Standardized Tests

    Standardized Testing

Students need to plan to take admissions tests at least 12 months in advance of the intended start date for studies in the United States. Admissions tests are generally used to predict the likelihood of a student’s success in an academic setting.
 
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    Undergraduate-Level Exams

The SAT (formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test) and the ACT (formerly an abbreviation of American College Testing) are the wo most common test that you will find yourself preparing for. In the past entrance exams played a central role in the admissions process. However, their importance has started to wane in the recent past where some institutions currently do not require neither the SAT, nor the ACT. Instead they focus on other areas (i.e. personal statement, extracurricular activities, grade point average etc.). Despite the recent trends, most colleges and universities still require either ACT or SAT scores. Depending on your choice of institutions, you may need to take both; another reason why early planning is a MUST.

Since its introduction in 1926, the name of this test has changed several times. Originally the test was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, which was later changed to the Scholastic Assessment Test. Afterwards the name was changed to SAT I: Reasoning Test, and finally again to now, where it is simply known as the SAT. The SAT was originally designed to be independent from the high school curriculum of the time, but in addition to its name, the test has also gone through several adjustments in its content. In 2016, the SAT reflects more of what is being taught in American high schools. The current SAT, introduced in 2016, is offered seven times annually in most regions of the world, takes three hours to finish (an additional 50 minutes for the optional essay section), and as of 2017 costs US$45 (US$57 with the optional essay), excluding late fees, with additional processing fees if the SAT is taken outside the United States. Scores on the SAT range from 400 to 1600 that combines test results from two 800-point sections: mathematics, and critical reading/writing. Starting with the 2015-16 school year, students were treated with some good news that the College Board (administers the SAT) announced it would team up with the Khan Academy, an online education portal to provide SAT prep, free of charge.
SAT consists of three main sections: Critical Reading, Mathematics, and Writing (optional). Each section receives a score on that range between 200–800 where the total, or composite score is calculated by adding up scores of the three sections. Each of these major sections are divided into three more parts. There is also an additional 25-minute experimental section which does not count toward your score, but rather is used to normalize questions for future SAT tests. The SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes of actual timed sections; and the whole process usually takes about 4 hours and 15 minutes when accounting for orientation, distribution of materials, completion of biographical sections, and timed breaks.
 
Critical Reading
The Critical Reading section is made up of 52 questions, that is completed in 65 minutes. This section contains questions that including 5 to 8 sentence completions whereas the remainder are responses to queries about short excerpts on social sciences, humanities, physical sciences, or personal narratives. All these excerpts will be provided in the exam. Critical Reading sections normally begin with the sentence completion questions; and test the student’s vocabulary and understanding of sentence structure, as well as organization.
 
Mathematics
The mathematics portion of the SAT is divided into two sub-sections, Math Test – Calculator and Math Test – No Calculator (see below for further breakdown). The SAT math section is 80 minutes long and includes 58 questions. Of those 45 are multiple choice questions and 13 grid-in questions. The multiple choice questions have four possible answers; the grid-in questions are free response and require the test taker to provide an answer.
Several scores are provided to the test taker for the math test. A subscore is reported for each of three categories that include: 1) linear equations, systems of linear equations, and linear functions; 2) statistics, modeling, and problem-solving skills; and 3) non-linear expressions, radicals, exponentials and other topics of more advanced math. A test score for the math test is reported on a scale of 200 to 800.
 
Writing
Although the writing section is optional, some institutions may require an essay score. The essay score is given as a separate score that does not affect the composite score or the English section score. The writing section includes multiple choice questions and a brief essay. The essay subscore contributes about 30% to the total writing score, whereas the multiple-choice questions contribute about 70% of the total score. Essays must be in response to a given prompt that are usually about broad social issues. Students are asked to analyze three different perspectives given, and show how their opinion relates to them. No particular essay structure is required.
 
Learn more about the SAT here.

American College Testing was the original acronym for ACT and is another common computer-based (although paper versions are also available in areas where facilities are not available) standardized college entrance exam for incoming undergraduates. ACT was first administered in the late-1950’s as an alternative to the SAT exam and is usually considered to have more emphasis on science reasoning and problem-solving skills. The ACT is grown tremendously in popularity where in 2011, more students took the ACT than the SAT. Although all four-year colleges and universities in the US accepts the ACT, keep in mind that these institutions have varying policies in terms of how much emphasis they place on ACT/SAT scores, relative to other factors such as GPA, extracurricular activities, etc.
The required portion of the ACT consists of 2 hours and 55 minutes of timed testing and is divided into four multiple choice subject tests: English, mathematics, reading, and science reasoning. An optional writing test is also available and requires another 40 minutes. Subject test scores range from 1 to 36. The English, mathematics, and reading tests also have subscores ranging from 1 to 18 (the subject score is not the sum of the subscores). The composite score is the average of all four sections. In addition, students taking the optional writing test receive a writing score ranging from 1 to 36, which does not affect the composite score. The main four tests are scored individually on a scale of 1–36, and a Composite score is provided which is the whole number average of the four scores. On the ACT there is no penalty for marking incorrect answers on the multiple-choice part of the test. Among students that can retake the test, 55% improve their scores, 22% score the same, and 23% actually see their scores decrease.
 
