The requirements for eligibility to leading universities vary across different countries and systems. In the United States, admissions officers and application evaluators pay close attention to a student’s academic rigour, extracurricular activities, and their performance in one of two standardized tests: the ACT and SAT. While most universities continue to pursue “test-optional” policies, a competitive international profile and application may benefit from a strong ACT or SAT score. Students may sit either the ACT or the SAT, as there is no preference for one over the other in U.S. university admissions.

What is the ACT?

The ACT is a standardized test used by U.S. universities (and some European universities) to make admissions decisions. The exam is composed of four timed sections – English, Math, Reading, and Science – each with a maximum score of 36. The average of those individual section scores forms a student’s composite score. Achieving a strong ACT score requires understanding of English grammar and mathematics, along with excellent critical reading skills. It is important to note that the ACT Science section does not require scientific knowledge, but rather quick and efficient interpretation of data and experiments.

Students sit the ACT online at a test center and all ACT questions are multiple choice. The ACT offers multiple test dates internationally in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December. Find details of all test dates and registration deadlines here.

What is the SAT?

The SAT is another standardized test U.S. university admissions officers use to make admissions decisions. A redesigned shorter SAT will be delivered digitally internationally beginning in spring 2023 and in the U.S. in spring 2024. Each test section (Reading and Writing, Math) will be divided into two stages, called modules.

The SAT is now also adaptive: a student’s accuracy on the first module will determine what questions they encounter on the second module. Still scored out of 1600, students maximize their chances of a strong SAT score by performing highly on the first module to ensure they receive the harder questions. Find out more about the Digital SAT and the Bluebook testing application here.

Students may sit the digital SAT at CDNIS in March, May, June, August, October, and December. Find details of all test dates and registration deadlines here.

How to Prepare

Most students sit the SAT or ACT 2-3 times and prepare over a longer period to build the meticulousness and stamina needed to do well in these exams.

If your child is considering applying to U.S. universities, it is important to have a test preparation plan in place before you register for an official examination. Please speak to a university counsellor for more information on these standardized tests to determine whether or not your child should sit these exams, and how best to prepare for the ACT or the SAT.