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The basics
THE USA: Applying to University

US Admissions tests: A complete international student guide

Studying at a university in the USA may require you to take an admissions test. There are many out there and you need to choose the right one for you. Our guide provides an overview of the main tests out there.

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Admissions tests and entrance exams mean the same thing, and universities use both terms. To study at either the undergraduate or postgraduate level in the USA, you will find that the entry requirements for the course you’re interested in include both an English language test result and an admissions test. Here we give you an overview of the different tests available at the various study levels. 


Overview of US admissions tests

Several admissions tests help you gain entry into a course at a university in the USA. Here we have summarised them as follows:


English Language Tests

There are a few tests that are accepted by the majority of institutions in the US such as IELTS, PTE Academic and TOEFL (iBT). Here we focus on the main two:


  • IELTS - International English Language Testing System
  • TOEFL (iBT) – Test of English as a Foreign Language


To understand the differences between the two tests please read – IELTS vs. TOEFL: Which should you take?


Undergraduate Admissions Tests

  • SAT – a globally recognised college admission test
  • ACT – an entrance test accepted and recognised by all four-year programmes in US colleges and universities.

Many students in the US take both the SAT and ACT to increase their chances of getting good scores. 



For all undergraduate courses, you need to take either the SAT or the ACT. Both tests are designed to show how ready you are for university education. They both test a student’s critical thinking and analytical skills. 


Read more about the differences between the two:






180 mins

215 mins



Writing & Language



(optional essay and subject tests are no longer available)




Essay (optional)

Number of questions

Reading – 52

Writing & Language - 44

Math - 58

Essay (optional) - 1

English - 75

Math - 60
Reading - 35

Science - 35

Essay (optional) - 1

Average time per question

Over a minute per question

Under a minute per question

Take this test if you:

Have strong vocabulary

Good at complicated questions

Not very good at science

Work better with small sections


Prefer simply worded questions

Strong at science

Good at Trigonometry

Prefer overall score to be more important than individual scores for each section.


Range from 400 -1600

Range from 1 - 36


It’s best to take a full practice test for each of the exams to help decide which one suits you better.


Postgraduate Admissions Tests

Below you will find the main entrance exams required for postgraduate studies in the US:


  • GRE – General Test is accepted by many graduate schools in the US and Canada. Students may also be asked to take a GRE Subject Test, which assesses technical knowledge in specific subjects.
  • GMAT – Graduate Management Admissions Test – An admissions test for graduate management and/or business programs (like an MBA). 
  • LSAT – Law School Admission Test 
  • MCAT – Medical College Admission Test
  • DAT – Dental Admission Test
  • PCAT – Pharmacy College Admission Test
  • OAT – Optometry Admission Test


As with all courses, the advice is to check the entry requirements of the course you’re interested in directly with the university. 



The table below gives a general overview of the two tests:






3 hours 45 mins

3 hours 7 mins

Skills assessed

Verbal reasoning

Quantitative reasoning

Critical thinking

Analytical writing


Analytical writing

Data sufficiency


Critical thinking

Integrated reasoning

Sections & number of questions

Verbal Reasoning - 40

Quantitative Reasoning - 40

Analytical Writing – 2 tasks

Verbal Reasoning - 36

Quantitative Reasoning - 31

Integrated Reasoning - 12

Analytical Writing Assessment – 1



Range from 130 – 170 for Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning

Range from 0-6 for Analytical Writing

Overall scores range from 200-800 points

Quantitative section range from 6-51 points

Verbal section range from 6-51 points

Analytical Writing Assessment ranged from 0-6 points

Integrated Reasoning range from 1-8 points


China USD 231.30

India USD 228

Rest of World USD 220

Fees are different in different parts of the world.

Range from USD 250 - USD 300


GRE General Test scores are accepted by thousands of graduate schools which include business and law schools. You can check which institutions accept a GRE score on the ETS GRE website. Check which Law Schools and MBA programs accept a GRE score. There are also subject-specific tests in Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics and Psychology. Subject tests are offered three times a year and are paper-based. The GRE General Test is offered at test centres around the world and can be taken online at home also. 



The GMAT exam ‘is used by more than 2,400 institutions and universities globally.’ It was ‘designed by business schools for business schools and is offered both online and at test centres worldwide. The Quantitative and Verbal Reasoning questions are adaptive which means that a student’s answer to one question determines the difficulty of the next question. 



Universities do not prefer one test or the other. For example, the Stanford Graduate School of Business states: ‘We have no preference for one test over the other. If you take both exams, you may provide both scores.’ MIT Sloan School also states: 'We have no preference between the two exams, and you are welcome to submit either exam. We also accept both in-person and online GMAT and GRE scores.' When deciding which admissions tests to take, it’s advisable to do your research and find the test that best suits your academic style and needs.

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