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The basics
THE USA: Applying to University

Which tests do I take to study in the USA?

Which language and admissions tests should you expect to take if you want to study in America? Read our comprehensive guide, weighing the pros and cons of the IELTS, TOEFL, SAT and ACT tests...

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There are many things to consider when applying to study in the US. While the visa application process can be quite involved with many compulsory parts to it (overall it is quite fixed), you may find that you have some choice when it comes to the admissions and language tests which you are required to take. 

Read on to find out which tests you must take, which you can choose from, and what you can expect from them...


Which language test do I take, TOEFL or IELTS?

First check what test your university specifically asks you to take to get onto your course. If you have a choice, then great! There are a few differences between TOEFL and IELTS tests. For instance, TOEFL is based more on American English, so it might make more sense to take this one if you are planning to study in the US; there may be more of an emphasis on aspects of the language which you’ll encounter while you’re studying. Then again the format of the tests may also play a role. Either way, always confirm what your university accepts (including what score you must achieve) as ultimately this is all that matters.

You can read more about the IELTS test here.



Which undergraduate admissions test do I take, SAT or ACT?

For all undergraduate courses, you’ll be required to take either the SAT Reasoning or ACT test. Depending on your strengths and the university you’re applying to, one may be more beneficial than the other. The more popular, higher-ranking institutions may instead ask students to take the SAT Reasoning Test along with a few SAT Subject Exams, or the ACT with Writing. Read more about the differences between the two:



Full name: SAT Reasoning Test

Duration: 3 hours 45 mins

No. of sections: 3 (Critical Reading, Maths and Writing)

Extra requirements for competitive universities: 2-3 SAT Subject tests. These last one hour each and are multiple choice. You can choose from around ten, depending on your strengths, what you’re currently studying or what may be especially relevant to the course you’re applying to study (e.g. Literature, Chemistry, Biology, Mathematics Level 1 and 2 etc). Also, there are two types of language tests including French, Chinese, Italian and German.

Can I take all the SAT components on the same date? No

Fees: Reasoning Test, $85 approx; First Subject Test, $50; Each additional Subject Test, $13; Each Language Test, $24.

I should take this if I...:

  • have a strong vocabulary
  • am not very good at Science
  • work better with smaller sections at a time
  • work well with complicated questions (and how they are worded)

Read our full guide to the SAT



Full name:  American College Test

Duration: 2 hours 55 mins

No. of sections: 4 (English, Mathematics, Reading and Science)

Extra requirements for competitive universities: ACT with Writing (extra half an hour at the end)

Can I take all the ACT components on the same date? Yes

Fees: ACT Test, $70 approx; Writing section, $16.

I should take this if I...:

  • prefer questions which are worded simply
  • am strong at science
  • am good at Trigonometry
  • want my composite score to be taken into consideration, more than each individual section



Which graduate admissions test do I take? 

Depending on the subject you wish to study, you’ll have be required to take a specific admissions test for graduate programmes (i.e. you have already studied at undergraduate level). These are usually for demanding and competitive areas at schools which specialise in these fields, such as Medical schools (MCAT) and Law schools (LSAT).



Previously all graduate programmes required students to take the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) while only MBA programmes further requested the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test). In recent years however, more Business schools are increasingly accepting just the GRE. Always confirm with your chosen university though which they accept, and act accordingly.



Full name: Graduate Record Examinations

No. of sections: 3 (Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical Writing)

Extra requirements for competitive universities: Subject Tests (similar to SAT Subject Tests)

Fees: $175

I should take this if I...:

  • prefer a paper-based exam
  • am strong at vocabulary



Full name: Graduate Management Admissions Test

No. of sections: 4 (Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative and Verbal)

Fees: $250

I should take this if I...:

  • have good grammar
  • have strong logic and reasoning skills



If you've found the perfect course already, you can apply now through us. If you haven't, search for courses in the US now.


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Top tips on how to apply to universities in the USA

The application system for universities in America is unique in several ways and can be quite hard to grasp. But don’t worry, we’ve spoken to international students and professionals from within the industry, to give you all the information you need. After reading this, you’ll know everything about how to put together the best application to universities, so that you can make your dream of a study abroad adventure in America finally come true!