A great many students today are exploring study abroad options where the primary motivations are the quality of education, the course availability of choice, post work permits, gaining an international work exposure and immigration opportunities amongst others.

These could be the most exciting time for students and as well the most stressful considering that the entire process right from identifying a course of study in a specific international university or higher education institute to the various documentation process involved can get quite tedious. Another aspect is the preparation for various “standardized” tests to be eligible for getting into the institution & course the student aspires for.

The education system relies on various specialized or standardized tests, which students must take in order to apply to a particular university or program either Bachelors or Masters. These exams offer universities a common basis for comparison of applicants.

These standardized test scores are amongst the most important factors considered in admissions and when not required, submitting a score still helps gain admission. It can even assist students’ get merit based scholarships – which is pretty cool considering the cost of international learning.

For the benefit of students, here is an overview of the top international tests. Official sites for these tests have most of the other information needed as well.


IELTS stands for International English Language Testing Service. IELTS is a standardized test to measure the language proficiency and is required by higher education institutions and various programs in UK, Australia, Canada & New Zealand. IELTS measures ability to communicate in English across all four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking – for people who intend to study or work in environments where English is the main form of communication

“For me, taking the IELTS was really fun because it wasn’t as stressful as all the other exams that I had to appear for. The examiners were incredibly nice and almost made it feel like a casual coffee-table chat.” -Ananya Panwar, GD Goenka World School.

IELTS is recognized by more than 10,000 universities, schools, employers and immigration bodies, including all universities in Australia and the UK and many of the leading institutions in the USA. Over three million people take the test annually in more than 140 countries and in over a 1,000 locations.

“IELTS was easy for me because I am inherently good in learning languages, but I know some people struggled with it even though they took classes, and scored much lower. My advice would be tp keep trying (and learning), and above all, don’t treat it like a subject you learn only for tests, you have to actually like and use it for you to get better (much faster) in English.” – Peter Richie Putra, Bina Nusantara University, Jakarta

IELTS has four parts – Listening (30 minutes), Reading (60 minutes), Writing (60 minutes) and Speaking (11–14 minutes). The total test time is 2 hours and 45 minutes. The Listening, Reading and Writing tests are done in one sitting. You have the choice of taking IELTS on paper or on computer & your IELTS score is valid for 2 years.


TOEFL stands for Test of English as a Foreign Language. International students whose native language is not English need to provide a TOEFL score as proof of English proficiency for university study. A few immigration departments use the score to issue residential and work visas as well.

“So I gave the TOEFL  test last December, as it was a pre-requisite to apply to these universities in US and Canada. I did not really “practice” or “prepare” anything, What i did do, however, was go over the basic layout of the exam. Like I got to know what type and how many questions there were and a basic guide on how to approach them” – Kanupriya Singh, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi.

More than 10,000 universities and other institutions in over 150 countries accept the TOEFL scores including the top 100 in the US. More than 35 million people from all over the world have taken the TOEFL test to demonstrate their English-language proficiency.

“It’s an accurate assessment of the language skills that a student would need in an academic environment.” -Pramay Rai, University of Edinburgh.

The TOEFL test measures receptive and expressive skills equally: half of the total score on the test is based on reading and listening abilities (how well students receive and understand English) and the other half is based on speaking and writing abilities (how well students express themselves). At a minimum, the TOEFL test will last 3 hours and 10 minutes. At maximum, it will take 4 hours and 20 minutes. The length varies because the Reading section can take from 60 to 100 minutes, and the Listening section ranges from 60 to 90 minutes. The exam is computer based and your TOEFL score is valid for two years.


The Pearson Test of English or the PTE Academic, is a computer-based academic English language test aimed at non-native English speakers wanting to study abroad. It tests Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking.

PTE Academic is accepted by thousands of universities worldwide, including prestigious institutions such as Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Yale. PTE Academic is also accepted for visa purposes by the Australian and New Zealand governments.

There are many things that distinguish PTE Academic from its close competitors – IELTS and TOEFL. The first and foremost distinguishing aspect of the same is the scoring pattern and the results. As the tests are completely computerized, the results are declared much quicker, typically in 5 business days. This makes it aptly suited for students who are in a bit of a rush.

“The questions are mostly straight through and there are hardly any tricky questions, which is one of the main reasons for it to be easy to crack. In my view that’s how it should be as the test is supposed to gauge your English ability. Only difficulty is in writing where you have to come up with 250-300 words essay within 20 minutes and at times you might even be asked to write two 20 minute essays.” – Phanindra Inala, Student

The three-hour long computer-based test focusses on day to day English rather than high-level English language and tests a student on his/her ability to effectively understand the language as spoken daily.

The questions often test 2 skills together, such as listening and reading or reading and speaking. The whole test is done in a single session, lasting 3 hours and is taken sitting at a computer in a secure test environment. The speaking part of the exam is done at the computer. Your voice is recorded and sent for marking. PTE Academic scores are valid for up to two years from the date of the exam.


GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. GMAT exam is intended to assess analytical writing and problem-solving abilities with logic and critical reasoning skills that are important in real-world business and management success.

The GMAT exam is an important part of the admissions process for more than 6,900 graduate management programs worldwide in more than 2,100 institutions and universities located in 114 countries. An estimated 250,000 prospective business school students take the GMAT exams each year.

“The more I didn’t care about time, the better I could focus on the questions and get the correct answer. Just try not to freak out during the test because once you lose your calm, confidence and focus, you will eventually lose your scores too. Overall, a good score on GMAT can get you an Ivy League college and ultimately, a very well-paying job. So, I am not going to say it’s easy, but it’s definitely not too hard too.” – Varun Bose, student at Pathways International

A 3½ hour computerized exam, the GMAT tests analytical writing skills, quantitative skills and verbal skills (reading comprehension, sentence correction and critical reasoning) through 78 multiple choice questions and two analytical essays. Your GMAT score is valid for five years.

Both Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and GMAT can be used for taking admission in management schools, so one has to look into the intricacies of both the exams to see which is more suitable for the candidate. One can even convert their GRE score to GMAT online through
Educational Testing Service (ETS), if need be.


GRE stands for General Records Examinations. Prospective graduate and business school applicants from all around the world take the GRE General Test. There are two types of the test: General Test and Subject Tests. General Test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and critical thinking and analytical writing skills, whereas Subject Tests measure students’ knowledge and skills on 8 specific subjects.  .

As the most widely accepted admissions test for graduate and business school programs, GRE scores are used for admissions decisions for all types of Master’s, MBA, specialized Masters in Business, and Doctoral programs as well as for awarding Fellowships. The test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills. These skills closely align with the types of skills that are required for success in today’s demanding graduate and business school programs. The computer-delivered format is approximately 3 hours and 45 minutes in length.

“English is the toughest part of GRE, whereas maths can be easily tackled. A score above 320 will guarantee you a good college.” -Sumedha Mohanty, VIT University.

The GRE Subject Tests measure undergraduate achievement in specific fields of study and are intended for students who have an undergraduate major or extensive background in one of seven disciplines. The paper-delivered Subject Tests are approximately 2 hours and 45 minutes in length. GRE scores are valid for 5 years.


SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Tests and Scholastic Assessment Tests to assess a student’s academic readiness for college to enroll in under-graduation courses by testing the student’s knowledge of reading, writing and mathematics. The SAT entrance exam is used by most colleges and universities in the US, Canada, as well as other countries to select students for admissions to undergraduate courses.

“It’s actually just the critical reading part of SAT that messes its reputation (and you) up. SAT is almost always a perfect example of how karma works; you get the score you worked for (if you’re not Einstein, that is). So, after taking it, all you can do is hope for the best and be prepared for the rest! And just to end it on an optimistic note, your SAT score does not define you! (But it does define your college apps so better work for a good score anyway)” – Aratrika Bose, student at Pathways International

There are two types of the exam SAT Reasoning Test and SAT Subject Tests. The Reasoning Test measures critical reading, math, and writing, whereas the Subject Test measures knowledge and skills of specific subjects. The latter is required just for specific programs and courses. Over 2 million students from 175 countries take the SAT every year. The SAT clocks in at 3 hours (3 hours and 15 minutes with breaks). And if you choose to sign up for the optional essay, the SAT takes 3 hours and 50 minutes to complete (or 4 hours, 5 minutes with breaks). Your SAT scores are valid for 5 years.


The ACT is an internationally administered, standardized test that helps universities to evaluate candidates for undergraduate study. The ACT comprises four subject areas — English, mathematics, reading, and science and includes an optional essay. More than 1.8 million students took the ACT exam last year, making the ACT one of the most-taken university entrance exams on par with SAT.

“I’ve given the ACT and SAT both. According to what I’ve observed and seen, I feel that Indian students having a better understanding of mathematics, logical reasoning and science find the ACT to be easier, whereas some who have really a good hold of English and aren’t that good in mathematics find SAT to be easier. Though there exist exceptions, but on a general note more Indians tend toward giving the ACT due to a bit easier English in it than that in the SAT.”- Shrey Shah, applying for US under-grad studies.

Administered both as a computer based test and in paper-and-pencil, the ACT lasts 2 hours and 55 minutes (excluding the Writing Test) or 3 hours and 25 minutes (including the Writing Test). ACT scores are valid for 5 years, from the date that they are taken.

ACT’s principles and research are highly regarded in the industry. International students would be well served in taking this exam as all four year colleges and universities in the US, and many outside of the US, accept ACT scores as an indication of a student’s academic performance.

Standardized Tests You Should Take To Be Successful With Your Admissions

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