Top Colleges That Require Test Scores

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Test score sheet with answers

As top colleges like Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and Brown start bringing back standardized test requirements after going test-optional during the pandemic, it’s super important to get a handle on what these exams are all about. This guide will walk you through the colleges that require test scores and why these scores matter. We’ve also got some tips on how to prepare and make your applications shine.

What Are Test Scores?

Test scores are basically the results you get from standardized exams like the SAT or ACT. Colleges require these tests scores to check if you’re ready for college-level work by assessing your skills in math, reading, and writing.

SAT and ACT books

Here are the differences between SAT and ACT:

Test Sections Scoring Policy
  • Math
  • Evidence-Based Reading and Writing
Each section is scored from 200 to 800, with your total score ranging from 400 to 1600.
  • English
  • Math
  • Reading
  • Science
  • Writing (optional)
Each of the four main sections is scored from 1 to 36, and these scores are averaged to give you a composite score that also ranges from 1 to 36. The optional Writing section is scored separately and doesn’t affect your composite score.

Why Do Colleges Require Test Scores?

Colleges have a few reasons for requiring test scores. They give a standardized way to compare students from different schools and backgrounds. Here’s why colleges value these scores:

  • Standardized Comparison: Test scores help admissions officers compare students fairly. Since high schools have different grading standards, these tests offer a common measure.
  • Predicting College Success: Colleges require test scores to predict how well you’ll do in college. Studies show a link between high test scores and good academic performance in college.
  • Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses: Test scores can show your strengths and areas where you might need improvement. Colleges use this info to see if you’re ready for their academic programs.
  • Scholarship Eligibility: Many scholarship programs use test scores to decide who gets the money. High scores can qualify you for merit-based scholarships, which can significantly cut your college costs.
  • Admissions Criteria: For highly selective colleges, requiring test scores is a crucial part of the admissions process. They help pick out the best from a pool of qualified applicants.
  • Institutional Data: Colleges use test scores to compile data and rankings. Higher average test scores can boost a college’s ranking and reputation.

Understanding why colleges require test scores can help you prepare better. By focusing on your strengths and working on any weaknesses, you can improve your scores and make your college application stronger.

How Colleges that Require Test Scores Consider Your Scores

When you get your test scores, you’ll see various metrics on the report. These metrics help you and the colleges understand your performance better. Let’s break down two important concepts: percentiles and superscoring.


Percentile ranks are key for understanding your test scores. Colleges require test scores because they show how you stack up against other test-takers. Percentiles give context to your raw scores, helping both you and colleges see where you stand.

For example, if you’re in the 75th percentile, you scored higher than 75% of students who took the test. If you’re in the 25th percentile, you scored higher than 25% of test-takers, but 75% scored higher than you.

Many colleges that require test scores publish the 25th and 75th percentile scores of their admitted students to give applicants an idea of their typical score range. Scoring within this range increases your chances of getting in. If your scores are closer to the 25th percentile, it’s still good, but aiming for the 75th percentile can make your application stronger and more competitive.

View of a female student working in front of her computer.


Superscoring is a practice where colleges that require test scores consider your highest section scores across multiple test dates. This can be super helpful if you did better in different sections on different test dates. This approach can boost your overall score by highlighting your best performances.

For example, if you took the SAT twice and scored 650 in Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (EBRW) and 600 in Math on your first attempt, then scored 620 in EBRW and 700 in Math on your second attempt, the college would take your highest EBRW score (650) and your highest Math score (700) to give you a superscore of 1350.

It’s important to check if the colleges you’re applying to use superscoring, as this can influence how you plan and prepare for your tests.

List of Top Colleges That Require Test Scores

Here are the top colleges that require test scores for admission. We’ve also included the 25th and 75th percentile range of the typical SAT and ACT scores of their admitted students to give you an idea of what they’re looking for:

