For many would-be college students, the testing is the stiff part of the undergraduate application process.
In some countries, a single test result can be the only thing college or university officials consider when deciding whether or not to admit a student. But that is not true everywhere. Ryan Griffin, who is head of International Admissions at the University of Missouri, says that in the U.S., test scores are only part of what school officials consider.
Griffin, notes that many schools have changed their thinking about this part of the application. He says a growing number of U.S. colleges and universities let applicants choose whether or not they want to take a standardized test, such as the SAT or ACT.
The SAT and ACT are the standardized tests used for college admissions in the United States. He told VOA the University of Missouri does not require international applicants to provide results from either test.
Colleges and universities have come to recognize that tests like the SAT and the ACT usually help schools with experience in the U.S. education system. Additionally, official testing centers are available in some, but not all areas. They can be difficult to reach and costly for some applicants.
Still, Griffin says, if a student decides to apply to a school that does require a standardized test score, there is a lot to consider. Both the SAT and the ACT are divided into different parts.
Both tests have areas that measure a student’s abilities in mathematics, where they must choose the best answer to a question. Standardized tests (SAT) also require students to demonstrate their ability to understand a reading and express themselves in writing. But unlike the SAT, the ACT has a part with questions about science.
Most Americans take the SAT or ACT in the spring of their next to last year in high school. If students decide to re-take the test, Griffin suggests doing so in the autumn of their final year.
There are many test preparation books and classes available to people interested in paying for them. However, academic tests are not the only ones students from non-English speaking countries will face.
After World War II, U.S. schools needed a way of measuring the language abilities of the greatly increased number of international students entering the country. So a test of English as a foreign language – the TOEFL – was created in 1964.
Another test for non-native English speakers – the IELTS – was created in 1980. The IELTS is mainly for use by English-speaking European colleges and universities. But Mark Algren, who is the executive director of the Center for English Language Learning at the University of Missouri, says it is becoming more widely used in the United States.
Algren notes that like the SAT and ACT, the TOEFL and IELTS are similar, and schools usually prefer one over the other. It measures the student’s abilities in listening, speaking, reading, and writing in English.
Unlike traditional standardized tests, Algren suggests students not take the TOEFL or IELTS more than once. Test results are considered acceptable for up to two years, and many schools only accept the most recent score.
Algren says students should make use of Internet-based practice tests. These will help the student get used to the amount of time they have to complete these tests, and let them know where their strengths and weaknesses lie.
Both Algren and Griffin agree that honesty is important, especially in testing. Also, in the case of language testing, many U.S. schools require international students to take an additional English ability test when they arrive. This is to ensure that students are fully prepared to begin their studies.