Guides / USA


It’s important for students considering applications to the United States to do their research into the tests needed (or if a test is needed at all).


The first thing to consider is whether you would prefer to apply under a ‘test optional’ or ‘test flexible’ plan. An increasing number of US colleges now don’t need you to have one of the tests, and will instead look at your exams (GCSE, A Level, IB, Pre-U or other similar qualifications) instead. From the highly-selective end such as NYU, the University of Chicago and Wake Forest through the entire rankings list of US universities, you can find many colleges which don’t ask for SAT or ACT.


If you are targeting colleges which do require them, the key then is to work out which of the two tests suits you best. Both are equally widely accepted, so it’s important that applicants play to their strengths. There are many free diagnostic tests offered by test prep companies, so have a quick Google to find one which suits you.


If all things are equal, my preference tends to be for the ACT. Internationally, the ACT is now offered as a computer-based test, which means that there are a growing number of ‘pop-up’ test centres in cities to take the test, and scores come back in 48 hours (rather than the 2-3 week time with the SAT). In addition, if you need SAT Subject Tests for your colleges – typically asked for by the most selective US universities – you will have to use the SAT test dates to take those. SAT and ACT test dates do not clash, so if you take the SAT and SAT Subject Tests you have many fewer opportunities to retake, then if you take the ACT and SAT Subject Tests.


An important caveat to add here is if you have extra time or other access arrangements, which can very much change the way in which you take the SAT or the ACT. Make sure that your school is onside with this process, as they may end up having to supervise the test for you at your school.


Testing strategy is a crucial part of the application process for US universities, and increasingly so for the growing number of European universities who use ACT or SAT as an entrance test. Don’t rush into taking a test without preparation or with a lack of understanding of how colleges will use the test, and make sure you plan an overall strategy to make the most of the time between now and the university deadlines.