Successful passage of the entrance exams to institutions of higher education in different countries of the world can play a decisive role in the admission process. It is not accidental that the first question of those who are going to enter the United States is the following: “Which exam do I need to pass to enter any U.S. institution?” It is impossible to give a single answer to such a general question without knowing anything about the person asking it. It depends on dozens of reasons: the type and selectivity of the chosen HIEs, financial situation, as well as the current policy regarding entrance requirements adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic. Let us discuss what kind of entrance exams are in the USA for high school students, how the attitude towards them is changing now, and how different universities evaluate students upon admission in general. I want to present the information in five frequently asked questions on the topic.
What are the main entrance exams in the U.S.?
In the USA, there are several standardized exams (TOEFL, IELTS, Duolingo, SAT general, ACT, SAT subjects, etc.) that are usually required by universities from students applying for undergraduate programs. The first three ones listed test the English language ability of international students while the last three ones could be essential for both domestic and international applicants assessing problem-solving and analytical skills. SAT subject tests are designed to measure knowledge in 20 different subjects from 5 areas. Both SAT general and SAT subject tests are offered in paper and pencil format, while others are computer-based tests. Interestingly, all these exams have a long history and have changed many times. SAT is the oldest exam (1926), and Duolingo is the most recent one (2011).
What are other admission tests I could come across when browsing university websites, and should I consider them as well?
What are some important things I need to take into consideration regarding entrance exams to American universities?
Each exam is unique, but here are some tips and comments related to all of them:
- The exams are not easy and preparation for them requires a lot of work. The training should be systematic. It is important to practice regularly.
- Do not be surprised that preparing for them will take much longer than you expected.
- The prevailing opinion that foreigners are not able to receive high scores is not true. Every year we see students who were able to pass tests very close to maximum scores.
- Typically, international students score very high on math sections and struggle coping verbal ones.
- On the internet you will find a lot of free preparation materials, but remember that the organizations that develop these exams, as a rule, offer sample tests available at their respective websites.
Are there any changes in entrance exam requirements caused by the situation with COVID-19?
It is the prerogative of colleges and universities themselves to determine the required number of exams. Almost all institutes of higher education ask candidates to provide exams checking English language abilities, while others also request SAT or ACT scores. As a rule, the more prestigious a university is, the more exams one has to pass. There has always been a group of test-optional schools. The list of them is available on the https://www.fairtest.org/university/optional website. What happened in the era of COVID? Many testing centers did not open, and hundreds of thousands of applicants failed to pass exams. The universities responded to these circumstances by removing or reducing the number of required exams. Even such well-known universities, like Harvard (https://college.harvard.edu/admissions/apply/first-year-applicants), Yale (https://admissions.yale.edu/instructions), and Princeton (https://admission.princeton.edu/how-apply/standardized-testing), as well as other big-name schools, announced the suspension of examinations claiming that the lack of exams would not affect the decision-making process. Testing organizations have also adopted their policies to new realities (i.e. the ETS began offering TOEFL home-edition.) Duolingo, which has always offered an online version, increased traction. Meanwhile, it is hard to advise on whether students should take entrance exams or not when they are not required to do so. It is a very individual question, and the answer depends on the candidate’s portfolio and school selectivity. If you have prepared very well and scored very high on them, they will help you to stand out from the crowd and prepare you for study at college.
What are other examples of schools checking and evaluating knowledge at admission?
Some universities have chosen a completely different philosophy in their admissions process and Minerva (https://www.minerva.kgi.edu/admissions/admissions-process/) is one of those examples. This school developed its own three-part, merit-based admissions process during which applicants are supposed to tell Minerva about themselves, provide evidence of past and current academic performance, as well as a set of accomplishments that indicate areas of excellence and interest beyond grades. In addition, prospective students are presented with a series of engaging challenges that are offered in a timed, online-proctored format designed to measure how they think.
New York University (https://www.nyu.edu/admissions/undergraduate-admissions/how-to-apply/standardized-tests.html) is another example of schools with a nontraditional approach towards the admission process. It has one of the most flexible testing policies of any U.S. institutes of higher education, offering seven options of college or university tests and test combinations. NYU has a special international qualification tool that helps determine which national exams are acceptable for admission (https://www.nyu.edu/admissions/undergraduate-admissions/how-to-apply/standardized-tests/national-examinations.html).
Natalia Rozanova, Senior Adviser EducationUSA Russia.
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