English
The first section of the ACT is a 45-minute English section that consists of 75 questions. These questions focus on the punctuation, or mechanics such as proper sentence structure and use of commas, modifiers, colons etc. The second type of question tests your rhetorical abilities that include style, strategy/organization of ideas within a provided passage.
 
Mathematics
The second portion is a 60-minute sections that test your mathematics skills. This section is composed of 60 question that covers a wide range of topics that include pre-algebra, elementary algebra, intermediate algebra, plane geometry, coordinate geometry, and trigonometry. Calculators are permitted in this section, but there are some limitations on which type of calculators may be used. In general, calculators with highly advanced functions are not allowed.
 
Reading
The reading section is 35 minutes long and consists of 40 questions total. The questions are usually divided among four passages that have 10 questions associated each. This section is designed to probe you comprehension skills and range between testing elementary level of understanding, all the up to complex and subtle ideas presented in the passage. The passages, like the SAT tests, are provided for you in the test, and may be works of fiction, social science, humanities, and/or natural science.
 
Science Reasoning
The science reasoning test requires 35 minutes and contains 40 questions. There are seven passages each followed by five to seven questions that each test different skills such as data representation, research summary, and conflicting viewpoints. While the format of this section have been relatively over the past years; three Data Representation passages with 5 questions following each; 3 Research Summary passages with six questions each; and one Conflicting Viewpoints passage with 7 questions). Although in recent past, there have been some variability observed in the number of each passage types. These changes are hoever, not significant enough to affect the section overall.
 
Writing
The optional writing section is administered at the end of the test, and requires 40 minutes. The essay does not affect the composite score or the English section score. Essays must be in response to a given prompt that are usually about social issues. Students are asked to analyze three different perspectives given, and articulate how their own opinions relate to the perspectives that are provided. No particular essay structure is required and the score is reported as a separate writing score that does not affect your the composite score or the English section score. Each essay is assigned subscores between 1 and 6 in four different categories: Ideas and Analysis, Development and Support, Organization, Language Use and Conventions. The subscores from the two different readers are added to produce the final score that ranges between 2 to 12 in each of the four categories. Finally, these subscores are manipulated in a proprietary manner that has not been disclosed by ACT and results in a writing section score between 1 and 36.
 
Learn more about the ACT here.

The majority of colleges do not indicate a preference for the SAT or ACT exams and accept both. It is also important to note that both tests will be treated equally by most admissions officers. The ACT is more widely used in the Midwestern, Rocky Mountain, and Southern United States, whereas the SAT is more popular on the East and West coasts. Recently, however, the ACT is being used more on the East Coast. Use of the ACT by colleges has risen as a result of various criticisms of the effectiveness and fairness of the SAT. It is very important for you to evaluate the two tests to determine which one aligns more with your strengths.

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    Graduate-Level Exams

Entrance exams for master’s of PhD (doctorate) degree programs vary depending on the type of program you plan to enter. Some tests are general exams that are accepted by all graduate school programs (i.e. GRE), while others are specific to a certain type of graduate or professional school.

GMAT is a computer adaptive test (adjusting to a test taker’s level of ability) intended to assess certain analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills in English. Testing time is three and a half hours, but total time, including breaks is approximately four hours. The GMAT is used for admissions to graduate management programs, such as an MBA. The GMAT exam consists of four sections: 1) analytical writing assessment, 2) integrated reasoning section, 3) a quantitative section, and 4) a verbal section.
 
Analytical Writing Assessment
The analytical writing assessment (AWA) consists of one 30-minute writing task that involves analysis of an argument. This section tests the ability to analyze reasoning that support or detract from a given argument. The objective is to write a critique of that argument. The essay will be graded using two independent ratings that are averaged determine the final AWA score. The analytical writing assessment is scored on a scale of 0 to 6 in half-point intervals
 
Integrated Reasoning
Integrated Reasoning (IR) is a 30-minute long section that was recently introduced and its objective is to determine the ability to scrutinize data presented in various formats. The IR section consists of 12 questions in four different categories: 1) graphics interpretation, 2) two-part analysis, 3) table analysis, and 4) multi-source reasoning. IR scores range from 1 to 8.
 
Quantitative Section
The quantitative section of the GMAT seeks to measure the ability to interpret graphical data, solve quantitative problems, and analyze information given in a problem. Questions require knowledge of certain algebra, geometry, and arithmetic. The use of calculators is not allowed on the quantitative section of the GMAT. Scores range from 0 to 60. Data sufficiency is a unique question type in the GMAT. It tests your ability to discriminate between relevant or irrelevant information, as well as determine if enough information is provided to solve a problem.
 
