American college admission: SAT and ACT, actually non-compulsory exams?

Each month, Isaac Foster, an expert on the American university application process and founder of I. Foster Learning, helps us understand the American education system, from high school to university.

“I need a SAT!” Parents of high school students, you hear this phrase often without always knowing what it means. It is not easy to understand the complexities of the American education system, let alone the characteristics of various entrance exams for American universities, and it is important to prepare for it.

How to prepare for these tests?

What is often confusing for French families and radically different from the French or even international baccalaureate is that the SAT (you have to pronounce every letter) and the ACT (simultaneous test of the SAT) are not automatically taken in the year. the end. Therefore, they are not prepared or poorly prepared in secondary schools.

But these tests require a lot of preparation to get good results. Private and independent organizations mostly help students prepare and private institutions allow students take these exams (several dates are set each year in the US and around the world). They are presented in the form of MCQs in reading, grammar and mathematics and are timed.

What is a good score?

The SAT scores 800 for the reading and grammar section and 800 for the math section. Total score is above 1600. The ACT, on the other hand, gives a total score out of 36 and is the average of 4 scores from grammar, math, reading, and science. The vast majority of universities require the results of these tests and require good scores to be considered for student records.

What score should you aim for? It depends on the choice of universities to which he applies. In general, universities publish the average of the scores of admitted students, so a student gets a score as close to that average as possible. A 32+ on the ACT and 1400+ on the SAT may be mandatory for the most demanding universities. Important thing to know: You can retake the SAT or ACT as many times as you like. The highest score in each category is saved.

Not optional everywhere

But now, because of the pandemic and the inability of students to take these tests in person, many universities have decided to remove the obligation to transmit these results to the SAT or ACT and now offer students the choice of whether or not to submit their results. That’s why it’s “optional”. Of course, it’s not that simple.

Let’s take a few well-known universities as an example. For Stanford, everything is simple: it is mandatory, students must provide SAT or ACT scores in the registration file. For Berkeley, it’s also very simple: you can’t give your grades, the university doesn’t care about that. So what does Harvard say? This is “optional”. But what does “optional” actually mean? In short, there will always be applicants who manage to submit very good or even impressive scores.

Advice for parents:

If you think your child has the potential to score really well, give them the SAT or ACT and list their excellent scores on their application.

On the other hand, if your child has always hated such tests (many teenagers do), or you know that these results will be considered “average”, then it is better to avoid them (knowing that other applicants will submit better scores) and concentrate about universities that no longer care about the SAT and ACT. In this case, it is important that your child’s record shows other excellent qualities that universities expect. A small explanatory diagram below.

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