A standardised test score is a mandatory part of the application to practically any undergraduate programme in the US. All applicants must take at least one of the two well-known global standardised tests, the SAT and the ACT. Many students, in fact, choose to take both tests and submit the score for the test in which they have performed better. The SAT Reasoning Test (more commonly known as “the SAT” or “SAT I”) is attempted by about 1.7 million students every year. Similarly, the ACT is attempted by about 1.8 million students every year. In general, all colleges and universities:
- accept both SAT and ACT scores
- do not prefer one test over the other
- use SAT-ACT conversion tables to compare students’ test scores
A candidate’s SAT or ACT score provides a consistent way to evaluate students from very different academic backgrounds. It is almost impossible to fairly compare, for example, a “B” grade in the Singapore-Cambridge GCE A-Levels, a “32” in the IB diploma, an “A” grade in the UK GCE A-Levels, an “87.3%” in the Indian CBSE exams, and a “3.2” GPA in the US high-school system. A standardised test reduces the extent to which a university’s admissions committee has to depend on these varied scores, and introduces a level playing-field that applies to all candidates.
However, it is important to note that a standardised test score is not a substitute for high school results (A-Levels, IB, etc.), even though a very good test score often helps compensate for mediocre results in high school or polytechnic. You will find a useful list of the GPAs and SAT/ACT scores of all major universities in our What is a “good” score section.
The SAT tests the fundamentals of mathematics, vocabulary, grammar, logic, and comprehension of passages. There is also an essay writing section that is optional in theory, but still required by most programmes. Assuming that a candidate takes the optional essay section (highly recommended), the SAT is about 3 hours, 50 minutes long, excluding about 15 minutes’ worth of breaks. For a more detailed breakdown, see our section on SAT Test Format.
The ACT, the only alternative to the SAT, tests similar skills, but in a slightly different format. For a comprehensive human-readable comparison of the SAT and the ACT, see our SAT-ACT comparison section.
Because of the similarity of their names, it is quite easy to confuse the SAT Reasoning Test (a.k.a. “SAT I”) and the SAT Subject Tests (a.k.a. “SAT II”). SAT Subject Test scores, for up to 3 subjects, are often required by certain university programmes. Candidates choose from 20 available subject tests, each of which tests a student’s competence in a school subject and/or a language. See our SAT Subject Tests section to learn more about these tests and to browse through a detailed list of the SAT Subject Test requirements for popular programmes at major US universities.