Should International Students Take the SAT or ACT? - The Olive Book Blog (2023)

Most American colleges and universities require all applicants – including international students – to submit an ACT or SAT test score as part of their admissions application. But which test should you take – and does the ACT or SAT test look better on your application as an international student?

First, let’s break down the two tests: what is the SAT and what is the ACT?

What is the SAT Test?

The SAT test is a 3-hour standardized test evaluating a student’s mastery of high-school math, reading comprehension, and writing and grammar skills.

The test is broken into four timed multiple-choice sections: Reading, Writing and Language, Math Without Calculator (you cannot use a calculator during this section), and Math With Calculator (you can use an approved calculator during this section). You take the test on paper (you can write on it!) and record your answers on a bubble sheet/scantron.

10 Official SAT Practice Tests

The SAT is scored out of 1600 points. The Math section is scored out of 800 and the scores of the Reading and Writing and Language are combined for one score out of 800. Adding the two scores together creates a composite score of up to 1600. No points are deducted for wrong answers.

For more detail on the SAT test sections and how the SAT is scored, read this post.

What is the ACT Test?

The ACT test is a 2 hour, 55 minute standardized test evaluating a student’s master of high school math, reading comprehension, writing and grammar skills, and science.

The ACT has four multiple choice sections: English, Math, Reading, and Science, and an optional Essay section. You can use an approved calculator on the entire math section. The test is given on paper in the United States but is on a computer if taken outside the US. So if you take the ACT outside the US, you will take it on a computer in a testing center.

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6 Official ACT Practice Tests

Each ACT section is scored out of 36 points. Your four section scores are averaged into one composite score. No points are deducted for wrong answers.

For more detail on the ACT test sections and how the ACT is scored, read this post.

TOEFL or IELTS Requirement for International Students

If English is not your native language, you will most likely have to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) in addition to the SAT or ACT. Learn more about the TOEFL here and the IELTS here.

What Schools Accept the ACT? What About the SAT?

All four-year universities in the US accept both the ACT and the SAT.

Despite what you may read online, one test is not more valued by colleges than the other. The ACT and SAT tests are viewed equally by colleges, and submitting a score from one test or the other does not give you any admissions advantage. So if you take both tests, submit the higher score.

Despite what you may read online, one test is not more valued by colleges than the other. The ACT and SAT tests are viewed equally by colleges, and submitting a score from one test or the other does not give you any admissions advantage.

Is the ACT or the SAT Better for International Students?

As it is with American students, deciding if the ACT or SAT is best for you depends on your strengths and weaknesses. One test is not better than the other – but one may be better for you. There are differences in timing, scoring, and content that could mean you favor one test.

ACT vs SAT: Which Test is Best for You?

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Pros of the ACT

ACT test questions are more concise and clearer than SAT test questions, so you spend less time figuring out what the question is asking and more time figuring out the answer.

Additionally, each section of the ACT is weighted equally; this means you can have one low section score and still achieve a high composite score. So if you struggle with Math, then a high score in the Science, Reading, and English sections can help bring up your composite score.

Cons of the ACT

The majority of your time in the ACT is spent reading some kind of passage (Reading, English, or Science) – 66%. The Science section is particularly wordy and tests your comprehension of scientific writings and data representation, rather than specific scientific knowledge. If you are not a strong English reader, you may find the amount of reading material on the ACT very challenging, which could slow down your progress throughout the test.

The ACT is also a bit faster-paced than the SAT; you have about 25 more seconds per math question on the SAT than the ACT.

Pros of the SAT

Strong mathematicians may prefer the SAT test. Due to the way SAT scores are calculated, the SAT math score is 50% of the total score. And since SAT scores are often reported as the two section scores (Math and Evidence-Based Writing and Language) rather than the total score, a high math score can really shine.

Cons of the SAT

The SAT uses more data in its questions and has a greater amount of long word problems, which can be challenging if you are not a strong English reader.

Additionally, you can’t use your calculator on both Math sections. While most math questions on the SAT and ACT can be done without a calculator, this may be something to consider if you’d prefer to have a calculator for the entire math section.

The best way to choose between the ACT and the SAT is to take a few practice tests and see which test comes more naturally to you. The two tests are viewed equally by colleges, so choose based on where you can get a higher score.

Where and When Can I Take the ACT or SAT?

International students can take the ACT or SAT test at a testing center in your home country. To find ACT testing centers, click here. Find SAT testing centers here.

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The ACT test is offered internationally in February, April, June, July, September, October, and December.

The SAT test is offered internationally in August, October, December, March, and May.

Register for the ACT here.

Register for the SAT here.

How Do I Study for the ACT or SAT?

