Tests: TOEFL and SAT
TOEFL and SAT scores strongly influence your chances to be admitted into an education program at a U.S. college or university. For the majority of colleges this is the major selection criterion applied to students’ applications. Moreover, many U.S. colleges introduce their own minimum scores an applicant must demonstrate to be admitted into their education programs (more information can be found on our pages "High Education in the U.S." and "U.S. Universities and Colleges").
Almost all of the U.S. colleges and universities require foreign students to provide TOEFL test scores. Depending on a college, SAT I or SAT II test results may also be required. [The most prestigious colleges usually request SAT II test scores.]
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores are always required to apply to any U.S. graduate program. This test is designed to evaluate your proficiency in English necessary to successfully graduate from a U.S. college.
TOEFL consists of 4 parts as follows.
1) Listening, which is designed to test understanding of spoken English.
2) Structure: it tests understanding of the English grammar.
3) Reading, which is designed to test understanding of written English.
4) Writing, which tests student’s ability to write in English.
By its nature, TOEFL is a multiple choice test. During a given time span of the test a student must answer questions choosing one out of 4 provided answers. There exist two versions of TOEFL: Paper-Based Test (PBT), when the test is written on paper, and Computer-Based Test (CBT) that is taken using software and facilities provided by a number of special testing centers. РВТ and СВТ have different point scales and maximum possible scores.
The major difference between PBT and CBT is that in the case of PBT points for the Writing part are not included in the total score (point count). Thus, students who are not fluent in English or are slow typists may prefer PBT TOEFL. The CBT TOEFL also has a somewhat specific layout where the first 4 to 5 questions are more important than the rest, and are specifically pre-selected by software. Thus, for every correctly answered question a student gets more difficult subsequent question. Correspondingly, the student’s total rating increases. Therefore, when you submit correct answers to the first 4 to 5 questions, your total point count becomes very high, so that even some erroneous answers thereafter do not impact the total score too much.
Results of SAT I (Reasoning Test) and SAT II (Subject Test) are required by many U.S. colleges from both American and foreign applicants. These tests are designed to evaluate a general level of academic preparation of students.
SAT I is a 3-hour test that consists of 7 sections split in two parts: Verbal (proficiency in English) and Mathematical. One of 7 sections is not graded, but a student does not know which one. That section is included for research purposes. The Verbal part is a source of many problems for foreign students, because it is designed with a native English speaker in mind. Foreign students should carefully prepare for this part of the test. Fortunately, many colleges do not pay much attention to low scores for the SAT I Verbal part if a student achieves a high TOEFL score. In contrast, the Math part of SAT I is not a problem for students from Russia, China, India or Europe, as it features very basic math tasks. The only source of difficulties when taking the Math part may be unfamiliarity with math terminology in English. Thus, in the course of preparation to the Math part of SAT I students are advised to memorize mathematical terms in English.
SAT II is a subject test. A student must choose 3 subjects (disciplines) out of a suggested list of subjects, and take the test as applied to the selected subjects only. Each subject testing has to be finished within 1 hour, totaling to 3 hours for the entire test. It is recommended to choose Writing Test and Math Test (at the highest complexity level you can handle) as subjects, because the majority of U.S. colleges that require SAT II test scores expect students to submit scores for those two sections. The third subject can be selected arbitrary, according to your wish. The test SAT II is more demanding than SAT I, but many U.S. colleges do not require SAT II scores. Nevertheless, the most prestigious U.S. colleges prefer SAT II scores to SAT I scores. PermaNature/SciTechLab recommends applicants to check with U.S. colleges of interest before taking SAT I and SAT II tests: many U.S. colleges do not require SAT I and SAT II scores from foreign students graduated from Russian, Chinese, Indian and European universities.
Test Information Bulletins
Once a student decided what tests he/she must take, it’s best to order the corresponding test Information Bulletins. They are free, contain detailed information about the test, and include so-called Test Scheduling Form. In order to be registered for the test, you have to (1) complete the form and (2) submit it on line, or to the electronic or street address provided in the form.
TOEFL Information Bulletin can be ordered electronically either from www.ets.org/toefl or firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, TOEFL Information Bulletin can be downloaded from this website, and the Registration Form completed and submitted online.
SAT Registration Bulletins can be ordered from a regional office of ACCELS (American Council for Collaboration in Education and Language Study), www.americancouncils.org. A list of regional offices of this organization and other important information may be found on http://sat.collegeboard.org/. Alternatively, SAT Registration Bulletins may be found on http://sat.collegeboard.org/ website, and the Registration Form completed and submitted online. It is important to include in your order a request for free preparation material (or download it from http://sat.collegeboard.org/ website). Free Preparation Material booklet contains advice on how to prepare to the test and a free example of a completed test.
You will have to pay testing fees for taking the above tests. The fees also include free mailing of your official test scores to 4 colleges/universities of your choice. You can provide the selected colleges’ names and addresses either in the Test Scheduling Form, or at the time of testing.
After reading a test Information Bulletin you have an opportunity to select a date and time to take the test at your convenience. [Again, you can do it submitting your Registration Forms online through the tests’ webpages mentioned above.] All possible dates/times are usually listed in the Bulletin. Make sure you have at least 2 to 3 weeks between different tests to prepare to each test.
1. TOEFL PBT is offered only 4 times a year (check them with www.ets.org/toefl). Thus, if you wish to take it in fall, you have to complete and submit your Test Scheduling Form before mid-August.
2. TOEFL СBT is offered 2 times a week, so you can take it almost any time.
3. SAT is offered 6 times a year. If you included a language subject in SAT II, check with the Registration Bulletin and the website http://sat.collegeboard.org/ to find out possible test dates/times, because such tests are offered not as often as other SAT tests.
You have to pay for taking TOEFL and SAT tests. TOEFL fees include free mailing of your TOEFL test scores to 4 colleges/universities of your choice. TOEFL Information Bulletin and www.ets.org/toefl describe many options you can chose from to pay the fees, such as electronic money transfer, credit cards, cashier check, etc.
How to Prepare for a Test
Usually one cannot learn English or mathematics in a month or so. Therefore, you may only take the tests when you feel proficient in the test subjects. However, it is always advisable to refresh your knowledge before taking tests, even in the case you speak fluent English and win top places in mathematical competitions.
It is important to familiarize yourself with a test you plan to take paying attention to its structure and types of tasks. The best way to prepare for a test is to find available test samples offered in previous years (available as small books or on the tests websites) and to take them in comfort of your home or online. The more tests you solve, the better is your preparation for the test. If you do not have funds to purchase test sample books, your may visit one of Resource or Information Centers existing in every town and borrow test samples from them. Yet another option is to contact http://sat.collegeboard.org/ and ask to e-mail you test samples, or direct to their webpages with the test samples.
Taking the Tests
Be sure to have with you all documents required to take the test. A list of such documents is provided in the Information Bulletin you can find on the tests’ webpages. If you did not provide in your Test Scheduling Form information on the names and addresses of the colleges to where your official test scores must be sent, you have to provide that information at the test time. Read carefully the “Test Day” section in the Information Bulletin or test website.
More information can be found on our pages "High Education in the U.S." and "U.S. Universities and Colleges".
This article uses information found in U.S. media and internet