If you are applying for college in the US this year, you should have already taken some of the required standardized tests, such as the SAT, ACT and/or SATII. If you have not, you still have time. In addition, some colleges in the US as well as Canada, Australia, UK may require you to give an English language exam – either TOEFL, IELTS or PTE. Here is some help to demystify this alphabet soup of required tests.
First off, the TOEFL, IELTS and PTE all test listening, reading, writing and speaking skills in English. Sometimes if you have studied in an English medium school, the test will be waived. An important difference to note is that TOEFL is an American English-based exam, while IELTS and PTE are UK English. If you feel more familiar with UK English take this into consideration when deciding which one to choose. Furthermore, each college is different so it is important to check specific admissions requirements to find out whether you need to take the test and if so which one.
The SAT, administered by The College Board, is a standardized test that is required by most colleges in the US. There are three sections on this exam: math, reading and writing. Each section is scored from 200-800. The maximum total score on the SAT is 2400. Colleges use these scores to uniformly assess students who come from diverse educational backgrounds. There are different ways to prepare for these exams; private tutors, tuition classes at institutes and organizations such as Kaplan and Princeton review, as well as books with practice tests. It is important to prepare for the exam according to the testing format because the material is not difficult, as such, but the format is unique and the test prep guides offer strategies for getting through the questions. Most of the students I have worked with cite taking multiple online practice tests with The College Board as the best way to prepare.
The SAT II is another test administered by The College Board and tests knowledge and skills in 20 advanced subjects. The SAT II is also scored on a 200-800 scale per subject but the tests are only required by a handful of competitive colleges, which require two subject test results. The choice of which subjects take depends on the program to which you are applying. For example engineering students are advised to take Math 2 and Physics or Chemistry to show their preparedness for college level engineering courses. Because the subject matter of these tests is quite specific, sometimes giving the exam at the same time you are studying the subject in school is recommended, e.g. if you are studying higher level physics, you should take the exam while the material is fresh in your mind.
Finally, taking the SAT more than once allows you to “super score” your attempts. Basically some colleges allow you to take your best scores from any SAT attempt to get a higher total. So if the first time you take the test you score 600 math, 550 reading and 570 writing your total score is 1720, but if you take it again and score 550 math, 620 reading and 600 writing, your score for that sitting is 1770, but your Super Score is 1820 (600 math from first attempts, and 620 reading and 600 writing from second attempt). This can go on to third and fourth attempt as well. But before wearing yourself out at the testing center, make sure that the college you are applying to actually accept super scores.
Test administration information can be found on these sites.
SAT & SAT II: http://www.collegeboard.org/