Studying for the ACT or SAT requires time and dedication. We recommend American students study for either test for about three months, but as an international student taking the SAT or ACT test, you may want to allow more time to familiarize yourself with the tests, particularly the reading content.

As an international student, you may want to allow more time to familiarize yourself with the tests, particularly the reading content.

Start by choosing study materials that teach you the test content. Watch out for programs that rely heavily on rote practice or practice questions with no explanations. It’s most important to learn the content that’s covered on the tests so you can get the correct answer on any test question, not just the ones that look familiar.

Olive Book’s ACT and SAT online test prep courses teach you the content you need to know for test day so you can be confident that you’re studying effectively. Many of the course’s questions come with animated explanation videos that help you visualize tough math or reading concepts (see examples here). Additionally, the Reading section in the courses contains videos that explain how to read Reading and English passages, as well as how to choose the correct answers (see an example here).

Learn more about our online ACT and SAT courses here. You can enroll and start studying in less than two minutes!

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Get a better score. Get into a better school.

Olive Book’s free online ACT and SAT courses are all you need to boost your score. Check them out:

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Should international students take SAT or ACT? ›

While the SAT has generally been more popular than the ACT for international students, it might not be the better option for you if you're strong in math and science. Unlike the SAT, the ACT has a Science section and tests some more advanced math concepts.

Is SAT harder for international students? ›

However, the following reasons may make the SAT considerably harder for international students: Command on English Language: As all sections on the SAT require reading passages or understanding word problems, a good command of language structure and syntax is important.

Do you lose points for not answering questions on ACT? ›

Students will be awarded points for each correct answer with no points taken away for any incorrect ones. This is why never leaving an answer blank on your test is so important. You can only gain by taking a stab at the question. If you leave it blank, you will most certainly get it wrong.

What is a good SAT score for an international student? ›

Generally speaking, any SAT score around or above the 50th percentile is considered great. But, this is not enough for most Ivy league colleges and other renowned universities. Therefore, it is advisable that you aim to score in at least the 75th percentile i.e.,1200 or higher.

Do universities prefer SAT over ACT? ›

In reality, all colleges and universities that require standardized testing accept both the ACT and SAT. And college admissions counselors have openly stated they do not prefer one test over the other.

Do SAT scores matter internationally? ›

In addition to SAT I scores, your SAT II (SAT Subject Test) scores are also very important to international schools. Whereas many US universities do not require SAT II scores, international universities often do.

Which country has the hardest SAT? ›

Gaokao (China)

Each year, millions of students in China take the gaokao, taken by students in their third and final year of high school typically from June 7 to June 8 or 9. It's China's version of the American SAT and British A-level tests, and is known as one of the hardest exams in the world.

Is 1500 a good SAT score for international students? ›

A 1500 SAT score is automatically good enough to get into some of the country's top universities and colleges. However, it's not enough to guarantee admission.

What is the average international SAT score? ›

The SAT is scored out of 1600 and the average SAT score is between 1010 and 1060.

Can you get a 36 on the ACT without getting every question right? ›

Because the composite score is rounded either up or down, you won't have to answer every single question correctly to get a score of 36.

Is C the most common answer on SAT? ›

Every answer choice on the SAT will have a statistically even distribution of 1 in 4 for each answer choice letter, A, B, C, or D. In other words? There is no most common answer on the SAT. Ultimately, guessing C (or any letter!) will give you the correct answer only a statistical 25% of the time.

What is the most common answer on the ACT? ›

C or H are right (and wrong) as often as any other answer choice. The only guess letter you don't want to use when you are completely guessing is E or K because they only show up on the math test. Ok, myths exposed, let's move on to how and when to guess.

What is the average SAT international student at Harvard? ›

Harvard University's SAT scores for admitted students range from 1480 - 1580, with an average score of 1530.

Is International SAT harder than us? ›

The SAT is the same test no matter which country it is administered in. It may be more difficult for students in Asian countries, especially for those who are not fluent in English, but it will not be an objectively more difficult test.

What do US universities look for in international students? ›

In general, American universities require the following from international student applicants:
  • Transcript.
  • Standardized test scores. SAT or ACT. English proficiency test scores (TOEFL, IELTS, iTEP, PTE Academic)
  • Essay.
  • Recommendations.
  • Copy of your valid passport.

Does Harvard prefer ACT or SAT? ›

Harvard, like the rest of the Ivy League and most other colleges, requires either the SAT or ACT for admission. They have no preference between them, so choose the test that's a better fit for you, thoroughly prepare for it, and plan to take it multiple times.

