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Standardized Tests: The Overview

Standardized tests are not something most people look forward to, but like it or not, they are an important part of your education. There are many different types of standardized tests and it is necessary to take the right ones in order to qualify for entrance into many colleges, universities and grad schools. This guide will give you an overview of the different types of standardized tests and who needs to take them.


High School Equivalency Exams


The GED test is designed to serve as an alternative to a complete high school education for people who are 18 years old and older. The test has five main sections covering the following topics: writing, reading, social studies, science and mathematics. Take this test if you have not graduated from high school and you do not want to go back to finish your high school education.


College Admissions Tests

The SAT vs. the ACT

Both the SAT and ACT are tests used by college administrators to determine who is a good candidate for their school. The SAT has three main sections: reading, writing and mathematics. The ACT has four main sections: English, reading, mathematics and science. The best way to determine which of these tests you should take is to find out which one the college you want to attend asks for. However, some colleges do not specify which test they want you to take. In this case, you should choose based on your strengths. Take the SAT test if you have good problem solving and general thinking skills. Take the ACT test if you are strong overall in all of the following subjects: English, reading, mathematics and science.


SAT Subject

SAT subject tests focus on particular subjects. The subject tests fall into one of five main categories: English, science, mathematics, history, and foreign languages. The college you are applying to may require that you take certain SAT subject tests. However, even if your college does not require that you take SAT subject tests, taking them may look good on your college application. You should take the SAT subject tests in the subjects that the college requires. If the college does not require SAT subject tests, consider taking the tests in the subjects that you have been strongest in throughout your school career.


College Equivalency Tests


If you take AP (Advanced Placement) classes in high school, you can take an AP exam, which would give you college credits for the AP class (at some colleges and universities). There are AP courses and exams on 34 different subjects. Passing AP exams in one or more subjects not only counts as college credit, but it can also make your college admissions applications stand out above your competition.



If you are in the International Baccalaureate Program (an advanced high school program), you must  take six IB exams to get your International Baccalaureate Program diploma. Many colleges and universities will grant up to one year of college credits for an International Baccalaureate Program diploma. The six IB exams fall into the following categories: literature, foreign language, social science, experimental science, math, and arts. If you only took some IB classes and IB exams, a college may still grant you some college credits.



CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) exams are tests that you can take to earn some college credits without attending classes, which can cut down on the time and money you spend earning your college degree. Check with your school to see if they accept the CLEP in lieu of coursework. There are 33 different CLEP exams, which fall into the five following subject areas: history and social sciences; composition and literature; science and mathematics; business; and world languages.


Graduate School Admissions Exams


Most grad schools require that you take the GRE or GMAT before you apply for admission. To decide which test you should take, you should find out which test the schools you are applying to require. Some schools will accept either test, but generally the GRE is for admission to graduate school and the GMAT is for admission to business school.

The GRE revised General Test has three sections with varied question formats: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. The GMAT has four main sections, which cover analytical writing, integrated reasoning, verbal and quantitative skills.

If the grad schools you are applying to allow you to take either the GRE or GMAT, choose the test based on your strengths. The GRE focuses more on vocabulary and logical reasoning. The GMAT focuses more on mathematics and analytical thinking.



The LSAT is the Law School Admission Test. You only need to take this test if you are trying to get into a law school. The LSAT has five sections made up of multiple-choice questions (only 4 are graded): analytical reasoning (1 section), reasoning comprehension (1 section), logical reasoning (2 sections) and an experimental section that does not count towards your score (1 section). The final section on the test is a timed writing sample, which gets sent to the law schools you apply to, but is not scored.



The MCAT is the Medical College Admission Test. You only need to take this test if you are trying to get into medical school. The MCAT has four sections covering the following topics: biological and biochemical foundations of living systems; chemical and physical foundations of biological systems; psycological, social and biological foundations of behavior; and critical analysis and reasoning skills

No matter which test you are taking, you should study and take practice tests beforehand because your scores play a big factor in whether a school will admit you or not. College admissions as well as grad school admissions can be highly competitive and many schools have minimum scores that they will accept. Take your tests as early as possible. This way, if you score poorly, you will have the time to retake the test again, in an attempt to raise your score.