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Just testing us?

When music star Prince decided a few years ago that he wanted to be referred to only with a symbol that had no pronunciation, some publications responded by calling him The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.

Now, Prince has an unlikely compatriot: the College Board.

The New York City-based sponsor of college-entrance examinations has had some trouble educating the public and the news media on the correct way to refer to its revamped tests. So last month, it issued a finger-wagging memo to try to set the record straight.

For years, the board's best-known test was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, or S.A.T. for short. But in 1993, the name was changed to the Scholastic Assessment Test.

Now, the only proper way to refer to the former Scholastic Aptitude Test is as the SAT I: Reasoning Test. And the tests formerly known as Achievement Tests must be called the SAT II: Subject Tests. Together, they are to be referred to as Scholastic Assessment Tests, plural, according to the College Board.

And, the board says, "SAT is not an initialism; it does not stand for anything" and thus may not be referred to in print as "S.A.T."

How successful was the memo? Well, as Jeffrey Penn, a spokesman for the College Board, said last week: "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

The day after reporters were handed the memo at a news conference in Washington, newspapers ran stories about the latest round of SAT scores. Most referred to the SAT as they have in the past: "Scholastic Assessment Test." And The New York Times abbreviated it using periods.

Education Week has decided to use "SAT" as a shorthand reference to the SAT I: Reasoning Test but will also include the official name in its stories.

As for using periods in the name SAT, William Boarders, a news editor at The New York Times said that was his paper's style because the word is not pronounced "SAT." Education scholar Diane S. Ravitch, who wrote an opinion piece late last month in the Times about the SAT, said she will continue to call it the Scholastic Assessment Test. The SAT, she said, "has to be an abbreviation. It has to be shorthand for something."

By the way, the sponsor of the other major college-entrance exam has altered its name, too. American College Testing wants to be just ACT. And what does ACT stand for? You guessed it: Nothing.

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