College Admissions Tests and Exams

SAT, ACT, GRE, GMAT Test Prep

US colleges and universities require that all their applicants take one or more standardized tests. These tests include the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), ACT test, GRE (Graduate Record Examination), and GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test). Additionally, applicants who are not Americans are required to also take the TOEFL (Test of English as Foreign Language).

Most standardized tests are designed to measure a student's skills, rather than a student's amount of knowledge. The questions in these tests evaluate your ability to solve problems, not your knowledge of facts (such as important historical dates, or parts of the human anatomy).

The function of standardized tests is to give colleges a way to evaluate all their applicants on an equal level. Comparison of grades received in courses or on exams is not always enough because different schools have different academic standards. An admissions counselor at a university has no way of determining how challenging the calculus or economics course you took was. By comparing your score on a standardized test to the score of another student who took the same standardized test, the counselor has a better idea of how the two of you compare.

International students applying for an undergraduate program (bachelor's degree) will be required to take the TOEFL and the SAT I tests. Some schools will also require the SAT II. There are also many schools that will accept the ACT in place of the SAT I. Graduate students applying to an arts or science program will be required to take the TOEFL and, usually, the GRE. Graduate students applying to a business program will be required to take the TOEFL and, usually, the GMAT. Find out directly from the schools to which you would like to apply what tests are required. A brief description of each of these standardized tests is given below.

TOEFL

In most parts of the world, the TOEFL is a computer-based test. In some areas, paper-based testing is also available. Paper-based tests are administered on predetermined dates; computer-based tests can be taken on an appointment basis. The test consists of mostly multiple-choice questions. An essay question is also required. The computer-based test contains four sections:

Listening - This section is designed to test your understanding of English as it is spoken in America. You will listen to dialogues, conversations and speeches using headphones. Then you will answer multiple-choice questions about the material.

Structure - This section is designed to test your ability to understand written English. It covers formal English, rather than casual, or conversational English. The questions are multiple-choice.

Reading - This section is designed to test your understanding of written passages similar to what you will have to read in an American school. The questions cover reading comprehension as well as vocabulary. Again, these questions are multiple-choice.

Writing - This section asks you to write an essay in English. This section is designed to test your ability to write in English, as well as to develop, organize and support your arguments effectively.

To find out more about the TOEFL test, including how to register, where to take the test, and how to obtain preparation materials, visit www.toefl.org. We strongly recommend that you have some sort of experience with a TOEFL test prep program before you sit for the TOEFL exam.

SAT

There are two versions of the SAT test. The SAT I is the called the Reasoning Test and is designed to evaluate your mathematical and verbal skills. It consists mostly of multiple-choice questions. The questions in the math sections cover arithmetic, algebra, and geometry, as well as logical reasoning, probability and counting. The questions in the verbal sections fall into the following categories:

Analogies - These questions test your knowledge of the meanings of words and your ability to see relationships in pairs of words.

Sentence completions - These questions test you knowledge of the meanings of words and your ability to understand how different elements in a sentence fit together logically.

Critical reading - These questions measure your ability to read a passage and think about it.

The SAT II, on the other hand, contains 22 separate tests called Subject Tests. Each subject test covers a specific area such as world history, Spanish, or chemistry. These tests are designed to determine your level of knowledge in each area and your ability to apply that knowledge to answer questions. If the school you are applying to requires the SAT II, you will generally be able to choose which subject test(s) you would like to take. You can take up to three subject tests in one day. However, you cannot take the SAT I and the SAT II on the same day. For more information on the SAT tests, including registration and preparation information, visit www.collegeboard.org. Don't forget to complete a SAT test prep course before the actual SAT exam.

ACT

The ACT differs from the SAT I in that it is a subject-based test, rather than an ability, or aptitude, test. It consists of multiple-choice questions covering four areas: (1) English; (2) mathematics; (3) reading; (4) scientific reasoning. Although the SAT I is more popular, some students prefer to take the ACT instead because they feel more comfortable with its knowledge-based format. For more information on the ACT test, including registration and testing locations, visit www.act.org.

GRE

The GRE General Test is similar to the SAT I in that it evaluates your mathematical and verbal abilities. It is designed to measure your reasoning skills, rather than your knowledge of any specific subject matter. Subject matter testing is done with the GRE Subject Tests. These tests should be taken by students who have a bachelor's degree (or very extensive training) in that subject. They cover eight different subject areas: (1) biochemistry, cell and molecular biology; (2) biology; (3) chemistry; (4) computer science; (5) literature in English; (6) mathematics; (7) physics; (8) psychology. The GRE also offers a Writing Assessment test that asks more challenging questions than the General Test. It measures your critical and analytical thinking skills. It is usually optional, so you should check with the schools to which you are applying to find out if it is required. The General Test and the Writing Assessment are both computer-based, while the Subject Tests are paper-based. To find out more about the GRE tests, including how to register, where to take the tests, and how to obtain preparation materials, visit www.gre.org.

GMAT

The GMAT is designed to assess your mathematical, verbal and analytical writing skills. Again, it measures your ability to apply knowledge, rather than the amount of knowledge you have. It is a computer-based test and contains both multiple-choice and essay questions. For more information on the GMAT, including how to register and prepare for the test, visit www.mba.com.