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Q&A: U.S. Admissions Tests

What admission tests are commonly required?

TOEFL® is the most commonly accepted test of English proficiency in the United States (some universities also accept other tests such as IELTS). Most institutions require a minimum TOEFL score between 85-95 on the Internet-based TOEFL iBT test, which tests reading, listening, speaking, and writing skills, or about 500-600 on the paper-based version (being discontinued but available in a few countries). See www.toefl.org to learn more and to register for the test. Some schools may not require the TOEFL if you completed high school or college in the United States or if you graduated from a four-year, degree-granting institution where English is the language of instruction.

SAT®.  SAT may be required of undergraduate applicants. See www.sat.org for information on both the general test, which measures your reading, writing, and math skills, and subject tests, which cover knowledge of different academic fields. Not all colleges require SAT and some that do for their U.S. students may not for international students. Even where not required for general admission purposes, the SAT may sometimes be necessary if you are applying for scholarships.  SAT minimums are uncommon for admission--scores are weighed with your grades and other parts of your application.

GRE®. Most graduate applicants are required to submit results on the Graduate Record Examination general test and sometimes subject tests as well. The general test was revised in August 2011 and covers verbal and quantitative reasoning as well as analytical writing. See www.gre.org for details. Minimum scores will vary from one academic department  to another. Many departments do not have minimums but will weigh scores with grades and other elements of the graduate school application.

GMAT®. Graduate applicants in business- and accountancy-related areas may be required to take the GMAT, or may have a choice between GMAT and GRE. A minimum score of 500 is often required on GMAT, with a score of at least 25 percent on the verbal portion. Again, requirements vary from program to program.

Some fields of study have their own tests; some examples are the J.D. degree in law, medical residencies and M.D.s, and graduate public administration programs. Check the admissions requirements of programs of interest.

When should I take university entrance exams?

U.S. universities may have application deadlines as early as November for admission the next fall. Also, some tests are not offered frequently and test centers may fill. It’s therefore best to plan to take exams a full year before you plan to start your academic study, for example around September 2013 if you want to start classes in fall 2014. This gives you time to retake tests if you are not pleased with the results.

How can I prepare for exams?

Strong knowledge of English is essential for all U.S. admission tests. Consider English language training to gain practice using all four skill areas (listening, speaking, reading, writing) together. Also seek out exposure to “real life” English, ideally through conversations with native speakers though even watching English-language movies can help. Be sure to review college-preparatory mathematics as well.

The SAT and GRE subject examinations require more specific, advanced subject area knowledge. Check what content areas any such exams you are taking cover and be sure you have a solid knowledge of those areas.

In addition to the content, become familiar with the format of the different examinations that you will be taking. The Web sites for specific exams will provide information as well as sample questions. Additional preparatory materials and practice tests (print and/or online) can be ordered from exam developers as well as from commercial publishers.

Whatever test you are taking, be sure to visit your local EducationUSA center. They provide professional, often free support to help you understand testing and the whole U.S. admissions process.

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