• Debra M. Shively

Optional standardised tests for admission purposes to US uni’s - who should take them?

Updated: Apr 23, 2020

If you are a current year 11 student click here

Following my recent article highlighting the changes in the new SAT, let's now look into optional standardised tests required for admission purposes by some US institutions. These tests, specifically the essay or writing component offered by the SAT and/or the ACT as well as the SAT Subject Tests are not required by all institutions.

Writing component

As there is no centralised application process blanketing the 4,000 degree granting institutions in the US, individual institutions are able to determine if the SAT or ACT writing component is required for admission purposes. The tests are 50 or 40 minutes respectively and assess a student’s ability to read a passage and demonstrate an understanding by constructing a persuasive argument and analysis. Students will find some institutions require the writing component, some recommend it and others neither require nor recommend it - no doubt, it can be very confusing.

Each student will have his or her own unique criteria in the search for the best fit US institutions to which to apply. My general advice is to encourage students to sit the writing component of whichever standardised test they pursue - either SAT or ACT - so as not to unnecessarily eliminate any institutions solely based on admission requirements. Ideally, year 11 students should plan to take the SAT or ACT by October to ensure sufficient time for a resit. Optional tests, if required, can be undertaken in November and/or December prior to commencing year 12 to alleviate clashes with HSC demands.

Optional testing requirements for admission purposes have eased significantly in the last few year. To learn more about which US universities require the optional essay component for admissions click here. Students are also encouraged to visit respective university websites to confirm admission requirements.

The cost for the SAT plus essay component is US$107.50 and students can register here. The cost of the ACT plus writing component is still to be determined as they move to Computer Based Testing from September 2018. Fee waivers are accepted by both tests for qualified students.

SAT Subject Test

What are the SAT Subject Tests and who should take them?

SAT Subject Tests are additional tests required by some select US institutions as part of the admission requirements. The individual tests allow the student to demonstrate competency in the nominated subject matter. There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, history, languages, mathematics and science. US institutions will usually require two Subject Tests for admission purposes, some may require three. All subject tests are multiple choice and one hour in duration. Students may nominate to submit an SAT Subject Test results to an institution for which it is not mandatory as a way to demonstrate fluency in the subject matter.

My advice to students who are unsure of which institutions to which they will apply is to first peruse the list of institutions which require subject tests for admission purposes. If a student is considering applying to any of these institutions they should elect to sit Subject Tests. Detailed information can be found on individual institution websites.

Students may take up to three SAT Subject Tests in one sitting but not all Subject Tests are offered at each nominated SAT test date. Students may not take the SAT and the SAT Subject Tests at the same sitting. SAT Subject Tests are US$18 each plus the registration fee of US$79 and students register on the college board website.


The US university application process is both complex and time consuming. The optional writing component coupled with the optional Subject Test in addition to the required SAT or ACT test and supporting admission documents requires students to plan ahead and be well organised.

If you are a year 11 student you should engage us to create your customised application timeline to ensure your application journey is as stress free as possible. A comfortable lead time to organise your application to US universities is 12-18 months prior to application submission. As this occurs typically between November and January during and following year 12, you should be preparing now. Consult with us now through June to plan your college choices, and potentially align your final-year subject and extra-curricular options to maximise your chance of application success.

Internationally Educated assists students through the complex admission process to US Universites. Our tailored services include identifying best fit US institutions in which to apply as well as navigation and guidance through the complete application process. Please contact us for a consultation.

The links below provide individual institution policies on the SAT essay and ACT writing component for admission purposes:

SAT essay policies https://collegereadiness.collegeboard.org/sat/register/college-essay-policies

ACT writing policies https://actapps.act.org/writPrefRM/

#ACT #SAT #optionaltests #Subjecttests #optionalwritingcomponent

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