Among the many challenges international students have to face when they decide to undertake a study program in the United States is taking international exams. ACT, SAT, TOEFL® iBT, IELTS, iTEP, GRE, GMAT: these are common acronyms to those of us who work in international education, but as a prospective international student you may feel confused when trying to decide which exams are appropriate for you to take.

To help clarify this situation here is a brief explanation of what each exam consists of and at what level of study each exam is used for.



International exams can be administered in a paper format or by computer. Computerized formats may be “computer adaptive,” meaning that the computer program chooses which questions to give you based on your previous answers, giving you more difficult questions after you get an answer right or easier questions after you get an answer wrong.  The delivery of the test depends on the test maker and the facilities available in different countries.



The ACT is a multiple-choice test that evaluates knowledge in English, mathematics, reading, and science. The ACT also offers an optional writing section. The complete test takes three and one-half hours to complete. This test is taken by American and international students to evaluate their ability to perform in a college or university program. The ACT is a computer adaptive test and is administered outside the United States several times a year. Students should access the ACT Web site for the dates and test centers in their home country.



The SAT Reasoning Test is a measure of critical thinking skills. The SAT
assesses how well a student analyzes and solves problems. It is a multiple-choice test based on knowledge and skills developed through coursework in three areas: reading, mathematics, and writing. The complete test with the variable section is four hours long. The SAT Reasoning Test is accepted by most colleges and universities at the undergraduate level. Americans and international students take the test and it is administered six times a year abroad.



The IELTS (International English Language Testing System) measures the ability to communicate in English, testing all four skills—listening, reading, writing, and speaking—as they are used in work, study, and real life. It is an exam for nonnative speakers of English and is accepted at institutions around the world.



The TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) measures the ability of nonnative speakers of English to use and understand English as it is spoken, written, and heard in college and university settings. The TOEFL Internet-based test (iBT) tests all four language skills. Nonnative speakers of English take TOEFL as a prerequisite for admission into colleges and universities at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
The primary function of iTEP (International Test of English Proficiency) is to assess the English language proficiency of learners of English as a Second Language. There are three iTEP exams available: iTEP Academic, iTEP Business, and the new high school English proficiency exam, SLATE (Secondary Level Assessment Test of English). For more information, please visit website.


The GRE (Graduate Record Examination) measures the following skills: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing. It is one of the tools used to measure a student’s ability to perform well in graduate school. It is offered for both American and international students. Currently the test is computer adaptive.



The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is an assessment tool that allows business schools to assess a student’s basic verbal, mathematical, and analytical writing skills that have been developed over a period of time. The GMAT does not assess a student’s knowledge of business. This is a computer adaptive test. Americans and international students take this test before undertaking an MBA program or other graduate management program.


From Hobsons Education Guides