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Universities in USA and in some other countries, it is mandatory to appear for standardized tests. These tests are conducted all over the world for student applying for higher studies. There could be one or more standardized admission tests. Scores from these tests are sent with your application packets to the colleges that you shortlist.

The standardized tests help universities determine your abilities, including whether your English and Math skills are sufficient to successfully complete their academic program. Since students apply from around the world, there is a need to set a common denominator so that universities can meet the cultural, ethnic and educational backgrounds of a diverse group of students. Therefore, a student applying from Nairobi or Ukraine is evaluated in the same measure as another student from France or Germany.

For graduate and professional admissions, the tests include:

  1. An English Proficiency Test or Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  2. For science, math and liberal arts, Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
  3. For business schools or management course, Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT
  4. For law, Law School Admission Testing Program (LSAT)
  5. For medical schools, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

Wondering what test to take based on your course/ program selection? Looking for helpful tips to prepare you for GMAT / GRE / SAT/ ACT? ReachIvy breaks down the test information to help you make a decision and get started! Read our free guides and watch the video tutorials for more details.

Top Tests

  • AP
  • SAT
  • ACT
  • GMAT
  • GRE

Advanced Placement (AP), as described by the College Board, is an academic program comprising of university-level courses and exams that students can take while in school to prepare for university-level study. Each AP course culminates in an AP Exam, which students take to demonstrate university-level knowledge, skills and abilities learned during the AP course.

  • Most four-year universities and colleges in the U.S. accept qualifying AP Exam scores for college credit and advanced placement. Earning credit and/or advanced placement gives students the flexibility to graduate early, save tuition money, pursue a double major, skip introductory courses or gain time for valuable internships.
  • Standardized and globally recognized programs such as the AP give Indian students the opportunity to showcase their academic strengths to colleges and universities in the U.S.
  • AP Exams are only given in May and consist of multiple-choice questions and free-response (essay) prompts. The final exam score is reported on a scale of 1–5 with 5 being the highest score. In order to earn university credit or advanced placement, a score of 3 or above on a scale of 5 is expected. Each university determines its own AP acceptance and credit policy.
  • You may repeat an exam in a subsequent year. If you do, both scores will be reported unless you request that one be withheld or canceled.

Taking and passing AP classes provides you with the opportunity to show college admissions you are capable of intro-level college courses and where your academic interests lie. However, remember AP tests are not a necessary standardized test that is required by any of the Colleges or Universities in the US and colleges will not automatically favor you. It is a holistic admissions process and you need to determine how best to balance your time between academics and activities outside of the classroom, and which extracurriculars will maximize your application.

  • The SAT is a standardized test widely used for college admissions in the United States. The test is intended to assess a student's readiness for college. It consists of three major sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing. Each will be scored on a 200 to 800 scale. The essay is optional and will not be factored into your overall SAT score. The essay scores will be shown separately on the report.
  • The exam will have 154 questions and is 3 hours long (plus 50 minutes if you are taking the essay).
  • Most 4-year colleges will ask that you take the test, as it allows institutions to compare students from different high schools across the globe and make admission decisions.
  • The standardized test scores may also help you qualify for scholarships. Some colleges and educational organizations award scholarship money to students based, in part, on SAT scores.
  • There are a number of colleges that require the SAT II (also known as SAT Subject Tests), in addition to the SAT. These tests are hour-long and content-based, and they allow you to showcase achievement in specific subject areas in which you excel. There are 20 SAT Subject Tests in five general subject areas: English, History, Languages, Mathematics and Science.
  • SAT Subject Tests allow you to differentiate yourself in the college admission process or send a strong message regarding your readiness to study specific majors or programs when you are in college.
  • You’ll want to take the tests that are required or recommended by the colleges that you’re interested in. For example, if you wish to study engineering, then Math may be required. Also consider subjects that you excel in or may want to major in, to showcase your strengths and interests.
  • You can retake the tests and colleges will usually look at your best score. However, an increasing number of colleges in the US are becoming ‘test-flexible’, or ‘test-optional’, or completely opting out of asking students for their SAT scores. Please reach out to individual colleges for clarity on the tests you are required to take for the admission process.

The ACT is a national college admissions examination that consists of subject area tests in English, Mathematics, Reading and Science. The ACT with writing includes the four subject area tests plus a 40-minute writing test. Each subject area is given a scaled score between 1 and 36. Those area scores are then averaged into your composite score, which also ranges between 1 and 36. The exam will have 215 multiple-choice questions and testing time is 2 hours and 55 minutes (add 40 minutes if you are taking the ACT with writing).

GMAT – Graduate Management Admission Test - is a globally recognized college admission test that is required for an admission to most business schools. It consists of a 30-minute Analytic section with one essay, a 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section, a 75-minute Quantitative section and a 75- minute Verbal section – making the test a total of 3 and a half hours long. The overall, or composite, GMAT score ranges from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments.

Cancellation of GMAT scores:

Effective 19 July 2015, the “C” that represents a candidate’s cancelled scores will not be shown on any future GMAT score reports generated by GMAC. This means that when a test taker cancels their score, only the test taker will know. This feature will be applied retroactively to all previously cancelled test scores, which will be removed from all future score reports that are sent to schools. However, score reports with canceled scores have already been sent to schools, they can’t be modified.

