US unis ask that you take subject tests called the SATs. These tests are not exams and are not related in any way to the UK SATs. They are nationally administered tests that find out your basic levels of competence in classroom subjects. From a UK point of view Harvard does not place huge stress on your scores, and while good scores are a help, modest scores do not necessarily work against you, since the test content and technique are not usually as familiar to UK students as they are to American applicants.
SAT tests were developed in the US as a standardised benchmark to evaluate a wide range of university applicants, because in America the school systems vary tremendously across different states and boroughs and unlike in the UK there is no one evaluation system such as the GCSEs or A Levels. The SATs are multiple choice tests, and are not meant to test your in-depth knowledge or intellectual powers, but to demonstrate critical reading and comprehension skills.
Being multiple choice tests, and timed as well, it really pays to obtain the practice books online or from a bookshop and practice taking the tests. SAT advisors in the US constantly tell their students that the tests are all about learning the multiple choice technique and to practice under timed conditions as much as they can.
See our FAQ sheet for further information – below are some highlights.
What tests should I take for Harvard?
There are two ‘layers’ of SATs, the basic SAT I tests, which are Maths and two English tests, and SAT II tests, which cover individual subjects such a science or a language. To apply to US universities, you will need to have taken SAT Is, and in many cases one or more SAT IIs. Harvard requires the SAT I basic tests, PLUS TWO SAT IIs. You should NOT take both Math 1 and Math 2 to fulfil the requirements as this is not considered a wide enough spread of subjects. And, if English is not your mother tongue you should not take the SAT II in your native language, as again this does not help Harvard assess your potential!
SAT tests are administered by a US company which has test centres based at a number of schools and unis across the UK. The College Board website can give you details. Tests are given several times a year, although if you are thinking about taking a less popular SAT II subject test (such as Italian), check for dates, as some tests are administered only once or twice a year in certain locations.