College SAT Scores (25th – 75th Percentile) ACT Scores (25th – 75th Percentile)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology 1520 – 1570 35 – 36
Harvard University 1490 – 1580 34 – 36
Yale University 1470 – 1560 33 – 35
California Institute of Technology 1510 – 1570 35 – 36
Dartmouth College 1440 – 1560 33 – 35
Brown University 1500 – 1560 34 – 36
Georgetown University 1410 – 1540 32 – 35
Georgia Institute of Technology 1370 – 1530 31 – 35
University of Texas at Austin 1230 – 1500 26 – 33
United States Naval Academy 1200 – 1440 25 – 30
United States Military Academy 1230 – 1430 27 – 33
United States Air Force Academy 1310 – 1480 28 – 33
Purdue University 1200 – 1470 27 – 34
University of Florida 1300 – 1490 29 – 33
University of Georgia 1220 – 1400 26 – 32
Florida State University 1210 – 1370 26 – 31
University of Tennessee, Knoxville 1180 – 1320 25 – 31
University of Central Florida 1170 – 1340 25 – 29
University of South Florida 1240 – 1370 27 – 30
Louisiana State University 1140 – 1310 23 – 28
Florida International University 1070 – 1240 21 – 26
Florida Institute of Technology 1120 – 1310 22 – 28
Florida Gulf Coast University 1040 – 1200 26 – 31
University of North Florida 1010 – 1210 18 – 25
Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University 1020 – 1135 19 – 23
University of Memphis 960 – 1220 17 – 24
Florida Atlantic University 1030 – 1200 20 – 25
University of Tennessee Southern 1180 – 1320 25 – 31
New College of Florida 1170 – 1335 25 – 31
Georgia College & State University 1070 – 1230 23 – 28
Louisiana Tech University 1100 – 1260 22 – 27
Florida Polytechnic University 1250 – 1370 26 – 30
United States Merchant Marine Academy 1250 – 1420 20 – 28

How to Prepare for Standardized Tests When Applying to Colleges That Require Test Scores

Getting ready for standardized tests like the SAT or ACT is super important if you want to hit the requirements of colleges that require test scores. Here are some tips to help you get prepared:

A woman studying

1. Start early.

Starting early gives you plenty of time to understand the test format, find your strengths and weaknesses, and improve your skills. Aim to start at least six months before your test date.

Sample timeline

  • 6 months before the test: Take diagnostic tests to find your baseline scores and areas for improvement.
  • 3-4 months before the test: Focus on your weak spots and develop test-taking strategies.
  • 1-2 months before the test: Take full-length practice tests under timed conditions to build stamina and get used to the format.

2. Take practice tests.

When colleges require test scores, they expect you to get high scores. Practice tests are key. They help you get familiar with the test format, timing, and question types. Regular practice can also help reduce test anxiety and boost your confidence.

Specific tips

  • Simulate test conditions. Take practice tests in a quiet environment and stick to the time limits to mimic the actual test experience.
  • Review your answers. After each practice test, go through your answers, especially the ones you got wrong. Understand your mistakes and learn from them.
  • Track your progress. Keep a record of your scores and note the areas where you need improvement. Adjust your study plan based on this.

3. Consider test prep courses.

Test prep courses can give you structured guidance and expert tips. These courses often teach strategies for different question types, managing your time, and approaching the test with confidence.

Types of test prep courses

  • In-person classes: These offer direct interaction with instructors and peers. They provide a structured learning environment.
  • Online courses: These offer flexibility and convenience. You can access the material anytime and from anywhere.
  • Private tutoring: Personalized instruction tailored to your specific needs and learning pace.

4. Focus on weak areas.

Boosting your overall score means improving your weak areas. Use your diagnostic test results to focus your study efforts on the subjects and question types where you need the most improvement. Some colleges that require test scores also have a superscoring policy, so getting higher scores in your weak areas can boost your application.

Strategies for improvement

  • Conduct targeted practice. Focus on the areas where you scored the lowest. Use practice questions and exercises specifically designed for those topics.
  • Seek help. If you’re struggling with certain concepts, consider getting help from a tutor, teacher, or study group.

5. Develop test-taking strategies.

A solid test-taking strategy can greatly improve your performance. Learn techniques for managing your time, approaching different types of questions, and handling difficult sections.

Key test-taking strategies

  • Time management: Practice pacing yourself to ensure you have enough time to answer all the questions. Avoid spending too much time on any single question.
  • Answering strategies: Learn techniques like process of elimination, making educated guesses, and skipping and returning to difficult questions.
  • Stress management: Develop strategies to stay calm and focused during the test. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing and positive visualization.

6. Use quality study materials.

Using high-quality study materials is essential for effective preparation. Look for materials that offer comprehensive coverage of the test content, detailed explanations of answers, and plenty of practice questions.

SAT books placed next to each other on a shelf.

Recommended resources

  • Official guidebooks: These are published by the test makers and provide authentic practice questions and detailed explanations.
  • Online resources: Websites like Khan Academy (for SAT) and ACT Academy offer free practice questions, instructional videos, and personalized study plans.
  • Prep books: Consider using reputable prep books from publishers like Kaplan and Barron’s.

