The American stereotype is true: the SAT is a big deal in high school. Many four-year universities require applicants to submit scores from standardized tests such as the SAT as part of the application process and to assess a student’s abilities, and students understandably get stressed about them. These tests primarily have multiple choice questions, and some tests include an essay as well. They take several hours to complete and some are completed by hand, so start your finger exercises now! Scores are sent both to test takers as well as to institutions of the student’s choosing.
Graduate school programs also require testing as part of the application process, and these differ based on the program or degree. In addition, international students for both undergraduate and grad programs are often required to submit their scores from the TOEFL to measure their English language skills.
Don’t be nervous if you feel completely unprepared for these tests. They’re terrifying for everyone, which is why prep courses, practice tests, and private tutoring are widely available. And they’re worth it: scholarships are sometimes offered based on high scores, even for international students. Keep in mind that each of these test have fees, so doing well the first time is better for your confidence as well as your budget.
Tests for undergraduate programs
- SAT: This is the most famous standardized test for college applications, and is known essentially as the test to get into college. The SAT assesses literacy and math skills using multiple choice questions, and offers an optional essay as well. The test is taken by hand and is calculated with a maximum score of 1600, while the essay is scored with three numbers between 2 and 8 that judge reading, analysis, and writing. Starting in 2020, test takers will also provide information about their background. Those details are converted into a number between 1 and 100, as determined by an algorithm, and compared with peers. Each university may use that number as they wish.
- ACT: The ACT is considered an alternative to the SAT. Colleges often require scores from at least one without stating a preference for either, but this information should be checked for each school you’re interested in applying to. The ACT is handwritten and includes multiple choice questions that evaluate literacy, math, and science. The test is calculated on a scale of 1 to 36.
- SAT Subject Tests: Some selective universities suggest that applicants also submit scores to SAT Subject Tests, which assess your knowledge in specialized areas such as literature, history, various languages, math, and several sciences. These tests are each scored with a maximum of 800.
Tests for graduate programs
- GRE: The GRE is the most common test for applicants to graduate school programs. The test is completed on a computer and evaluates verbal reasoning (literacy), quantitative reasoning (math), and analytical writing (two essays). The reasoning sections are scored on a scale of 130-170, and the essay is scored on a scale of 1 to 6.
- GMAT: Most business schools such as an MBA or Master of Finance program require the completion of the GMAT as part of the application. This computer test is comprised of the quantitative (math) section, verbal section, and integrated reasoning section, and an analytical writing assessment (essay). The quantitative and verbal sections are each scored with a maximum of 800. The integrated reasoning section measures how the test taker evaluates data, and is scored on a scale of 1 to 8. The writing assessment is scored on a scale of 1 to 6.
- MCAT: The MCAT is required for applicants to medical school. The test is completed on a computer, and consists of four sections covering chemical, physical, and biological sciences; psychological, social, and biological foundations of behavior; and critical analysis and reasoning skills. Each section is scored from 118 to 132, for a total possible score of 472 to 528.
- LSAT: Applicants to law school must take the LSAT. The test is completed by hand for all of its six sections, including four multiple choice sections, an experimental section, and the writing section. The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120 to 180 points for the multiple choice sections, but neither the experimental nor writing sections are scored.
- DAT: Dental school applicants are required to take the DAT. This is a multiple choice, computer-based test with sections on natural sciences (biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry), perceptual ability, reading comprehension, and quantitative reasoning. The DAT is scored on a scale of 1 to 30.
- OAT: The OAT is the admission test for applicants to optometry school. Its four sections include natural sciences (biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry), reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning, and the test is completed on a computer. The OAT is scored on a scale of 200 to 400.