New York University in Manhattan.

Dubai: A move by some US universities to drop SAT and ACT admission test scores for international students is unlikely to become universal, an education consultancy in Dubai has said.

SAT (formerly called Scholastic Assessment Test) and ACT (originally known as American College Testing) are standardised US university admission tests, which are also required from international students.

Some US universities, including New York University, George Washington University and Northeastern University, have gone “test-optional” for American and international students. That means students no longer require SAT or ACT scores although they can choose to submit their scores if they want.

However, top-tier US universities are unlikely to go test-optional for international students, said Elysa Bryen (right), a Dubai-based educational consultant at Hale Education Group, which prepares students for entry into US universities.

In the school year 2016-17, more than 2,700 students from the UAE went to study in US universities.

Bryen said one reason why top US universities will always require SAT or ACT scores from international students is because these tests provide “a standard measure” of eligibility for applicants coming from non-American educational backgrounds.

‘Fringe trend’

“We’re moving in the direction of test-optional, for sure, but for many of the top [US universities] that students from the UAE are looking at [for admissions], they still require international students to submit a SAT or ACT score … So [for example] the test-optional University of Chicago [rated among the top five in the US] still require international students to submit a [SAT/ACT] test score,” she added.

“[The trend] is moving in that direction [of test-optional] for US students, but for international students we don’t see, in the future, any of these top 10 or 20 [US universities] going test-optional. And part of [the reason] is that they need a kind of standard measure for students that aren’t in the US curriculum, to see they are actually reaching a level they expect students to reach. So [test-optional] is more of a fringe trend for international students.”

‘Strong profile’

Bryen also pointed out that even though some US universities are now test-optional for international students, it has not become any easier to get into them.

“When you get into this spot where it’s test-optional, you really have to have a strong profile everywhere else if you’re considering applying to these [test-optional] US universities. So your grades have to be quite strong, as well as your extra-curricular [profile] and your essay [submitted as part of the admissions application], because that is all the university sees,” she added.

“What we worry about is families in the UAE will see [for example] ‘University of Chicago goes test-optional’ and think they don’t need to take SAT or ACT anymore. But the reality is that international students still need to be taking these tests for the foreseeable future.

“There are a lot of changes happening in test preparation [for US university admissions] as a whole. So families in the UAE are a little bit confused: which test to take — SAT or ACT — how many options are there; and lastly, do you still take the test.”

She added that SAT and ACT are regarded as equals by US universities, with the choice of which test to take resting on the applying student.

‘Easier process’

Shivani Bhojwani (right), an Indian graduate of Jumeirah College, a UK school in Dubai, said US universities should go test-optional to reduce stress on international applicants.

“Studying in the British curriculum meant that the information we were taught in our A-Level courses did not necessarily coincide with the knowledge tested on the SAT or ACT. This required many students, including myself, to prepare for these tests alongside our schoolwork, making the application process extremely stressful,” said Bhojwani.

“For this reason, I believe that it would be a good idea for US universities to make the SAT or ACT optional for international students, especially for students where the SAT or ACT doesn’t show their true academic ability. I applied to many test-optional universities, which made the application process much easier, and I was accepted to universities such Wake Forest University, ranked 27th the US, and Northeastern University, ranked 40th in the US.”

ACT online

Among the recent changes announced is the ACT test going online from September onwards internationally, instead of being paper-based, said Melusi Dlamini (right), Director of Curriculum Development, Senior Test Prep Instructor, Hale Education Group.

Dlamini added that ACT has also increased the number of its test dates to six times a year. SAT, which is still paper-based, is administered four year times a year, Dlamini noted.

He said with ACT going computer-based, students will be able to receive their scores within days instead of weeks, which was the case with the paper-based system previously. The move will also make ACT “more secure” against any cheating, Dlamini added.

“As yet, we are not sure how many online ACT testing centres will be available in the UAE, and where those test centres will be. ACT is going to release that information this month, I think, because registration for the next ACT will close next month [in August],” Dlamini said.

“One thing people should know is they can go to the ACT website and practise the test; get a feel for it as it’s going to be a little bit of a different experience now … One thing that’s not going to change is the content; the content is going to be the same.”


Test-optional universities in the US for international students

■  American University DC
■  DePaul University 
■  Florida Institute of Technology 
■  George Washington University
■  Indiana University-Purdue
■  Michigan State University
■  New York University
■  Northeastern University
■  Northern Kentucky University
■  University of Arizona 
— F.M