7. Stay consistent.

Consistency is key to effective test preparation. Establish a regular study schedule and stick to it. Aim to study for a set amount of time each day or week, and gradually increase your study time as the test date approaches.

Sample study schedule

  • Weekdays: Study for 1-2 hours each evening, focusing on different subjects each day.
  • Weekends: Dedicate 3-4 hours to full-length practice tests and review.

Other Tests Considered by Colleges That Require Test Scores

Besides the SAT and ACT, some colleges require other test scores during the admissions process. These tests can provide more insight into your academic abilities and readiness for college. They might also be used as alternatives to the SAT and ACT if you don’t have access to them.

Here are some other test scores that might be considered:

1. Advanced Placement (AP) exams

AP exams are run by the College Board and let high school students take college-level courses and exams. Scores range from 1 to 5, with many colleges giving credit for scores of 3 or higher. AP exams can show your ability to handle college-level courses and might boost your application.

2. International Baccalaureate (IB) exams

The IB program offers challenging courses that end with exams scored from 1 to 7. Many colleges value IB scores because they show strong critical thinking and academic skills. High scores can also earn you college credit or advanced placement.

3. SAT subject tests

Although the College Board has discontinued SAT Subject Tests in the U.S., some colleges still accept these scores if taken previously. These tests measured your knowledge in specific subjects like Math, Biology, and History. High scores could make your application stronger by highlighting your expertise in certain areas.

4. English proficiency tests

For international students, English proficiency tests like the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are often required. These tests assess your ability to use and understand English at the college level. Good scores are important for showing you’re ready to study in an English-speaking environment.

5. State-specific exams

Some states have their own standardized tests that might be considered during the college admissions process. For example, the Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Assessment is used by Texas colleges to determine if a student is ready for college-level work.

6. College entrance exams from other countries

If you’re an international student, colleges might also look at scores from your country’s college entrance exams. Examples include the Gaokao in China, the JEE in India, or the Abitur in Germany. These scores can provide additional context about your academic background and capabilities.

What Are Test-Optional Colleges?

Not all colleges require test scores. Some schools have adopted a test-optional policy, letting you decide whether to submit your scores. These colleges focus more on other parts of your application. The test-optional trend has gained popularity, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when many testing dates were canceled.

Happy young woman reading paper letter at home.

Many well-known institutions have adopted test-optional policies. Here are some examples:


Understanding colleges that require test scores is an important step in your college application process. Be sure to research the specific requirements of each school you’re interested in. With proper preparation and a clear understanding of the role of test scores, you can strengthen your application and improve your chances of admission.


Do all colleges require test scores?

No, not all colleges require test scores. Many colleges have a test-optional policy, letting you choose whether to submit your SAT or ACT scores. These schools focus more on other parts of your application, like your GPA, extracurriculars, essays, and letters of recommendation.

Some schools, like the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), are even test-blind, meaning they don’t consider test scores at all, even if you submit them.

What test score do most colleges look for?

Test score requirements vary widely depending on the college’s selectivity. Highly selective colleges, like Ivy League schools, often look for SAT scores above 1400 or ACT scores above 30. Many state universities have a broader range, usually requiring SAT scores between 1100 and 1300 or ACT scores between 22 and 28. It’s important to check the specific requirements of each college you’re interested in.

Which test should I take: SAT or ACT?

Both the SAT and ACT are widely accepted by colleges in the U.S., and neither is favored over the other. The choice depends on your strengths and test-taking style.

  • SAT: Includes Math and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing sections.
  • ACT: Includes English, Math, Reading, and Science sections, with an optional Writing section.

If you’re strong in science and prefer a faster-paced test, you might go for the ACT. If you prefer more time per question and a focus on reading and math, the SAT might be a better fit. Consider taking practice tests for both to see which one suits you better.

What is the highest SAT score?

The highest possible SAT score is 1600. This combines two section scores: Math (200 to 800) and Evidence-Based Reading and Writing (200 to 800). Scoring a perfect 1600 is rare and shows exceptional academic ability and test preparation.

Can I get into colleges that require test scores if I haven’t taken the SAT or ACT?

If a college explicitly requires test scores, you generally need to submit them to be considered. However, some colleges have a test-flexible policy.

For example, Yale allows applicants to fulfill the standardized testing requirement with scores from the ACT, SAT, Advanced Placement (AP) exams, or International Baccalaureate (IB) exams. If you choose to submit AP or IB scores, include results from all subject exams you’ve completed before applying.

It’s always a good idea to contact the admissions office of the colleges you’re interested in to discuss your specific situation and explore possible alternatives.


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