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A Guide To Standardised Entrance Tests – SAT & ACT

It has become clear today that a global education is one of the best possible decisions for young Indian students. If you are looking to study abroad after 12th, then you will most likely have to take a general aptitude test. These tests determine your capability and potential for the course or university you are applying to. Aptitude test scores are among one of the several variables that colleges consider when granting admissions. 

The SATs and ACTs are the two main general aptitude tests recognised by US universities. Any Indian student looking to study abroad in the US will have to take either one of them. Here is a detailed guide on both.

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SAT

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is the most common undergraduate aptitude test taken by students applying to American universities. It is administered by The College Board in the USA, a non-profit organisation. This is the test you will have to take if you are planning to study abroad in the US after 12th. Subject SATs have been discontinued by the College Board.

Eligibility

You need to have completed 12 years of school education in order to apply for SATs. This means that Indian students who are still in 11th and 12th can also sit for the exam. There is no minimum GPA or other requirements for sitting for the SAT. If you are serious about your study abroad plans, it would be a good idea for you to sit for a practice SAT (PSAT) while you are in 11th before attempting the actual test.

Format

The SAT has three main components: the reading test, the writing and language test and an optional SAT essay. The reading section tests your ability to comprehend, analyse and interpret passages from different subjects. The writing test will require you to fix mistakes and edit passages to make them more sound in grammar and content. The math test includes algebra, problem solving and data analysis as well as advanced math, geometry, trigonometry and equations. 

All questions are multiple choice. The SAT is a paper and pencil test that uses OMR sheets. There is no negative marking. Scientific and graphing calculators are permitted in the math section.

The test takes about 3 hours: 65 minutes for the reading test, 35 minutes for the writing section and 80 minutes for math. An extra 50 minutes may be allotted for the optional essay portion

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The SAT essay is optional but required by certain schools. It involves reading a passage and analysing it to understand how the author builds an argument and supporting your argument with evidence from the passage. The essay tests critical reading and analysis skills.

Scoring

The maximum possible score achievable in SATs is 1600. This is a combined score from the reading and writing sections (800) and the math section (800). Your option essay will be given a score between 2 and 8. You will also receive a percentile score indicating where you stand in comparison to other students taking the test. 

Validity

SAT scores are valid for admissions to undergraduate courses in all US universities. Non-US universities also recognise SATs but do not consider them a necessary criteria. Some private Indian universities also consider SAT scores for admissions. SAT scores are valid for 5 years after the reception of the results. 

Registration & Fees

For students from India and other South Asian countries, the SAT costs $101 without the optional essay component and $117 with the essay.

You can either register online through the College Board website or through mail. For registration through mail, you will have to get the ‘The Student Registration Guide for the SAT and SAT Subject Tests’ which contains the registration form from your school. This form will need to be sent to the College Board alongside a demand draft through the USIEF which is the regional representative for SAT in India.

Keep in mind that mailed forms can take up to two weeks to reach their destination and so it is important to maintain adequate buffer time.

Website: https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat

ACT

The American College Testing is another standardised aptitude test administered by the non profit ACT Inc. It can be used in lieu of SAT scores if you want to study abroad in the US. It has traditionally been less popular of the two, especially among Indian students aiming to study abroad, but the two tests are usually treated on par by admissions offices. Full length practice tests for the ACT can be found on their website.

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Eligibility

There is no specific eligibility criteria or age limit for taking the ACT. Students below 13 years of age are generally not allowed to take the ACT but can contact Customer Support to create an exception.

Format

The test includes four sections: English, math, reading and science reasoning. There is also an optional writing composition section.

The English section will ask you to edit passages to improve grammar, content and brevity. It tests language usage and rhetorical skills. The math section includes algebra, geometry and trigonometry. The reading section tests ability to comprehend long passages, derive meaning, determine cause-effect, draw generalisations and determine the author’s narrative voice and method. The science section includes data representation, research summary and analysing conflicting viewpoints.

The test takes 2 hours 55 minutes: 45 minutes for English, 60 minutes for the math section, 35 minutes for the reading section and 35 minutes for the science portion. The writing section is optional and is 40 minutes long.

Like the SAT essay, the writing section of the ACT is optional and involves writing an essay in response to a given prompt on a broad range of social issues. Students have to analyse three different perspectives given and relate their own opinion on the given perspectives.

Scoring

Each section of the ACT is scored on a scale of 1-36. This is then averaged to calculate a composite score which is also between 1-36. The optional writing section is evaluated by two different readers who each score it between 1-6 which is added up to a total score which is between 2-12.

ACT also has an ELA (English Language Arts) score which you will only be provided if you take the optional writing section. This is a cumulative score, graded on a scale of 0-36 which rates your overall performance on the English, reading and optional writing section.

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Validity

ACT scores, like SAT scores, are valid for admission in all US universities and are therefore appropriate for students looking to study abroad in American universities. They are valid for up to 5 years from the date of receipt of results.

Registration & Fees

ACT registration fee for international students from India is $155 for taking the test without the writing section and $166.50 for taking it with the writing section. 

Registration for the test can be done through the ACT website or through mail. For registration through mail, you will have to request a mail packet from your school or through the website.

Fill in the details in the form, including choosing a test centre and date and then mail the form to the address mentioned on the form. Keep in mind that it can take up to two weeks for your form to reach its destination by mail. Make sure you have ample buffer time.

Website: https://global.act.org/content/global/en.html

Summing Up

Both the SAT and ACT are mainly meant for students looking to study abroad in the US. Both tests are treated equally by universities and are equal in difficulty. Non-US universities recognise SAT scores but do not consider them essential or necessary. So, if you are looking to study abroad outside the US, it is not essential that you take them. 

It is always a good idea to look into higher education counselling when applying for foreign universities. This is especially true when you are fresh out of high school and unfamiliar with the intricacies of education planning.

In either case, going to study abroad is certainly an educational adventure. We hope our guides can make this adventure a little bit easier!

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