SAT Guide for UK Students

If you plan to attend a college or university in the United States, you’ll need to show your academic strengths by taking an entrance exam. Most American schools accept the SAT (Standardized Aptitude Test) and the ACT (American College Testing), but there are more SAT test centers in the UK, making it the most convenient choice for many students. Because the SAT system is different from what you may be used to in the UK, we wrote this guide to help you prepare for the SAT before you apply to American schools. There are plenty of questions students or parents might have, including:

  • What is the SAT?
  • How does the content of the SAT compare with that of A-Levels and GCSE?
  • How do universities view A-Level scores in the admissions process?
  • Can you use GCSE scores in lieu of SAT?
  • Should you take the ACT as well?
  • When should you start studying for the SAT?
  • What maths are on the SAT?
  • How many times should you sit for the SAT?
  • Can high SAT scores earn a scholarship?
  • Do you need to sit for the SAT if you’re on a gap year?
  • Where do you take the SAT in the UK?
  • What are Subject Tests?
  • How does GSCSE maths compare to Math II?
  • Should you fear the SAT?

SAT and UK students | What is the SAT?

The SAT is one of two accepted entrance exams for US schools (the ACT is another recognized exam). It includes sections on reading, writing, and maths, as well as an essay section. Overall, the exam takes almost four hours to complete, including a few short breaks. The first part of the SAT is the essay, which requires students to respond to a prompt in 25 minutes. Next the writing, critical reading, and maths sections follow in random order. The test is taken in person with pencil and paper, so students won’t have to take the exam on a computer.

In addition to this longer exam covering many subjects, there are also SAT IIs, which are hour-long exams on specific topics. They’re similar to A-Levels in terms of content and difficulty, and a few American schools will accept A-Levels instead of SAT IIs.

The SAT is being redesigned for 2016, so look through our guide on the new SAT if you plan to sit for the exam next year.

SAT and UK students | How does the content of the SAT compare with that of A-Levels and GCSE?

For most students, doing well on A-Levels and the GCSE exams will translate to a strong SAT score. However, there are a few differences that students must be aware of when they plan to sit for the SAT. The maths section on the SAT is similar to GCSE maths, with only a few additional topics. For the SAT, students will need to brush up on functions, permutations and combinations, and sets. With some extra practice in these areas, students should be familiar with all the maths concepts on the SAT. Scoring well on A-Level maths also means that students will be prepared for the SAT, but it’s still worth taking some practice exams to be sure.

The SAT critical reading section is set up to test knowledge of vocabulary and reading comprehension. High scores on GCSE English or on A-Level English Language/Literature or Critical Thinking should help students prepare for this part of the SAT. The one difference is the tough time limit for the SAT. There’s not as much time to read lengthy passages on the SAT, so make sure to try some sample reading comprehension questions.

The SAT writing section includes a short essay and two other sections, which test knowledge of grammar and writing style. Since the exam is written for American English, sometimes there can be an idiom that doesn’t make sense to UK students, but otherwise this section should not be much trouble.

SAT and UK students | How do universities view A-Level scores in the admissions process?

When students apply for American schools, they will use the Common Application for nearly every school. The Common App has a supplement for international students that must be filled out by that student’s school, so the school official is responsible for including this information. That means less work for students who apply to American schools, because the scores get sent electronically on their behalf!

SAT and UK students | Can you use GCSE/A-Level scores in lieu of SAT?

Almost every American school will require scores from the SAT or ACT, and usually they will request scores from two or three SAT II subject tests. There is always room on the college application to list scores from GCSE and A-Level exams, but students should be prepared to take the SAT and some subject tests as well. Once you have a list of potential colleges, check each school’s website to see the policy on GCSE and A-Level scores.

SAT and UK students | Should you take the ACT as well?

Some students choose to take both the SAT and ACT, and then they retake whichever exam felt best. While this is an option, it requires a lot of test-taking! It can be less stressful to think carefully about which test is a better fit ahead of time. As long as students perform well on either exam, it’s not necessary to send scores for both the SAT and ACT. Check out our guide on choosing the SAT or ACT to see which test seems best.

SAT and UK students | When should you start studying for the SAT?

The most convenient time to take the SAT is in the spring of Year 12, because this leaves students some time to retake the exam if needed. That way students don’t have to stress if they get a low score, since there are many other test dates before application deadlines for American schools. If you want to study at a more leisurely pace and not feel rushed, plan to begin your test prep several months ahead of the test date. Doing an hour of prep every day is much more effective than spending a week cramming, so the more spread out your test prep can be, the better your testing process will go.

Make sure to schedule your SAT when it will not conflict with UK exams! Studying for all those tests at once isn’t a great way to spend your school year. Feel free to look at some of our test prep tips to get an idea of what you’ll need to study.