Does Harvard prefer SAT over ACT? ›

No matter what you might've heard, Ivy League schools have no preference between the ACT and SAT. You can submit scores from either test or from both of them without worrying that your application will be dinged.

Do Ivy Leagues prefer SAT over ACT? ›

A common myth is that prestigious schools, like the Ivy League (Yale University, Princeton University, Cornell University, Harvard University, Columbia University, Brown University, Dartmouth College, University of Pennsylvania) prefer the SAT. This is not true, though. Schools have no preference in regards to ACT vs.

What is a good GPA for international students? ›

Usually, a GPA of 3.0 - 3.5 is considered good enough at many high schools, colleges, and universities. Top academic institutions usually require GPAs higher than 3.5.

Do US colleges want international students? ›

The biggest reason international students are so highly sought by US universities though, is the tuition dollars they bring in.

Can you take ACT internationally? ›

ACT is committed to helping international students reach their education goals by offering the ACT test in as many countries on as many dates as we can.

Which is the No 1 toughest exam in the world? ›

Top 10 Hardest Exams in the World
  • Gaokao Exam in China.
  • IIT JEE Advanced.
  • Civil Services Exam (CSE)
  • GATE.
  • GRE.
  • Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.
  • ICAI CA Exams.
  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert)
Feb 17, 2023

What is the most stressful exam in the world? ›

According to the Wall Street Journal, the CFA exam is the most difficult exam in the world, with less than 1/5th of candidates clearing it, after repeated attempts, on a yearly basis.

What is world's toughest exam? ›

Top 10 Toughest Exams in World To Crack in 2023
  • UPSC. ...
  • Mensa. ...
  • GRE (Graduate Record Examination) ...
  • CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst) ...
  • CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) ...
  • GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering, India) ...
  • All Souls Prize Fellowship Exam. ...
  • Exam for the Master Sommelier Diploma.

Do colleges care how many times you take the SAT? ›

Students can take the SAT as many times as they want. We recommend that they take it at least twice—in the spring of their junior year and the fall of their senior year. Most students get a higher score the second time, and most colleges consider a student's highest SAT score when making admission decisions.

Can you get into Yale with low SAT? ›

Yale has no official cutoff or minimum SAT score that they require from applicants. However, most students who are accepted to Yale have SAT scores above the 95th percentile nationally.

Can I get into Yale with a 1500 SAT? ›

The 25th percentile New SAT score is 1470, and the 75th percentile SAT score is 1560. In other words, a 1470 places you below average, while a 1560 will move you up to above average. There's no absolute SAT requirement at Yale, but they really want to see at least a 1470 to have a chance at being considered.

What is the top 1% SAT score? ›

Understanding Your SAT Score
Composite Score (Out of 1600)Percentile Rank
23 more rows

Is International SAT different from US SAT? ›

Even though there are many changes on the SAT, there are still many factors that remain the same. The test is still out of 1600 points, the sections of the test are the same, and the SAT will still cover the same topics. That's why you will want to work with our tried and true tutoring and SAT prep programs.

Does MIT require SAT for international students? ›

Standardized tests

We require the SAT or the ACT for both prospective first year and transfer students. We do not require the ACT writing section or the SAT optional essay.

Has anyone ever gotten a 1 on the ACT? ›

The absolute minimum ACT score you can get is a 1, although this is very unlikely to happen. You might be more worried about getting a score high enough to get into college.

What ACT score is needed for Harvard? ›

Admissions Summary

Harvard College is extremely selective with an acceptance rate of 4%. Students that get into Harvard College have an ACT score of 34–36. Regular applications are due January 1.

Will a 36 ACT get me into Harvard? ›

There's no absolute ACT requirement at Harvard, but they really want to see at least a 33 to have a chance at being considered.

Should I guess B or C on the SAT? ›

Feel free to pick (C) if you'd like, but know that any LOTD you choose is likely to get you some points in the long run if you use it consistently. If you guess on 20 questions over the course of the test, about 5 of those should match your LOTD. Yay, free points!

Is it better to skip or guess on the SAT? ›

Remember, there's no SAT guessing penalty. You should always answer all questions, even if you need to guess. Educated guessing gives you the best chance of achieving a higher SAT score when you get stuck.

What is the best guessing letter on the ACT? ›

For those guessing on only a few of the last ten questions, A/F would be the better option. The Safe Bet: Answer choice E/K is the safest choice because it, so far, has always had one correct answer. In fact, E/K has met or exceeded the expected average 82% of the time, making it the most consistent answer choice.

What is the best letter to guess on SAT? ›

Guess any letter for any question. It doesn't matter if you guess A,B,A,B or A,A,A,A or any variation. Your expected number of correct answers are equal—actually, you'll actually do sliiightly better by guessing randomly on every question.

