No SAT Exam Score? Here’s What to Do

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By Deshan Mendis
Last updated on August 10, 2023

Many US universities and colleges require an SAT or ACT exam score for admission. Read on to learn more about these exams and how you can get your exam score.

When you begin researching US universities and colleges, you may notice SAT or ACT exam scores are commonly listed requirements for the application process. An SAT or ACT score is needed for admission into many US institutions, but what if you do not currently have an SAT or ACT exam score?

This article helps international students understand what the SAT and ACT exams are, where you can take the exams, the subject areas tested, tips for studying for the SAT and ACT, and which test you will need to take in order to study in the USA. 

What Are the SAT and ACT Exams?

The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) and American College Test (ACT) are standardized tests that most US colleges and universities require for undergraduate applicants. Both US citizens and international students are required to submit SAT or ACT exam scores as part of their complete application. 

Both exams evaluate your current academic performance and knowledge based on your pre-university studies. US university admissions teams use your score to determine if you have the necessary foundational skills to succeed in the program where you hope to enroll. Though both the SAT and ACT have similar purposes, they are separate exams that test different areas. 

How Do You Take the Exam?

Both exams are offered through authorized testing centers in countries around the world. The official SAT and ACT registration websites will list testing centers near you. The exams can also be taken online, which is a more convenient option for international students as you won’t have to travel. 

You are required to register at least one month in advance of the examination date and can do so online. For example, if you want to sit for the December 4, 2021, exam, you need to register by November 4, 2021. After the exam for a specified month is completed, registrations for the next session typically open for the following month. Both exams offer multiple registration periods throughout the year, usually from July of the current year to June of the next year, though the exact periods can be different for each exam. You can keep a track of these dates and any possible changes on the SAT and ACT websites. 

There are also options for late registrations — the SAT allows late registrations up to one week before the examination date, while the ACT allows late registrations for up to two weeks before the test date. Both exams usually require an additional fee if you register late.

Remembering registration deadlines and examination dates is important for putting together your study plan and giving yourself enough time to prepare so that you can earn a qualifying score for your preferred universities and colleges.

Which Areas Do the SAT and ACT Exams Test and How Are They Scored? 

The SAT and ACT exams test similar areas, take approximately three hours to complete, and have an optional essay section for an additional fee. 

Despite these similarities, each exam uses its own grading system with a specific distribution of scores across each section. Here are the key differences between the SAT and ACT:


For the SAT exam, you are required to answer 154 questions in the areas of mathematics, grammar, and analytical writing. The reading, writing, and language sections test your ability to use examples and evidence to provide real solutions, while the mathematics section tests your knowledge and skill in areas such as geometry and algebra. You are provided with a list of formulas required, although you are not allowed to use a calculator during the exam. Consider choosing this exam if you are confident with your math and analytical skills.

Your score for the SAT will be on a scale of 400 to 1600, and your total score is based on each of your reading, writing, and math section scores. If you choose to write the essay, your skill with reading, writing, and analysis will be measured, and each section has a score scale of 2 to 8. 


The ACT exam tests your knowledge and skill in English, math, reading, and science, and has 215 questions. The English and reading sections use selected passages to evaluate your reading comprehension, contextual knowledge, and use of supporting evidence. The mathematics section tests several subjects, including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, probability, and statistics. Calculators are allowed, but you will not have a list of formulas.

While the SAT does have some science-related questions, the ACT has its own dedicated science section. This section requires you to solve problems in areas related to chemistry, biology, and physics.

For the ACT, you will be graded on a scale of 1 to 36, and your total score is an average of your grades in the English, math, reading, and science sections. The ACT also provides a specific English Language Acquisition score in addition to your Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics score. If you opt to write an essay, it will be graded on a scale of 2 to 12.

The exact score you need to achieve in these exams depends on the university you are applying to and the program you are considering. For reference, the average total score in the US for the SAT is 1,068 and 20.8 for the ACT. Working toward scores higher than these averages can help you get a desirable score for your university of choice.

How Should You Prepare for the SAT and ACT? 

A great way to start preparing for the SAT and ACT is by practicing sample tests or questions for each exam. As the exams are standardized tests, there is a high chance that you’ll see similar questions during your own exam. By practicing these questions ahead of time, you can get a better understanding of how to approach each type of question and practice answering within the specific time limits. The SAT and the ACT websites have dedicated resources for practice tests and other study support materials. 

Consider also using valuable third-party resources, such as Khan Academy or the ACT prep guides, to supplement your preparation. These online tools include interactive problems, individual section guides, flashcards, and more. Use them to get an in-depth look at each section and to identify areas you may have to spend more time on.

As registrations for each exam open one month before the exam date, consider beginning your preparation at least one month before you plan to register, giving you two months of prep time. The College Board (the organization managing the SAT) recommends two to three months of preparation. This gives you plenty of time to go through all the online study materials and identify areas for improvement. You can then focus on addressing these areas while also practicing the time you spend on each question. 

Is the SAT or ACT Required for US Universities?

Usually, many US universities and colleges will ask for only one exam score, but some institutions may require you to take a specific one. Depending on the degree program, universities and colleges may require you to complete other tests related to your field of study. 

With the ongoing pandemic, some universities — including all Shorelight Signature universities — have made the SAT and ACT requirement optional, allowing you to apply to these universities even if you do not have a standardized test score. As this requirement can vary between different institutions, remember to check specific requirements for standardized testing to verify which test score (if any) is required. 

If you need support with this information or any stage of the admissions process, reach out to a Shorelight advisor. Your advisor can help you understand university admission requirements, including any possible standardized tests you need to take and how to prepare for them. With the right guidance and preparation, you can work toward achieving the test scores you need to pursue a world-class education in the US! 

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