The College Board, responding to concern about a decline in academic quality, yesterday issued a detailed, demanding set of standards setting out what students should know before they go to college.

The list, developed after three years of consultation with about 1,400 college and high school educators, calls for specific preparation in English, mathematics, science and languages, as well as general skills in reading, writing, studying and reasoning that the board said are necessary for "effective" college-level work.

The board, best-known as the sponsor of the nation's most widely used college admissions tests, said college-bound students also should be able to use a computer, carry on a basic conversation in a foreign language and appreciate music, theater and art.

"This is the first comprehensive statement of what the academic preparation should be for college in a long, long time," said George H. Hanford, president of the College Board, which is composed of about 2,500 colleges and secondary schools. "We're interested not just in the years" spent studying a subject, "but in the content that should be mastered."

Although the 27-page document, "Academic Preparation for College: What Students Need to Know and Be Able to Do," stops short of saying its standards should be adopted as college admission requirements, it urges colleges to use them as "clearly and convincingly stated recommendations for the preparation of incoming students."

It says they also should be the objectives for college preparatory programs in high schools and should apply to colleges throughout the country, including two-year community colleges.

Hanford said the standards might become the basis for a new set of College Board achievement tests for high school seniors. But he indicated that any new nationwide exams are not likely to be developed soon and said they would not replace the board's major exam, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), taken each year by about 1 million college-bound seniors.

The College Board statement came less than two weeks after a blistering indictment of American schooling by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, appointed by Education Secretary Terrel H. Bell, and similar though less strident criticism by the Education Commission of the States and the 20th Century Fund.

Hanford said that "we are not here to lament, but to take some positive steps. I think education is turning itself around now, and we are part of the process."

Although recent national tests show improvements in basic skills in the lower grades, Hanford said high school students "are unable to do as well in the higher-order problems and reasoning they need in college."

The "basic competencies" in yesterday's report, which stress reasoning and study skills, were issued by the College Board in September, 1981. Hanford said they have been endorsed or adopted by higher education boards in several states.

The standards for "basic academic subjects" announced yesterday include:

* In English, the ability to read literature critically and to write clearly and grammatically; writing should be taught as a process that includes drafting, organizing material and rewriting.

* In mathematics, familiarity with statistics and computers, as well as algebra, plane and solid geometry, and functions.

* In science, "quantitative" knowledge, including the necessary math, in at least one field, such as chemistry, biology or physics; this should replace traditional courses that describe scientific knowledge but do not equip students to understand how it is developed.

* In the arts, "intensive preparation" in at least one of four areas: visual art, theater, music or dance. Students should have a grounding in the history and theory of different arts as well as being able to perform.

* In social studies, courses in U.S. history and world geography and culture, stressing social and cultural developments as well as political history and providing a "basic understanding" of at least one social science, such as economics, geography, political science or geography.

* In language, the ability to read and write basic material in a modern foreign language and to carry on "a simple conversation in areas of immediate need or on very familiar topics." As an alternative, the report recommends studying Latin and Greek because of their "pervasive influence" on western history.