The basics
Study abroad : Essentials

Essentials: Guide to admission tests

Which admissions test do you need to take? Read our guide to some of the most popular ones, including the GRE and SAT...


Some universities require potential applicants to not only have previous qualifications before studying, but also require them to sit tests before their course of study in order to demonstrate that they have the skills to be successful on the programme. We’ve taken a look at some of the main tests that you may have to sit before starting on your programme of study:



The Academic Technology Approval Scheme (ATAS) was introduced in 2007 with the aim to help prevent the spread of the knowledge and skills outside the UK that could be used in the development of technological weapons. The certificate is not compulsory for all courses, but is for those wishing to pursue a postgraduate course of a sensitive nature.

Without this certification, students studying such sensitive courses are not able to get a student visa. You should check in advance whether your university requires you to have this specific test before your programme commences.



The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is an entry level exam that needs to be sat before being granted a place on a prestigious medical course. The test challenges the essential skills required by candidates wishing to study medicine. The test is split into four sections; physical sciences, verbal reasoning, biology and the trial section.



The United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) is an examination for a medical licence in the USA and Canada. It assess the doctor’s ability to apply knowledge learn from their medical degree to real-life situations that play a vital role in the maintenance of health and prevention of diseases.

The process is split into 3 stages. Step one assesses the individual’s knowledge of science and the basic practice of medicine; the second stage examines the applicants abilities to interact with patients; and the final stages assess whether the medical science and patient care can be combined to give professional medical treatment.



The Law Schools Admission Test (LSAT) is a half-day test required by American and Canadian Law Schools as well as other prestigious establishments across the world. It tests reading and verbal reasoning skills, all of which are essential to those wishing to pursue a career in law.

The test consists of many multiple choice questions that test a potential student’s reading, analytical and logical reasoning. It is advised that students sit the LSAT test in the June or September before your course of study, although it can be taken up until the December before the first term starts.



The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a computer-based test that is used by business schools to test the suitability of potential postgraduates candidate. Programmes that use this method of assessment include MBAs, Accountancy, Finance and Management.

The examination consists of four sections: the quantitative section, which measures candidates abilities to think logically; the verbal section assessing candidate’s abilities to process and understand verbal and written material; the intergraded reasoning section which measures the test taker’s ability to evaluate data presented in a number of formats; and a more analytical writing assessment.



The Graduate Records Examination (GRE) cover many different subject areas. While most candidates will take the General test, some postgraduate programmes will require students to take a GRE test in a specific area. This particular examination is a requirement for many graduate schools in English-speaking countries.

The test is split into three sections: the verbal section, the quantitative section and the analytic writing section. Initially the test was created in 1949 by the Educational Testing Service, but in 2011 was overhauled.



The Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) is a standardised test for students wishing to be admitted to colleges in the USA. The test measures the different aspects of a potential candidate’s intellect through the completion of three different sections of the test. The critical reading section consists of reading passages and answering questions upon those specific passages and there is also a mathematical and a creative writing aspect to the course.



The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) test is an examination to identify the key qualities required by those wishing to study as a pharmacist. There are six different sections of the test that identify six different criteria that should be present in a pharmacy candidate: verbal ability biological knowledge, reading comprehension, quantative ability, chemistry and an essay writing section which will focus on a topic that involves a health, science or political issue.



The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) test is required for international graduates looking for occupational nursing work in the USA as part of their programme. In order to be eligible to sit this specific test, students must have completed sufficient classroom instruction and training and be looking to practice their trade in the USA.



The National Board of Dental Examination (NBDE) refers to the examination sat by students looking to pursue a course in Dentistry in the USA. The test is split into three section; Part 1, Part 2 and a dental hygiene section all of which deal with different aspects of dentistry. The first part of the examination contains more than 400 multiple choice questions on microbiology, dentistry and embryology whereas part two is a more vocational assessment taking place over 2 days.



The American College Testing (ACT) is a standardised test for high school students and those seeking college admissions students in the more well-known SAT test. Although while all universities and colleges accept the ACT qualification, other factors (such as extra-curricular activities) are taken to consideration.

The test is split into five sections: English, Maths, Reading, Science Reasoning and Writing.



The Cambridge Advanced Exam (CAE) is a test that demonstrates a student’s ability to speak English to a high enough level so as to understand any potential course content taught in English. The exam consists of five different papers: a reading paper, a writing paper, a use of English paper (testing grammar and vocabulary), a learning test and a speaking test. The exam is accepted by over 13,000 universities, employers and governments across the world.



The Pearson Test of English (PTE) is a test that demonstrates language proficiency and to fairly assess the learner’s ability to communicate in English. The test is recognised across the world in countries such as Australia, the USA and the UK. The PTE test consists of two parts: a written paper and spoken work which establishes the level of candidate’s listening, speaking, writing and reading skills.


Still not sure what tests you need to take to study abroad? Read our guide to what test you need to take so you know what you need to prepare for.



Read more:

Now you know more about the aptitude and admissions tests, get to grips with the IELTS and TOEFL tests


Search for a course

Choose a country
Study level*
About Author

Paul Ellett is the editor for Hotcourses Abroad. His role is to plan, produce and share editorial, videos, infographics, eBooks and any other content to inform prospective and current international students about their study abroad experience. When he's not thinking about student visas in Sweden and application deadlines, Paul is an avid fan of comedy podcasts and Nicolas Cage films.