Penn Announces New Testing Requirements for Applicants

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. 

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.  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. Students whose native language is not English are strongly encouraged to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language, or 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.

“We welcome the opportunity to review our admissions process and the role of testing,” said Eric Furda, dean of admissions.

“We feel these new requirements are more accurate and more equitable for our admissions process.” Yvonne Romero Da Silva, Penn’s director of admissions, said, “College-entrance exams are merely one of many factors in our holistic review of applications. Our analyses show that they are useful predictors of student performance and persistence throughout students’ undergraduate years at Penn.” 

One major change in the Penn testing policy is the removal of the requirement to submit an ACT or redesigned SAT with the essay portion.

“The decision to no longer require the essay portion of the SAT or ACT is one we considered carefully,” Furda said. “Our internal analysis as well as a review of the extensive 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.

“Writing is critically important for college success,” said Furda. “We look for evidence of strong writing ability in applicants’ academic records and their self-representation throughout the application. The decision not to require the essay was really a matter of what was best for students.”

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. According to John McLaughlin, senior associate director for research and analysis, Penn’s new testing policy will benefit underrepresented students.

“Our research,” McLaughlin said, “shows that first-generation, Latino, and black applicants were two to three times less likely to have complete testing profiles, often due to not having timely counseling and other critical information about the college process. With the new policy, and greater flexibility, these students will now meet our testing requirements.”

“We aim to make a Penn education accessible to the world’s most promising and impactful young scholars,” said Furda.

In addition to no longer requiring the essay, Penn is moving to recommend that students submit two SAT Subject Tests regardless of whether they submit the ACT or SAT. 

“This change reflects our research that shows that, when considered in the full context of the application, the SAT Subject Tests are strong predictors of performance at Penn,” said Romero Da Silva. “For many students the Subject Tests allow them to showcase areas of academic strength by subject matter which is something we value.” 

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