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Test Overview


Most U.S. colleges and universities will require that both undergraduate and graduate students applying for admission take one or more standardized admission tests. They are intended to provide a common measure for comparing the abilities of students who come from a variety of educational backgrounds and institutions. Scores from these tests will be sent with your application packets, along with your college applications, essays, references, transcripts, work experience and other information you prepare for consideration.

Universities generally determine the ability of an international student after reviewing all of the criteria above, including whether his or her English skills are sufficient to successfully complete their academic program. Some schools may place more weight on students’ test scores than others. Various factors complicate the interpretation of standardized test scored for international students. For example, the degree of English proficiency may affect test performance. Moreover, school officials must consider the cultural and educational backgrounds of international students, since the tests were developed for students who were educated in the United States.

The level of skills required for success in undergraduate or graduate studies varies by field or department. Institutions often look the separate components of test scores because there may be significant differences between them. For example, one student might score low on the verbal measure but high on a math measure of a test, while another student might score the opposite. An English department and an engineering department would consider these students differently.

Institutions might also look at separate measures on English proficiency tests such as grammar, listening, reading, speaking and writing. Some departments might consider it crucial to have high scores in listening and speaking; others might feel it is important to have high scores in reading and writing. Since may graduate students serve as teaching assistants, some departments expect graduate students to have high verbal scores.

Types of Standardized Tests

Most undergraduate and graduate programs will require the TOEFL exam for all international students to ensure that they have adequate proficiency in English to succeed in U.S. colleges. All standardized tests listed here are given in English.

For undergraduate admissions, required standardized tests usually include:

  1. Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)
  2. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  3. American College Testing (ACT)

For graduate and professional admissions, required tests usually include:

  1. Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL)
  2. Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) – for liberal arts, science, math
  3. Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) – for business schools/study for MBA (Master’s in Business Administration) programs
  4. Law School Admission Testing Program (LSAT) – for law schools
  5. Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) – for medical schools
  6. Dental Admission Testing Program (DAT) – for dental schools
  7. Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
  8. Optometry Admission Testing Program (OAT)

Some schools may also require additional admissions tests not listed above, placement tests to determine where to place you in the program of study (introductory-level classes or advanced), or tests that they have developed locally for their institutions.

Read our full Test Preparation section for more details on each of the tests listed above.

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