Mar 1, 2021

What does the “cancellation” of SAT/ACT mean to you?

The constantly changing policies pertaining to international education in the United States due to the COVID-19 pandemic have been challenging for foreign students and their families. In this blog, we will discuss the trend of de-standardization, meaning that students might be exempt from standardized tests such as the SAT/ACT in their college applications.

Read on to learn more about how international students can make this policy change advantageous to them when applying to universities in the United States!

Studying for SAT

The U.S. College Entrance Exams

To date, SAT/ACT test scores are considered the College Entrance Exams in the U.S. They have been essential when applying to American universities, especially reputable ones.

Here are the major differences between the two tests:

Exam Name: Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)

Sponsor: College Board

Examination Content:

  • Reading: 65 minutes

  • Math: 25 minutes (no calculator)

  • Math: 55 minutes (calculator)

  • Writing and language: 35 minutes

  • Essay: One 50 minute essay (optional)

  • High vocabulary difficulty

  • Primarily tests logical thinking and problem-solving skills

  • 154 questions in 3 hours

Test Score

  • Full score: 1600

  • Math accounts for 1/2 of the total score

  • Points deducted for wrong answers


Exam Name: American College Testing (ACT)

Sponsor: ACT Inc.

Examination Content:

  • English: 45 minutes

  • Math: 60 minutes

  • Reading: 35 minutes

  • Science: 35 minutes

  • Writing: One 40 minute essay (optional)

  • Primarily tests knowledge learned in the high school classroom

  • 215 questions in 2 hours and 55 minutes

Test Score:

  • Full score: 36

  • Math accounts for 1/4 of the total score

  • No penalty for wrong answers

The figure below shows how top U.S universities assess their applicants. This information is summarized by Amerigo Chief Academic Officer, Rob Schnieders, through interviews with dozens of college admissions officers from Top 30 universities in the United States. We can see that top American universities mainly evaluate students based on 2 factors: objective data (GPAs + standardized test scores) and subjective judgements (extracurricular activities, application documents, course rigor, and teacher recommendation letters).  The SAT/ACT exams have always been important to evaluate the academic level of students and account for 20% of all application materials. 

Arguments against SAT/ACT exams

SAT/ACT is canceled

There are many arguments against the SAT/ACT college entrance exams.

First, the SAT/ACT test has a greater advantage for students from wealthy families, because these students can hire tutors and have more educational resources available to them.

Second, there have been many leaks and fraud in the SAT/ACT test over the years, and the validity of the test results is controversial.

Third, these tests cannot fully and accurately reflect all students’ thinking and learning abilities.

Furthermore, due to the impact of the pandemic this year, many offline tests have been canceled. The SAT/ACT organizers have arranged many online tests sessions; however, this solution only heightened the doubts around the authenticity and validity of the test results.

The “cancellation” of SAT/ACT exams

The world-renowned University of California system announced in May 2020 that in the next four years of admissions, students will no longer need to submit SAT/ACT or other standardized test scores. In fact, they plan to eliminate this requirement by 2025. 

According to the official website of the University of California:

  • The test-optional system will be implemented in the Fall of 2021 and 2022, meaning students can choose to submit standardized scores as their “plus points” and students who choose not to submit them will not be disadvantaged.

  • Test-blind for Fall 2023 and Fall 2024, meaning that standardized results will no longer be used as one of the admission criteria.

  • From Fall 2025 and beyond, SAT/ACT scores will not be adopted by the UC System. The system is developing its own standardized testing.

  • Starting from the Fall semester of 2021, the UC system will cancel the writing requirements in the SAT and ACT and the scores will not affect admission at all. 

The University of California system is not the first university to speak out on standardized testing issues. Cornell University, an Ivy League school, has taken the lead in announcing the SAT and ACT standardized scores are no longer required for early and general application. Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, UPenn, Brown University, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College also announced that the SAT is optional, and submission is not required or recommended. Some schools strongly recommend submitting AP, IB, and A-Level scores, which can be used for university credit.

What does this mean for international students?      

Regardless of changes in admission policies, objective data such as GPA is still an important element standard in the university admission process. Given that the standardized examinations may be “canceled”, high school classes’ difficulty and students’ final GPAs will become even more critical in order to be accepted into top universities. Without SAT/ACT scores, admission officers of well-known universities will review whether the students have taken Honor and AP courses, and what scores they received in each subject.

International students should also note that students’ academic performance in each classroom includes more than just mid-term and final exams. Students will also be evaluated on homework, essays and writing assignments, group work, quizzes, all of which affect the students’ overall GPAs. 


  • Classroom Performance: Students must actively participate in class discussion and not be absent from classroom engagements

  • Homework: Students need to plan to complete and submit homework on time

  • Writing Assignments and Essays: Students are required to write short and long writing assignments on their own based on a given subject or their opinions

  • Pop quizzes: After each class, there may be a pop quiz, meaning teachers can unexpectedly test the students with short examinations, including multiple choice or essay questions

  • The teacher will also score the students’ time management and teamwork abilities by evaluating individual and teamwork projects

In short, after the “cancellation” of the SAT/ACT exams, the most important factor to be admitted into a prestigious university is the student’s GPA. At the same time, during four years of high school, a student should enroll in more challenging courses (like Honors and AP) to increase their competitiveness. This also means that studying high school in America significantly increases your chance of being admitted to a top U.S university, as U.S high schools offer many more AP & Honors classes in their curriculum, not to mention diverse extra-curricular options to help you stand out among applicants.

Interested in attending a top U.S. high school? Schedule an appointment with our Amerigo Global Managers to start your application.