应用能力挂钩。在此之前，一位学生的分数只有跟其他学生比较时才有意义。“许多州认为我们能够为全州统考提供一种更好的解决方案，”ACT发言人埃德•科尔比说。“他们希望找到一种能够评估本州课程和学习标准、同时还可以激励学生努力学习的方式，他们知道ACT是一项根据课程设计的考试。”
最终的结果是，现在参加ACT考试的学生比以往任何时候都多。根据美国公平与公开考试中心(The National Center for Fair and Open Testing)提供的数据，2012年，有1,666,017名学生参加了这项考试，普及程度一举超越了SAT，后者的参考人数为1,664,479。去年，ACT的应考者达到1,799,243人（这项统计数字首次包括了有特殊住宿需要的学生），而参加SAT的学生数量却下降了4,000人。
哥伦比亚大学新闻学院(Columbia School of Journalism)教授、《大测试：美国英才教育秘史》( The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy)一书作者尼古拉斯•莱曼指出，在成立初期，SAT考试的主要目的在于衡量年轻人的天资。“但随着SAT考试的成功，大学理事会的体量变得硕大无比。这个时候，这家机构就必须思考它需要增加多少客户才能实现自己崇高的非营利性使命这个问题。”（财富中文网）
When the College Board announced on Wednesday that it was overhauling the SAT, president David Coleman said the changes were aimed at aligning the exam with what students were learning in high school, eliminating the test's trickery, and deemphasizing the importance of expensive test-prep services.
As of 2016, the SAT will revert to a 1600-point scale by making the essay portion optional. It will also stop detracting points for wrong answers, which had, in essence, penalized students for guessing. The College Board is also teaming up with Khan Academy to create free online test-prep courses it says will help even the test-prep playing field.
"If we believe that assessment must be a force for equity and excellence, it's time to shake things up," Coleman said on Wednesday.
That's all well and good, but make no mistake, the decision to alter the SAT is a calculated business move. The SAT has fallen behind its rival, the ACT, in popularity, and its new format is an attempt to claw its way back to dominance.
The SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test, had long been the preferred method of measuring high school students' college readiness. Its inception at Princeton University and its initial popularity on the East Coast automatically associated it with elite education. It first hit the 1 million test-takers mark in 1957, and its popularity continued to grow during the rest of the 20th century. In 2000, 1,260,278 students sat for the exam.
Soon after its birth, the SAT found a fierce opponent in the ACT, which stands for American College Testing. The ACT was created by an Iowa State professor in 1959 to assess students' practical knowledge. While the ACT has always been a legitimate competitor to the SAT, it lacked the SAT's prestigious reputation, and, for a time, its popularity was limited mostly to the Midwest. Just over 1 million students took the ACT in 2000.
But after 2000, the ACT began to gain ground over the SAT. One major factor gave it that boost: the statewide administration of the ACT.
To fulfill commitments to college readiness and to meet the requirements of the 2001 No Child Left Behind act, which requires high schools to test students in math, reading, and science at least once during their secondary education, states adopted the ACT as an achievement exam. Just a few years prior, the ACT had introduced college readiness standards, which tied students' scores to actual skills. Before that, a student's score only meant something when compared to a peer's results. "States came to us looking for a better solution to statewide exams," says Ed Colby, spokesman for the ACT. "They were looking for a way to assess their state curriculum and learning standards and motivate students to do their best, and they knew that the ACT was curriculum-based."
Colorado and Illinois signed on to administer the test statewide in 2001. Michigan and Kentucky committed to it in 2007, and Wyoming had done so by 2009. Now, 13 states administer the ACT to public high school students, with Missouri, Wisconsin, and one additional state (whose commitment is not yet public) expected to do so next year. The SAT, meanwhile, is administered by three states -- Maine, Delaware, and Idaho.
The statewide administration of the ACT is a win across the board for all parties involved. Students in those states are automatically signed up for the test for free and can use their results on college applications. (The ACT normally costs $36.50; the ACT with optional essay is $52.50. It currently costs $52 to sit for the SAT.) Included in the pool of test-takers are students who might not have enrolled on their own.
"It raises college awareness," says Paul Weekly, the ACT's vice president of customer engagement.
Students are more motivated to do well on the ACT as compared to a general statewide exam since admission to the college of their choice is at stake. And, of course, it gives the ACT more relevance and a leg up on its competition. After all, if your child is signed up to take the ACT for free by default, why would you as a parent pay for the SAT when most universities accept either score?
The end result is that more students than ever are taking the ACT. It surpassed the SAT in popularity in 2012 when 1,666,017 students sat for the exam, compared to the 1,664,479 who took the SAT, according to data collected by The National Center for Fair and Open Testing. Last year the number of ACT test-takers reached 1,799,243 -- a figure that included for the first time students who needed special accommodations -- while the number of students who took the SAT actually dropped by about 4,000.
By changing its format, the SAT is trying to regain market share. "If you want to see the new SAT, take a look at the ACT -- there's no guessing penalty or esoteric words and the essay is optional," says Bob Schaeffer, the director of public education at Fair and Open Testing. "The SAT has fallen from first place. It's been overtaken by the ACT that has more market appeal, is more consumer friendly, and has sharper salesmanship."
Both the College Board and ACT, Inc. are non-profit organizations, but there's plenty of money at stake in this battle of the tests. The College Board reported total revenue of $759 million in 2012 when it filed its most recent 990 form. ACT Inc. brought in $302.5 million that same year, according to its 990 form.
During its early days, the SAT was intended to measure young people's aptitude, says Nicholas Lemann, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and author of The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy. "But as soon as the College Board got super-sized because of the success of the SAT, it had to think about how many customers it had in addition to its lofty nonprofit mission."