Which exams do I need to take to study in the USA?

Talya Honebeek
Last Updated: 14 September 2021 • 5 min read

The USA is one of the world’s most popular study abroad destinations. 

Over a million international students choose to study in the country’s 4,300 higher education institutions every year.

Studying abroad is a life-changing experience, but from choosing where to study and what course to take, it can be a lot of hard work to organise. 

But there’s one important step that shouldn’t be left until the last minute: booking and taking entrance exams to study in the USA.

Most higher education institutions in the US require students to take at least one standardised admission test as part of the application process.

But do you know your GMAT from your TOEFL? 

Don’t worry if you don’t, because we’ve got you covered. Here are all the exams you may have to sit in order to study in the USA

Which exams do I need to study in the USA?

  1. English language entrance tests: TOEFL or PTE
  2. Entrance exams for undergraduate degrees: SAT or ACT
  3. Entrance exams for postgraduate degrees including MA and MSc: GMAT or GRE
  4. Entrance exams for MBA courses: GMAT
  5. Medicine degree entrance test: MCAT
  6. Law degree admission test: LSAT

1. English language entrance tests: TOEFL or PTE

Whether you’re looking to study an undergraduate degree in Physics or a PhD in English Literature, you’ll need to prove your English language ability to study abroad in the USA.

Generally speaking, the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) is the most widely accepted of the language-related international tests for students.

The test takes three hours to complete and generally costs around $220 depending on your location. TOEFL scores are only valid for two years after you take the test, so you need to remember to keep them up to date.

Some colleges also accept the Pearson Tests of English (PTE), so you should always check with each individual institution which English language proficiency test you will need to take.

2. Entrance exams for undergraduate degrees: SAT or ACT

If you’re hoping to study an undergraduate degree abroad in the USA, you will have to take either a Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) or American College Test (ACT).

The SAT takes up to three hours and 45 minutes to complete, and is mostly multiple-choice, assessing students on a wide range of skills over four sections: 

  • Reading 
  • Writing 
  • Calculator math
  • No calculator math


Meanwhile, despite being lesser-known in the UK, the ACT is generally the more popular of the two college entrance tests, with many institutions asking prospective students to take it. It lasts approximately three and a half hours.

Like the SAT, the ACT is multiple-choice and tests skills including:

  • Writing
  • Reading comprehension
  • Editing
  • Data analysis


Prices for the SAT test start from $52 plus individual centre fees.  ACT test is around $150. Both tests also offer an optional essay element for an additional fee.

3. Entrance exams for postgraduate degrees including MA and MSc: GMAT or GRE

The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) tests are the most commonly required standardised entrance exams for postgraduate study in the USA.

The GMAT usually costs $250 and is widely used by business schools for entry onto MBA courses. On the other hand, at $205, the GRE is more versatile, and can be used for admission to a broader range of graduate programmes.

You should always check the entry requirements for each college or graduate school carefully as some may request subject-specific GRE tests.

These more specific tests can be used for subjects such as: 

  • Maths
  • Psychology
  • Physics 
  • English Literature 


 They tend to assume you already have an undergraduate-level knowledge of your chosen subject.

4. Entrance exams for MBA courses: GMAT

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) course is one of the best all-round useful degrees, and is sure to open many doors for you in your future career.

As mentioned above, if you’re planning to take a professional master’s programme such as an MBA, you will likely need to take the GMAT test.

The three-hour GMAT test is the most widely accepted of the entrance exams for the MBA in the USA and aims to gauge your potential to succeed in an MBA or any similar graduate management programmes.

It tests candidates in four main areas: 

  • Verbal reasoning
  • Analytical writing
  • Quantitative aptitude 
  • Integrated reasoning (which you won’t find on a GRE test)

5. Medicine degree entrance test: MCAT

Of the medical entrance exams in the USA, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is most broadly used, and is required as part of the application process for almost all medical schools in America.

It costs $320 to register for the multiple-choice test, and it takes seven and a half hours to complete. If you register late, with eight days or less until the exam date, there is also an additional charge of $55.

The test is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges and aims to evaluate your critical thinking, problem solving and existing knowledge of scientific concepts across four key sections:

  • Chemical and physical foundations of biological systems
  • Psychological, social and biological foundations of behaviour
  • Biological and biochemical foundations of living systems
  • Critical analysis and reasoning skills


6. Law degree admission test: LSAT

Administered by the Law School Admission Council, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is the standardised test used as part of the admissions process for law schools across the US.

The LSAT test costs $200 and will take you three and a half hours to complete. It comprises four multiple-choice sections and a writing task, which can be completed up to eight days prior to your exam date.

It tests your reading comprehension, reasoning and analytical reasoning, and helps demonstrate your readiness for law school.

Interested in studying abroad in the USA and want to find out more about your options? Let us help you find your perfect course and university today!

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Talya Honebeek
Written By
Talya Honebeek

Talya is a part-time journalism master's student living in North Yorkshire.

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