Program Specific Essays
July 23, 2015
ED Press Release
December 11, 2015

New Testing Policy

Beginning with the 2015-2016 admissions cycle, the University of Pennsylvania will require all freshman applicants to submit the results of either the SAT or the ACT college entrance exams.  In addition, Penn will recommend that each student submit the results of two SAT Subject Tests.  Students whose native language is not English are strongly encouraged to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

These updated requirements reflect extensive analysis of the predictive validity of the SAT, SAT Subject Tests, and ACT assessments as predictors of academic performance at the University of Pennsylvania.

One major change in the Penn testing policy is the removal of the requirement to submit the essay portion of the ACT or the redesigned SAT. Penn’s internal analysis as well as a review of the research provided by the College Board showed that the essay component of the SAT was the least predictive element of the overall Writing section of the SAT. Given the impending redesign of the SAT and PSAT/NMSQT, which will make the essay portion of the assessment optional, we could no longer support requiring the essay portion of either exam given its weaker predictive power.

The move away from requiring the essay does not reflect a lesser degree of emphasis on the importance of writing. Penn looks for evidence of strong writing ability in an applicant’s academic record and their self-representation throughout the application.

The simplified testing guidelines also remove a hurdle that often consumes valuable time and resources during the college application process, allowing both applicants and Penn admissions staff to focus on the strongest indicators of academic and personal fit. Penn’s new testing policy aims to increase college access by providing greater flexibility which will benefit all potential applicants to Penn, particularly under-resourced students. Penn’s research shows that first-generation, Latino, and Black applicants were 2-3 times less likely to have a complete testing profile, which is often the result of not having timely counseling and other critical information about the college application process.

In addition to no longer requiring the essay, Penn is moving to recommend students submit two SAT Subject Tests regardless of whether they submit the ACT or SAT.  This change reflects Penn’s research that shows that, when considered in the full context of the application, the SAT Subject Tests are strong predictors of performance at Penn.  Applicants considering fields in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), are recommended to take the Math 2 SAT Subject Test and a science SAT Subject Test (preferably physics for engineering applicants).  Candidates applying to the Wharton School are recommended to take the Math 2 SAT Subject test.  Candidates applying to Penn Nursing are recommended to take a science SAT Subject Test, preferably in chemistry.

Penn requires that students submit their complete testing history, and will use the combination of assessments that reflects their best performance.  Penn Admissions will continue to measure and research the predictive validity of all assessments submitted by students to inform its testing policies going forward.

Penn’s new policy anticipates the impending redesign of the PSAT and the SAT. The redesigned PSAT will be administered beginning in fall 2015, and the redesigned SAT will follow in spring 2016. Applicants in the 2016-2017 admissions cycle may submit either the existing or revised SAT or the ACT. The scale of the revised SAT will revert from 2400 to 1600, and the College Board is currently working with colleges and universities to establish concordance guidelines between the current and revised versions of the exam. More information on these changes can be found at

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