Science Reasoning
The science reasoning test requires 35 minutes and contains 40 questions. There are seven passages each followed by five to seven questions that each test different skills such as data representation, research summary, and conflicting viewpoints. While the format of this section have been relatively over the past years; three Data Representation passages with 5 questions following each; 3 Research Summary passages with six questions each; and one Conflicting Viewpoints passage with 7 questions). Although in recent past, there have been some variability observed in the number of each passage types. These changes are hoever, not significant enough to affect the section overall.
 
Verbal Section
The verbal section of the GMAT exam includes reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. Each question is multiple choice and has five options. Verbal scores range from 0 to 60; however, scores below 9 or above 44 are rare. The reading comprehension involves passages can be anywhere from one to several paragraphs long and questions test the ability to analyze information and draw the proper conclusions. The critical reasoning questions, on the other hand, assesses reasoning skills. Lastly, the sentence correction questions test grammar and effective communication skills by asking you to select the most effective sentence structure to express the intent of the sentence.
 
Learn more about the GMAT here.

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a common standardized test that is requirement for admissions in most Graduate Schools in the United States. The GRE is administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS) whose aim with the is to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills to indicate readiness for post-graduate learning. Important skills necessary for the includes algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and vocabulary. Scores are available at the test center and you have the option of sending the scores to whichever schools you choose. The level of emphasis placed on the score (and sub-scores) of GRE in the graduate school admissions process, varies greatly between colleges/universities and between departments within these institutions; a GRE score can range from being a mere admission formality to an important selection factor.
 
Verbal Section
The verbal sections are computer-based and assesses reading critical reasoning, comprehension, and vocabulary usage. The verbal test is scored on a scale of 130-170, in 1-point increments. A typical verbal section consists of 20 questions 6 text completion, 4 sentence equivalences, and 10 critical reading questions and needs to be completed in 30 minutes. The GRE has gone through several changes, and the most recent change in 2011 include an overall reduced emphasis on vocabulary knowledge, as well as complete elimination of antonym and analogy questions. Text completions have replaced sentence completions and new multiple-choice questions related to passages were added.
 
Quantitative Section
The quantitative section is also computer-based and largely assesses high school level mathematical concepts and reasoning skills. Similar to the verbal section, the quantitative test is also scored on a scale of 130–170, in 1-point increments. In a typical examination, this section consists of 20 questions that range from 8 quantitative comparisons, 9 problem solving items, and 3 data interpretation questions. The quantitative sections are allotted 35 minutes. The most recent changes made in 2011 include the addition of numeric entry questions where the test taker fills blanks and answers multiple-choice queries.
 
Analytical Writing Section
The analytical writing section consists of two different essays, an “issue task” and an “argument task”. The essays are also written on a computer using a secure software that only allows basic functions. It is important to note that this program does not have a spell-checker or other advanced features you are used to, for example, in Microsoft word. The writing section is graded on a scale of 0–6, in half-point increments and each essay is scored by at least two readers. The scores from the different graders are then averaged to calculate your score.
 
Learn more about the GRE here.

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a half-day standardized test administered 4 times each year at designated testing centers located throughout the world. The LSAT is designed to assess reading comprehension, logical, and verbal reasoning proficiencies. The test is an integral part of the law school admission process in the United States, Canada, Australia, and a growing number of other countries. The LSAT consists of five 35-minute multiple choice followed by an unscored writing sample section. Modern tests have 99–102 scored items in total. Scores are available three-four weeks after completing the exam.
 
Learn more about the LSAT here.

The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to assess your problem solving, critical thinking, and knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. In April 2015, a new version of the MCAT exam was launced. Scores are reported in four sections: 1) Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems, 2) Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems, 3) Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior, 4) Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills. Scores are available 30-35 days after completing the exam. Almost all U.S. medical schools and many Canadian schools require you to submit MCAT exam scores. It is also important to note that many institutions do not accept MCAT exam scores that are more than three years old.
 
Learn more about the MCAT here.

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    English Language Proficiency Tests

The English Proficiency Tests are a test of general language abilities for incoming international students. Specifically, the tests are desined to assess reading, writing, and listening abilities, as well as knowledge of sentence meaning in English. It is important to note that even after admission some institutions require further testing for students to determine if they may benefit from additional English language courses.

Nearly all international students whose native language is not English need to provide a TOEFL score as proof of English proficiency for study in an US college or university. TOEFL scores are accepted at over 9,000 colleges and universities in over 130 countries, including nearly every top college/university in the U.S., Canada and Australia. TOEFL test measures receptive and expressive skills and are divided in two halves. The first half is based on reading and listening abilities testing your understanding of English, whereas 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, is approximately 3 to 4 hours long. Your TOEFL score is valid for two years.
 
Learn more about the TOEFL here.

IELTS is another test similar to TOEFL that is designed to assess the language ability of candidates who need to study or work where English is the language of communication. IELTS is recognized by universities and employers in many countries, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA. It is also recognized by professional bodies, immigration authorities and other government agencies. There are four sub-tests, or modules, to the IELTS test: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.
 
Learn more about the IELTS here.

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