GRE – Graduate Record Examination - is a test required for admission to most graduate colleges and an increasing number of business schools. The GRE consists of a 60-minute Analytical Writing section - with two essays at 30 minutes each. There is a Verbal Reasoning section, also with two 30-minute parts. There are two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections. There's also a 30-35 minute experimental section that can be either math or verbal. – making the computer test a total of 3.75 hours long. The Verbal and Quantitative scores range from 130 to 170 and increase in 1-point increments.

The TOEFL (Test Of English as a Foreign Language) and the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) are two popular choices of English Proficiency tests, and are accepted by most universities. Most colleges require international students to have completed one, with the grade requirements and preference (if any) clearly stated on the website, as part of the admission process. Some colleges may waive this requirement if certain prerequisites are met.

  • Both evaluate how well you can combine your listening, reading, writing and speaking skills. You have to pay a separate fee to take both tests. Fees can vary, depending on where you take the test, but expect to pay between $170 to $250.
  • TOEFL is a 4 hour long test, whereas IELTS is 2 hours 45 minutes.
  • One of the main differences is the speaking part of the test. For IELTS, you are required to take the exam face to face with an IELTS examiner. For TOEFL. the speaking test consists of six questions which you answer into a microphone. These are recorded and sent to an examiner to mark.
  • The scoring system is also different. IELTS, rates you between 0 and 9, with halfway points in between. TOEFL gives a more numerical SAT-style grade, totaling your scores from all areas.
  • TOEFL is administered by the Educational Testing Service, a non-profit US based organisation, and conducts its test according to US English. IELTS is administered jointly by the British Council, the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations and IDP Education Australia, and conducts its test in UK English.
  • The differences between the two are not significant, but the spelling variations or accent differences could pose a problem for some students. Browse through the guides for both, before deciding which one to take.
  • Test results are valid for 2 years and you can retake the exam as many times as you like.

It is important that you check the University website before taking your english proficiency exam, not only to see if there is an exam preference or a minimum score requirement but also if you are eligible for a waiver.

General Information

1. Should I take the SAT or ACT?

To begin with, both SAT and ACT are content-based tests; you do not lose points for incorrect answers, and you can choose which set(s) of SAT/ ACT scores to submit to colleges. Every four-year college in the US accepts SAT and ACT scores. The commonality ends here. While SAT questions are evidence and context-based in an effort to focus on real-world situations and multi-step problem-solving, ACT questions are more straightforward with the questions longer but less difficult to decipher. We recommend you review both the tests in details before deciding the one for you. It all boils down to which test works well with your strengths and weaknesses.

2. When should I take the SAT or ACT?

We strongly recommend you take your chosen exams as early as possible – ideally in the 11th grade. This not only gives you a good indication of potential colleges on your radar, but also allows you to then focus your time and resources on other aspects of the college preparation process. Also, should you need to retake any of the tests, you are not rushed at the last minute. Remember neither the SAT nor the ACT is easier than the other and Colleges do not prefer one over the other. Identify which exam is better for you and try and take it in the 11th grade, to optimize the path to college admission.

3. Should I take GRE or GMAT?

Before making the decision on which exam to take, we strongly recommend that you browse through the study books of both, take a diagnostic test, and see which one is better for you. You may be naturally drawn to one test over the other. From an admissions standpoint, more and more universities are starting to accept both exams. So, you first need to identify which colleges you are applying to, if there is a preference for either one. If not, then your criteria for selection should be where you think you can score higher. Both exams have a validity of 5 years. You can retake the GRE or GMAT as many times as you like, however in general we have found scores do not significantly change after 3 attempts.

4. When should I take GRE or GMAT?

We strongly recommend you take your chosen exams as early as possible –at least 1 to 2 years prior to application. This not only gives you a good indication of potential colleges on your radar, but also allows you to then focus your time and resources on other aspects of the college preparation process. Also, should you need to retake it, you are not rushed at the last minute.
Remember neither the GMAT nor the GRE is easier than the other and increasingly more colleges are accepting either one of the two. Identify which exam is better for you based on both the scores attained and acceptance by targeted Universities, and try and take it at least a year prior to application, to optimize the path to college admission.

5. What can I do to improve my score?

Start preparing in advance, make a schedule and stick to it!

Sticking to a strict study schedule will help you manage the workload and spread study time out evenly over a course of time. We recommend you start 3-6 months ahead of time. Starting too much in advance will burn you out, while starting too late will mean you aren’t well prepared.

Log your mistakes and ensure you review them so they are not repeated.

We recommend you keep a record of each mistake you make while studying. Learning from your mistakes will help you in avoiding them in the future. Also go through the questions you miss while taking practice tests so they are covered.

Make a study plan – Focus on your weak points.

After each practice test review your answers and work on the questions you find difficult. It is important to know what the weak areas are and work towards strengthening them. Practice, practice, practice.

Time yourself.

It is key to know how long you take to answer each question. Getting the right answer is important, but if you are taking too long then you will end up wasting time on test day. Initially you can work towards developing your skill, but you must start timing yourself as you get closer to test day.

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