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at Harvard College
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Admissions Tests

What are they? - Timing - Which Tests are Required? - Is the SAT or ACT a Better Fit for Me

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“The SAT and ACT serve the same purpose in the admissions process at most universities; however, the exams themselves are both quite different. Both are equally acceptable and equally valued at virtually all US colleges and universities nation-wide.  Do some research on both of the examinations and perhaps take a practice test to see which you think suits you best.”
US University Perspective - Mark Butt, Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Johns Hopkins University

What are they?

Most applicants for undergraduate study in the US will be required to sit a standardised admissions test. Standardised tests are one way in which US universities will assess your academic potential, in tandem with your academic results reported on your transcript. These tests serve as a common denominator to help US admission staff compare US students (who will not follow a national curriculum) and international students from different educational systems.

Admissions tests will be considered in determining both admissions and merit-based scholarships from the university. However, good scores are not sufficient to guarantee admission and are ideally paired with good marks.

Timing

We suggest students sit the admissions test in the autumn of Year 13/lower sixth form, if not before. Sit your first test by the October testing date, leaving you the option to re-sit the test in November or December if you are not satisfied with your results or need to sit the SAT Subject Tests in November or December. Also, keep in mind spaces fill up quickly, particularly in London, so you will want to register as soon as possible!

Which Tests are Required?

Most US universities will require students to take either the SAT Reasoning Test OR ACT. However, the most competitive US universities will require students to take the SAT Reasoning Test and 2-3 SAT Subject Exams OR the ACT with Writing. Please note some US universities do not require any admissions tests (a list is online), and some international students may also be required to take an English Language Proficiency Exam.

In order to ensure that you are taking the appropriate test, check the admissions webpage of each university to which you will apply. However, we do provide a reference guide to which admissions tests are required by the top 50 national universities and the top 50 liberal arts colleges.

Is the SAT or ACT a Better Fit for Me?

If the US universities to which you apply accept both the SAT and ACT, it is a personal choice as to which to take. Choose the test that you will do best on. To choose, we recommend you complete a sample test for the SAT Reasoning Test and a sample test for the ACT. Then compare your results from the sample tests using this concordance table, which links scores on both tests by percentile (scoring in say the 90th percentile means you performed better than 90% of the students sitting the test).

Other factors to consider:

For more information, watch a video on Taking Admissions Tests for US Institutions.