SAT and UK students | How many times should you sit for the SAT?

Students can take the SAT as many times as they want. Usually students take the SAT twice: once to get a sense of their areas of weakness, and then a second time after studying seriously. This also helps take some of the pressure off, because the first test day is often more of a way to get comfortable with the exam than a serious attempt at a high score. After taking the first test, see if you’ve gotten a good score for the schools you’re considering.

It’s important to look at the possible test dates in advance and choose times that don’t conflict with other school requirements. You can find this year’s list here.

SAT and UK students | Can high SAT scores earn a scholarship?

At many top-tier schools in the USA (think of the Ivy League schools, top liberal arts schools, etc.), there are no merit-based scholarships, only scholarships for financial need. However, you still need a top SAT score to attend these schools, so you’ll have to study either way. Larger state schools often give partial scholarships to students with high grades in school and good SAT scores. If you’re planning to apply to some of these bigger state universities, you have a chance at a partial scholarship with top SAT scores.

For students who plan to go into quantitative fields after graduation (banking, consulting, etc), having a high SAT score can be helpful. Many of these businesses will ask graduates of American schools for their SAT scores, just to make sure they have a record of high achievement.

SAT and UK students | Do you need to sit for the SAT if you’re on a gap year?

If you're able to plan ahead, you won’t have to take the SAT during a gap year. The scores from your SAT are saved for five years, so you can take the SAT during your last year of school, finish applying to colleges, and then begin your gap year. If you’re already starting a gap year and have not applied for college or taken the SAT, you should think about signing up for a test date. It may not be what you want to do during your time away, but you’ll have to take the SAT before finishing your college applications.

UK Students and the SAT | Where do you take the SAT in the UK?

Thankfully there are plenty of test sites in the UK for the SAT. Once you find the right date for your exam, you can see which of the corresponding locations is closest to you. When you register online, you’ll be able to choose your test center.

SAT and UK students| What are Subject Tests?

In addition to the SAT, which covers general areas of study, students should be prepared to take two or three SAT IIs in specific subjects. This list shows you some of the American schools that require subject tests.

In general, you should be prepared to take two SAT IIs at some point before you finish applying to American schools. They should be on a different day than your SAT exam, because you’ll be too wiped out to make it through six hours of testing. Here is a list of the subjects offered, along with a few practice questions and a description of each exam.

Many students choose to take a maths subject test and the English subject test, because those are two areas they’ve already studied for the SAT. If you have taken A-Levels or GCSE exams in particular subjects, you may want to consider taking a subject exam in that area.

SAT and UK students | How does GSCSE/A-Level maths compare to Math SAT IIs?

Doing well on GCSE or A-Level maths is a good way to prepare for SAT IIs. There are two subject tests offered in maths: Level 1 and Level 2. Everyone who completed their school’s maths curriculum should be prepared for the Level 1 SAT II, so that can be an option for some students. People who have a little extra time to study should try the Level 2 subject test, because it’s viewed more favorably by admissions workers. However, it does cover additional topics.

If you plan to take either maths exam, try to go through a review book and brush up on the concepts you’ve forgotten. For the Level 2 exam, make sure you spend some extra time studying functions, permutations and combinations, and sets. The sample questions on the list of subjects offered will give you an idea of what to expect.

SAT and UK students | Should you fear the SAT?

As long as students put in the time to study, the SAT is not an exam to fear! By the time UK students sit through the SAT, they’ll have developed their test-taking skills with A-Levels and GCSE exams, so it shouldn’t be too scary to take another four hour test. In addition to your test prep, read what you can about the SAT and find tips for taking the SAT as an international student. That way you’ll know what to expect on test day.

There are plenty of tutoring and test prep options in the UK, and there are even ways to prep for the SAT online. Self-study with test prep books can give you a sense of your strengths and weaknesses before you devote more time to serious tutoring. There are also group test prep classes run by test prep companies, as well as some review sessions that can be sponsored by UK schools. Private tutoring can be a good choice for students who need to brush up in specific areas before the exam, because it allows the tutor to concentrate on the student’s weaknesses. All of these methods can help students get ready for the SAT, so look around and see what is the best fit.

SAT and UK students |Need help to prepare for the SAT?

Origins Tutoring can answer any further questions you have about to best prepare for the SAT .We are a NYC-based test prep and tutoring company specializing in customized, one-to-one test prep tutoring in person and by Skype. Our test prep tutoring approach is simple: each student will receive the undivided attention and the expertise of a dedicated, experienced tutor who places a premium on delivering the highest quality test preparation tutoring in the most effective and time-efficient manner possible. Please call 917.287.7927 for a complimentary consultation now.