Tests Explained - SATs, ACTs & more

Tests Explained – SATs, ACTs & more


SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT. These are all acronyms that you may have heard people talk about who have either gone through or who are considering an American education. If you are an athlete interested in going to the US on scholarship, then we recommend reading on. This article is an overview on what the tests are, when they are held, as well as some general advice on how to prepare.

What are the tests?

As part of the admissions process for almost all American undergraduate or postgraduate study programs, students are required to take a standardised test. As well as A Levels, BTEC’s, Highers, or other FE / HE qualifications, these tests allow admissions departments to make a direct comparison of student versus student, or student versus a specific required score. Naturally the more competitive schools or programs will require higher scores on these tests.

The format of these tests is consistent all over the world, and will involve the test taker showing up to a designated test centre under exam conditions. The questions are mainly multiple choice, and if anyone reading has ever taken a driving theory test, this is a sense of how the standardised tests are set out.

There are numerous different tests that can be taken, and this will depend on the type of degree and whether you are applying for an undergraduate or postgraduate course. Examples of the more common tests include which potential student athletes may need to take include:


-SAT test (Applicable to all undergraduate study)

-ACT test (Applicable to all undergraduate study)


-GMAT (Mainly for students wishing to enrol on an MBA)

-GRE test (Generic graduate test for most graduate programs)

There are also other tests such as the LSAT (law), MCAT (Medicine), and VCAT (Veterinary), but these degree programs will most likely fall outside the scope of most student athletes eligibility windows.

Which one should I take?


Put simply, it does not actually matter. The ACT and SAT are both recognised as fully legitimate by all universities, so it will most likely be a case of picking whichever looks more favourable in the individual circumstances. For those who are really stuck on which test to take, The Princeton Review has produced a book comparing the two tests. A summary of what they believe the key differences is listed below and is available in more detail here

1)      ACT questions tend to be more straightforward.

2)      The SAT has a stronger emphasis on vocabulary.

3)      The ACT has a Science section, while the SAT does not.

4)      The ACT tests more advanced math concepts.

5)      The ACT Writing Test is optional on test day, but required by many schools.

6)      The SAT is broken up into more sections.

7)      The ACT is more of a “big picture” exam.


For graduate students, it will usually be fairly straightforward case of registering to take a GRE test (or GMAT for MBA students).

How are the tests scored?

A comparison of the scores of the two undergraduate tests is below. The percentage column is the percentile within which that score would place you. E.g. A score of 1430 in the ACT means you scored higher than 40% of people. The GRE and GMAT work in similar ways with regards calculating a score and a percentile. For more information on the GRE scoring system please see this link.

When are the tests and how much do they cost?

The SAT and ACT are both held on specific dates rather than take ‘as and when’ like you can with the GMAT or GRE tests. Costs and various fees will vary depending on the test and time you register, but the overall cost is likely to be somewhere between $100-$200. An excellent place to start looking at the ins and outs of both tests is the Fulbright Commission website . Here you will find info on test dates, fees, and test locations in the UK and elsewhere.

SAT (Test dates and registration deadlines for the first half of 2014)

  • 25 January 2014 (deadline 27 December 2013)
  • 3 May 2014 (deadline 4 April 2014)
  • 7 June 2014 (deadline 1 May 2014)

ACT (Test dates and registration deadlines for the first half of 2014)

  • 12 April 2014 (Registration deadline 7 March 2014)
  • 14 June 2014 (Registration deadline 9 May 2014)

Why are the tests important?

If you are even remotely interested in going to the US then we strongly recommend taking the test very seriously. Given the tests importance, there is no reason not to treat it with the same respect that you would give A Levels, GCSE’s or major pieces of coursework.  Prepare using one of the various study guides available as well as practice using online mock tests. Study guides will be available in all major bookstores or online from sites such as amazon.

A summary of the reasons of why we consider the test to be important include:

  • A higher score will increase the number of options of more prestigious academic schools.
  • You will come across as being a better-rounded, desirable student-athlete.
  • It is the only way to make a direct academic comparison against US students who can potentially be competing for the same scholarship.
  • Academic scholarships become a possibility, even more important if you not of the required standard to receive 100% athletic aid. For example 100% athletic scholarship is no different than receiving 60% athletic + 40% academic.


Most tests have a lifetime of 5 years.

Useful links

Study guide section

SAT Website: http://sat.collegeboard.org/home

ACT Website: http://www.actstudent.org/

Fullbright Commison: http://www.fulbright.org.uk/

Princeton Review: http://www.princetonreview.com/

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