Curious about which states require the SAT? Could requiring the SAT make it more popular than the ACT?
In this post, we'll discuss how state SAT testing could increase nationwide SAT rates, and what to do if you live in an SAT-required or SAT-optional state.
What Are the "SAT Required" States?
The SAT is a required test in the District of Columbia, Delaware, Illinois, Colorado, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. Connecticut already had a very high SAT participation rate (88%), so jumping to full participation wasn’t an entirely unexpected development.
In Idaho, the SAT is administered for free in schools across the state, but students have the option of taking the SAT, the ACT, or the Compass exam to fulfill their testing requirement.
According to a New York Times article about the new testing, "Because so many Connecticut public school students take the SAT anyway, replacing the existing high school test, given in 11th grade, with the SAT would leave young people with one exam fewer on their roster."
Notably, Maine used to require the SAT but switched away from it to the Smarter Balanced test (which assesses Common Core standards). However, while Maine no longer requires the SAT, they still fund students who want to take it, so they still have a very high (96%) SAT participation rate.
Do State SAT Partnerships Boost National SAT Rates?
Although the SAT is taken by all students in four states and the District of Columbia, that pales in comparison to the 18 states that have ACT partnerships.
So while state SAT testing boosts SAT participation in a few states, the SAT has actually fallen behind the ACT nationwide. Even in states where the SAT is more popular than the SAT, there have been noted declines in SAT test takers since 2006.
Meanwhile, the ACT surpassed the SAT in 2012 as the most popular college admissions exam. The ACT has remained at number one, since 1,924,436 students took the ACT in 2015, while just 1.7 million took the SAT.
Since the ACT has managed to bill itself as a more straightforward test of what is taught in high school, it has scored more state partnerships and is more popular in the west and mid-west. This has allowed it to pull ahead in terms of overall numbers.
So even though the SAT has some state partnerships, the ACT is growing faster since it has scored more partnerships and has successfully marketed itself as a more straightforward college entrance exam.
Pros and Cons of Requiring the SAT
States that require the SAT use the SAT as a gauge of how well their students are getting prepared for college and career in high school. The SAT is often used as a replacement for other 11th grade or high school tests, with the goal of lessening the exam burden of high school students.
So is a state SAT initiative a good or bad idea? Well, there are pros and cons, which we will explore below.
Upsides to Requiring the SAT
Requiring the SAT and funding it gives all students an opportunity to take the SAT, opening up the door to college applications and saving money for families. This can help simplify the college admissions process, especially for families who have never been through it before.
Also, for students planning on taking the SAT anyway, requiring the SAT in school gives students another chance to practice the SAT. This can introduce them to the test in lower-pressure conditions – which could help them when studying for a more serious retake. (However, a caveat to this is “all scores” schools, which we will discuss below.)
If students can maximize their SAT score, they can also maximize their college scholarship opportunities. In short, by simplifying access to the SAT, states can give all students a better shot at getting into and affording college.
Downsides to Requiring the SAT
Requiring the SAT lowers the state SAT average, since requiring it means non-college-bound students are taking the SAT. This isn’t “bad” so much as it makes it more complicated to compare SAT averages from state to state.
Comparing the state SAT averages in SAT-required and SAT-optional states is like comparing apples and oranges, since the populations of students taking the test are so different.
Requiring the SAT alone might not also guarantee an increase in college acceptances and/or scholarships. The SAT is notoriously tricky, and without including test prep in schools, students might not do as well on the SAT as they're capable of. Also, by taking away the ACT versus SAT choice, requiring the SAT could create some testing fatigue for students who want to take the ACT instead.
Finally, the SAT might not be the best measure of high school achievement. The SAT isn’t a test of what students have learned in high school, which is why Maine switched over to a Common Core test rather than the SAT. Since the SAT was designed specifically to test "aptitude," not academic subjects, it's not necessarily a reliable indicator of how well students are doing in high school.
What to Do If Your State is SAT-Mandatory
So what should you do if you’re in one of the states that require the SAT?
If you’re applying to any schools that require all SAT scores ever earned to be sent, make sure to study hard for the school administration of the SAT – since your score will matter!
If you’re not applying to any all scores schools, you don’t necessarily have to stress over the SAT being taken at school, but you should still take advantage of it by studying hard, since it’s free. If you get a good score, you won’t have to pay to take the test again!
However, if you think you’ll do better on the ACT, you can focus on studying for the ACT and just use the SAT you take in school as practice. Remember, for the vast majority of colleges, you only have to submit the ACT or the SAT – not both. (Some of the "all scores" schools require your complete testing history, meaning any SAT and ACT scores you have, though this is a fairly rare policy.)
Remember, you can choose whether you want to focus on the ACT or the SAT.
And remember, even if you’re in an SAT-required state, colleges don’t care whether you take the SAT or ACT, so focus on studying for the one test you will do the best on.
What to Do if Your State is SAT-Optional
First, check to see if the ACT is required. If you’re taking the ACT anyway, and you think you’ll do better on it, don’t worry about signing up for the SAT.
If you think you might do better on the SAT, sign up for it. Recognize that if you’re in an ACT state, the state SAT percentiles will be skewed since mainly higher-performing students will be taking it, but don’t let that dissuade you from taking the SAT.
If you’re in a state where neither the SAT or ACT is required, just sign up for the test you think you’ll do best on. You can decide which of the two tests to take by trying a practice version of each.
If you live in an SAT required state, you may want to take the SAT more than once if you don’t do well when you take the test in school. Decide here if you should retake the test!
Did you know the SAT was recently revised? Get a complete guide to the changes on the SAT here!
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Halle Edwards graduated from Stanford University with honors. In high school, she earned 99th percentile ACT scores as well as 99th percentile scores on SAT subject tests. She also took nine AP classes, earning a perfect score of 5 on seven AP tests. As a graduate of a large public high school who tackled the college admission process largely on her own, she is passionate about helping high school students from different backgrounds get the knowledge they need to be successful in the college admissions process.