A guide to standardised tests for college admissions (Part 1)

A guide to standardised tests for college admissions

Breaking down the what, why, when and how of the most popular tests for undergraduate admissions

Tests are to students what tournaments are to sports people. Your performance in these tests become your credentials when you apply to college. If you’re eyeing a college abroad for your undergraduate studies, you might need to tackle a few standardized tests along the way.

Crucial tests for admissions to universities in the US are SAT and ACT.


These two crucial standardised tests for U.S. college admissions are offered in fall (August), winter (December), spring (March), and summer (May and June) to assess readiness for higher education. The best time to take these depends on individual readiness and application timelines. Taking it early allows for retakes, but some may prefer to prepare and give it one strong shot.

The SAT focuses on reasoning, while the ACT emphasises curriculum-based knowledge. SAT scores range from 400 to 1600, with separate scores for reading/writing (out of 800) and Math (out of 800). The ACT includes English, Math, Reading, and Science sections, with scores ranging from one to 36 per section and a composite score calculated from the four. Both hold equal weightage so students can choose according to their strengths.

During the pandemic, many colleges made these optional to promote fairness in admissions, recognising that standardised tests may not fully represent a student’s potential or background. However, they remained a vital factor for competitive college admissions and scholarships. This year, many universities are making SAT/ACT compulsory again. Brown, MIT, Dartmouth, Georgetown, Yale, and Purdue will reinstate test requirements. The University of California colleges (UCs) remain test-blind. More colleges may declare such a change in the months to come.

Indian private colleges like Ashoka, FLAME, and Plaksha also consider these tests for undergraduate admissions.

Most Indians are requires to take IELTS, TOEFL and DuoLingo

English proficiency tests

Most Indian students may be required to take language proficiency tests such as the IELTS, TOEFL, and DuoLingo, to demonstrate their reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills to universities abroad, including the U.K., U.S., Canada, and Singapore. CBSE and ICSE students with scores of 85% and above in English language or IBDP students with scores of five and above may be exempt from these tests. However, it is always good to have a score handy for ease of application and for cisa applications.

The TSA is an important test for Social Sciences at Oxford university


The Thinking Skills Assessment (TSA) is an important test for Social Sciences courses at Oxford such as Experimental Psychology, Human Sciences, Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Psychology, Philosophy and Linguistics, Economics and Management or History and Economics. UCL, too, uses a version of this for some Social Sciences courses. TSA/TST (Thinking Skills Test) evaluate critical thinking and problem-solving through a 90-minute multiple-choice section and a 30-minute essay section. Typically taken in the final year of high school, the TSA is more about applying logic rather than demonstrating skills and requires targeted prep. Based on the Classes 9-10 syllabus, the questions can be tricky and designed to demonstrate clear thinking and logic, rather than knowledge.

Mathematics Admission Test are subject specific for Mathematics, Computer science and Economics


The Mathematics Admissions Test and Test of Mathematics for University Admission are subject specific for admissions to Mathematics, Computer Science and Economics degrees at the University of Cambridge and Oxford. Typically taken in late October or early November, it evaluates mathematical aptitude beyond the standard curriculum with two three-hour papers, including multiple-choice and essay sections.

LNAT is essential for law degrees at leading universities like Oxbridge, LSE, Durham, and Kings.


The National Admissions Test for Law is essential for law degrees at leading U.K. universities like Oxbridge, LSE, Durham, and Kings. This two-hour computer-based test comprises MCQs and essay sections that evaluate comprehension, verbal reasoning, and argumentative skills. While only one attempt is allowed in the cycle you are applying in i.e. after September of the application year, students should attempt it in the previous cycle i.e. till July, to assess their level and prepare accordingly.

Clinical Aptitude test and Biomedical Admissions Test are vital for admission


The University Clinical Aptitude Test and Biomedical Admissions Test are vital for admission into undergraduate medicine and related courses in the U.K. The UCAT evaluates cognitive abilities through multiple-choice questions, while the BMAT assesses scientific knowledge, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills. Typically taken in the final year of secondary school or during a gap year, the UCAT is administered between July and October, while the BMAT is offered twice a year, usually in September and November. Many Universities are transitioning from BMAT to UCAT, with the final decision pending.

Advanced Placement tests help showcase academic rigour in college applications


AP (Advanced Placement) tests help showcase academic rigour in college applications, particularly for Indian students from CBSE, ISC and State Boards, as they assess college-level proficiency across subjects from Math to Humanities. Administered annually in May, registration is through authorised high schools listed on the College Board website. AP exams are tough. Ideally a student should work with a tutor since one has to score above three on a five-point scale. High scores may also bring credits that allow you to reduce your load during college or reduce the time you take to complete your degree.

Thorough preparation and understanding of each test’s format and requirements are key. Choose your challenges carefully and plan your calendar starting from Class 11 so that you approach them with confidence.

The writer is Founder and CEO, Inomi Learning, a Gurugram-based career and college guidance firm. info@inomi.in

The original article was first published in ‘The Hindu’ on March 16th, 2024.

With inputs from Anjana Anand, Principal Counsellor at Inomi Learning.