Which Tests Do You Need?
The American system of education relies on various specialized or “standardized” tests, which students must take in order to apply to a particular university or program. These exams offer universities a common basis for comparison of applicants.
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
Nearly all international students whose native language is not English need to provide a TOEFL score as proof of English proficiency for university study. In fact, a TOEFL score is required for at least 3,400 colleges and universities in North America. Most international students take the TOEFL in addition to another admissions test such as the GMAT, GRE, MCAT, SAT or ACT. The TOEFL measures receptive and expressive skills equally – half of the total score on the test is based on reading and listening abilities (how well students receive and understand English) and the other half is based on speaking and writing abilities (how well students express themselves). The exam, which recently transitioned to an Internet-based format, runs approximately 3 ½ to 4 ½ hours long. Your TOEFL score is valid for two years.
Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
If you are thinking about going to business school, the GMAT is almost always a necessary part of your application. A 3½ hour computerized exam, the GMAT tests analytical writing skills, quantitative skills and verbal skills (reading comprehension, sentence correction and critical reasoning) through 78 multiple choice questions and two analytical essays. An estimated 110,000 individuals take the GMAT each year. At least 1,500 graduate business and management programs use GMAT scores as part of their application process. Your GMAT score is valid for five years.
Graduate Record Exam (GRE)
The GRE is a computerized test required for admission to most graduate programs in the U.S. (except law, business and medicine). The exam measures verbal, quantitative and analytical writing skills, and research indicates that a student’s GRE score, along with their college GPA, is a good indicator of how well that student will perform in graduate school. An estimated 500,000 people take the GRE each year. Many graduate programs base financial aid packages, including fellowships and teaching assistantships, on GRE scores. Your GRE score is valid for five years.
Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)
The LSAT is a 3½ hour paper-and-pencil test required for admission to most U.S. law schools. Comprised of roughly 125 multiple-choice questions plus a writing sample, the test is designed to test the critical reading, data management and analytical thinking skills that are deemed necessary for success in the first year of law school. Of all admissions tests, the LSAT carries the most weight in the admissions decision-making process, and can account for up to 50 percent of a candidate’s application at the most competitive schools. An estimated 110,000 students take the LSAT annually. Your LSAT score is valid for five years.
Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
The MCAT is a computer-based multiple choice examination used by medical school admissions officials to predict future success. The MCAT is designed to test problem-solving skills, critical thinking abilities, and writing skills, as well as knowledge of basic science concepts. The test consists of 3 hours and 20 minutes of multiple-choice testing, plus one hour devoted to a writing sample. With all of the administrative details and breaks, the exam can last for 5½ hours. Approximately 71,000 people worldwide take the MCAT each year. In most cases, MCAT scores are valid for 3 years. However, this time frame varies from school to school.
Most of the top undergraduate universities in the U.S. require applicants take a standardized admissions exam – either the SAT or its counterpart; the ACT. The SAT is the most widely taken university entrance exam, with about 1.4 million students taking it each year. A paper-and-pencil-based exam, the SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes long and tests math, vocabulary and reading comprehension and writing skills. Because the SAT is an important element of the college admissions process, it is wise to prepare in order to improve your score. Your SAT score is valid for five years.
The ACT is the other nationally administered, standardized test that helps colleges to evaluate candidates for undergraduate study. The ACT comprises four subject areas — English, mathematics, reading, and science and includes an optional essay. Also administered in paper-and-pencil, the ACT lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes (excluding the Writing Test) or 3 hours and 25 minutes (including the Writing Test). More than 1.2 million students take the exam each year. Your ACT score may be valid for up to 10 years, depending on the school.