Structure of the U.S. Education System: Standardized Tests
Standardized tests are scientifically normed and machine-graded instruments administered to students and adults under controlled conditions to assess capabilities, including knowledge, cognitive skills and abilities, and aptitude. They are used extensively in the U.S. education system at all levels to assist with admissions, placement, and counseling decisions. Some of these tests include a written portion that is hand-graded.
Some of the more common standardized tests that international students may encounter are described below.
Secondary Level Aptitude Tests
Secondary School Admission Test (SSAT) is an aptitude test frequently administered to students applying to private secondary schools and some public secondary schools. It measures verbal, reading, and quantitative skills and also includes a writing sample.
Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT) is a voluntary test given to secondary school students in year 10 or 11 to assist them in preparing for the SAT and to qualify for national merit scholarships. It measures reading, writing, and mathematical problem-solving skills.
English Language Proficiency Tests
Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is a proficiency test designed to measure knowledge and skill in understanding and using written English. It is required of international students whose native language or previous language of instruction was not English, and some U.S. institutions will accept TOEFL scores in lieu of other test scores.
Undergraduate (First Degree) Aptitude Tests
American College Testing Program (ACT) is an aptitude test administered to secondary students in years 11 or 12, and adults, to help determine capability for postsecondary study. It includes measurements of reading, mathematics, English language and science skills and an optional writing sample. Also provided are secondary subject grade reports and a student interests inventory.
Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is an aptitude test administered to secondary students in years 11 or 12, and to some adult students, to help determine capability for postsecondary study. It is divided into two parts, the SAT Reasoning Test measuring reading, writing and quantitative skills; and the SAT Subject Tests measuring knowledge and reasoning ability in various subjects.
First Professional Degree Aptitude Tests
NOTE: The former Veterinary College Admission Test (VCAT) is no longer administered. Applicants to veterinary medicine programs must now take the GRE (see below) and/or TOEFL (see above). No specific test is required for admission to first professional degree programs in chiropractic. Applicants to pre-ordination programs in theology take whatever test is required by the admitting seminary.
Dental Admission Test (DAT) is a knowledge and aptitude test administered to students seeking to enter accredited first professional degree programs in dentistry. The DAT measures knowledge and skills in biology, general and organic chemistry, and quantitative methods plus skills in reading and spatial perception and coordination.
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is an aptitude test administered to holders of a bachelor’s degree seeking to enroll in accredited graduate programs in business administration and management. The GMAT measures analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills.
Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is an aptitude test administered to students seeking to enter accredited first professional degree programs in law. The LSAT measures reading and verbal reasoning skills.
Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is a knowledge and aptitude test administered to students seeking to enter accredited first professional degree programs in allopathic medicine, osteopathic medicine, and podiatric medicine. The MCAT measures knowledge and skills in the biological sciences, physical sciences and verbal reasoning plus requires a writing sample.
Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is a knowledge and aptitude test administered to students seeking to enter accredited first professional degree programs in optometry. The OAT measures competence and skills in reading, quantitative methods, physics, biology, and general and organic chemistry.
Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) is a knowledge and aptitude test administered to students seeking to enter accredited first professional degree programs in pharmacy. It measures verbal, written, and quantitative abilities plus knowledge of biology and chemistry. The PCAT can be required of secondary students, students enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs, or bachelor’s degree holders depending on the nature of the program and institutional requirements.
Graduate Studies Aptitude Tests
Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is an aptitude test administered to holders of the bachelor’s degree to help determine capability for advanced study and research. It is divided into two parts, the GRE General Test measuring verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills; and the GRE Subject Tests which measure knowledge in selected subjects.
Miller Analogies Test (MAT) is an aptitude test consisting of a series of partial analogies that must be completed in a set time frame. The MAT measures idea relationships, English fluency, and content skills in the humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and mathematics. It is accepted in some programs as a substitute for the GRE.
Reprinted with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education.
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