Does the ACT get harder every year? ›

When those skills and constructs become more complicated and difficult over time, the ACT reflects that. Those changes tend to occur very gradually, however, not usually within a two to three year span.

What is the lowest SAT accepted to Harvard? ›

There's no absolute SAT requirement at Harvard, but they really want to see at least a 1460 to have a chance at being considered.

Is it harder to get into Harvard as an international? ›

We welcome applications from all over the world. Our admissions and financial aid processes are the same for all applicants - regardless of nationality or citizenship.

What grade do international students need to get into Harvard? ›

To get into Harvard, you must have scored an A in all your subjects. Aim for at least a 7+ CGPA out of 10. Letter of recommendation. Your teacher or counselor will have to write a Letter of Recommendation for you.

What is the easiest SAT? ›

Myth: The March SAT® is the easiest SAT test date. Fact: There's no such thing as “the easiest SAT test date.” While it's true that some versions of the SAT are easier than others, it's false that some test dates are predictably easier than others.

What month is the best SAT curve? ›

Most high school student are advised to take the SAT in spring of their junior year and the March SAT test date is a big favorite of many college counselors.

What problems do international students face when they study in the United States? ›

Let's look at a few of those problems:
  • Cultural shift. One of the biggest challenges for international students in the USA is the cultural shift they experience. ...
  • Language barrier. ...
  • Homesickness. ...
  • Accommodation problems. ...
  • Social Abuse. ...
  • Learning Style. ...
  • Academic expectations. ...
  • Financial Problems.

Why do US universities reject international students? ›

Your Student visa can be rejected due to many reasons. For example, the reason to return to a home country is not strong enough, Not enough proof of financial ability to support yourself, If your university or degree looks suspicious, Invalid passport, Poor Visa Interview, etc.

Which university in US accepts most international students? ›

New York University had around 21,081 international students studying there in the academic year of 2021/22, making it the most popular university for international students in the United States.

Is the international SAT easier than the US SAT? ›

The difficulty of the test is most definitely same across the world but the 'weight' is considered on a percentile basis and a lot of colleges while admitting Asian students care more about the student's percentile in their region rather than overall.

Do international colleges accept SAT? ›

The SAT acceptance is spread to around 4,000 universities abroad. However, since the pandemic and even before some colleges are going SAT test-optional.

Should I take SAT or ACT for Ivy League? ›

All eight Ivy League schools will continue to have test-optional policies for the 2022-23 application cycle. While high SAT scores are an asset, they're just one metric that colleges consider. Students should aim to score in the 75th percentile among admitted students.

Do you need SATS for American universities? ›

Most universities are now SAT/ACT optional and a few, like the entire University of California system which includes heavy-hitters like Berkeley and UCLA, no longer accept these standardised tests full stop.

Which SAT is usually the hardest? ›

In online forums, students also tend to identify Test #3 as the hardest of the official practice tests, so there truly seems to be a clear consensus. It's important to remember though that a hard practice test can actually be a great resource!

Can an international student study in USA without SAT? ›

Yes, you can apply to US universities without ACT or SAT scores. Many US universities have decided to continue with the waiver on SAT or ACT scores in 2022 and 2023 as well. As an international student, you can apply to US universities that are waiving the standardised test scores.

What is minimum SAT score for Harvard? ›

Is SAT still required for 2023? ›

But for now, the short answer is that most colleges are not requiring SAT or ACT test scores for the class of 2023.

Does Harvard look for SAT or ACT? ›

To have the best shot of getting in, you should aim for the 75th percentile, with a 1580 SAT or a 35 ACT. You should also have a 4.18 GPA or higher. If your GPA is lower than this, you need to compensate with a higher SAT/ACT score.

Which colleges don t require SAT in usa? ›

Top 100 Colleges That Don't Require The SAT/ACT
  • Brown University.
  • Columbia University.
  • Cornell University.
  • Dartmouth College.
  • Harvard University.
  • University of Pennsylvania.
  • Princeton University.
  • Yale University.
Mar 15, 2023

Which University does not require SAT in USA? ›

Universities That Don't Require SAT/ ACT Exams
Bryn Mawr College PAUniversity of Chicago IL
American University DCNational University CA
Arizona State University AZNew England College NH
Augsburg College MNNew York Institute of Technology NY
Augustana College ILNew York University NY
111 more rows

Can you go to Harvard without SAT? ›

When you apply for admission, you can choose whether or not our review of your application will include your standardized test scores (SAT and ACT). If your scores already are on file before you apply and you choose at the time of your application to proceed without scores, we will not consider those scores.


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