Should international students take the ACT?


Just as with American students, there's no clear-cut yes-or-no answer. If you're applying to college in the United States, you will almost certainly have to take one of the big two college admissions tests, the SAT or the ACT (American College Testing). Most schools in the United States accept both exams, so this probably won't be a deciding factor.

However, there are definitely some important things to take into consideration, including your natural talents, your education, and the resources available in your country.


Your English level

The ACT has both an English and a Reading test, equivalent to the SAT Verbal sections (but the ACT calls them "tests," rather than "sections"). For many international students, this is a determining factor in choosing which test to take: the overall, "composite" ACT score averages your scores from English, Reading, Math, and Science, while the SAT combines your scores by adding your Quantitative and Verbal sections. So in both cases, your mastery of English will affect about half of your score, not taking into account nuances of word problems on the math sections.

Some key differences: there's greater time pressure on the ACT, so if you find it difficult to work quickly in a foreign language, the ACT may not be for you. On the other hand, anecdotal evidence suggests that the SAT's reading comprehension and grammar questions are more nuanced. When choosing between the ACT and the SAT, you'll need to decide: do I want to approach questions faster or try more difficult questions? Reading passages on the ACT are also a little longer, generally, but vary less in complexity than SAT passages.

The best way to decide if you should take the ACT? Take an ACT practice test and see how you do compared to an SAT practice test.

Your talents and education

In some countries, students' education becomes specialised very early on. By the time you're in high school, you may already have chosen a particular "path," even if this is as generalised as "science" or "humanities." If you are specialising in science, you may want to consider taking the ACT, although be careful: the test is made to test scientific reasoning far more than scientific facts, so practice first!

Because of this focus on reasoning, it's also important that you don't let yourself be scared off if you haven't taken a science course in a few years. Yes, you'll have a little catching up to do, but the scientific knowledge on the ACT is relatively basic. Check out an ACT study guide to see the exact concepts that the exam tests and how, and you'll see: thinking logically is more important than memorising the periodic table of elements on the ACT!