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Top Entrance exams for overseas study

Top Entrance exams for overseas study | Education Abroad

Overseas education is gaining a lot of prominence and it caters to students of varied academic backgrounds and interests. However, there are certain prerequisites that need to be met in order to gain admission into an overseas university. Top Entrance exams for overseas study

Top entrance exams: Top Entrance exams for overseas study

Some of the most popular and important international entrance exams include the GRE, GMAT, SAT, TOEFL, IELTS and PTE.  Students may be required to give a combination of one or more exams which may be unique to that country and its education system.

Given below is a brief introduction to the various entrance exams and respective paper formats:

  1. GRE: Top Entrance exams for overseas study

The Graduate Record Examination, a standardized test, is a prerequisite for gaining admission into a majority of graduate schools in the United States.  It was created as well as administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in 1949. GRE aims to test verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills of students that have been developed over a period of time. Students who wish to pursue a master’s degree or want to study a specialized master’s course; MBA, MEM, MS or a doctoral degree can give the GRE Test. The computer-based GRE revised General Test consists of five sections. The first section of the test is the analytical writing section which consists of Issue and Argument tasks. The other five sections have two verbal reasoning sections, two quantitative reasoning sections, and either an experimental or a research section.

  1. GMAT: Top Entrance exams for overseas study

The Graduate Management Admission Test, commonly known as the GMAT, is a computer-based examination used to measure skills that are necessary for the study of management. Its duration is 3½-hours, and it is designed to predict how students will perform academically in MBA programs. Based on the GMAT scores, graduate business schools make admission decisions. Several schools require GMAT scores from applicants, therefore preparing well for the test is important. The GMAT score is vital as it can be the deciding factor regarding acceptance or rejection to a program. The GMAT tests four major skills: analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and integrated reasoning.  These skills are analyzed through four sections namely:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment (one writing task, duration-30 minutes)
  2. Integrated Reasoning section (12 multiple-choice questions, duration-30 minutes)
  3. Quantitative section (37 multiple-choice questions, duration- 75 minutes)
  4. Verbal section (41 multiple-choice questions, duration-75 minutes)

A separate score and percentile rank are provided for all the exam sections mentioned above.

  1. SAT: Top Entrance exams for overseas study

The SAT is a standardized and general test of verbal and quantitative reasoning which is required by many US colleges and universities as part of their admission process. Originally, it was called the Scholastic Aptitude Test, and now it is known as SAT. The duration of the test is three hours, and it measures the verbal and mathematical reasoning skills that students have developed over time. Many colleges and universities use the SAT as one of the admission criteria among others such as class rank, GPA, participation in extracurricular activities, personal essay and letters of recommendation.

SAT consists of two different examinations:

  • The SAT Reasoning Test (Earlier known as SAT I)
  • The SAT Subject Test (Earlier known as SAT II)

The SAT Reasoning Test is a three-hour and forty-five-minute test which comprises of three sections: Critical Reading, Math, and Writing. This test is designed to measure critical thinking and analytical skills. The SAT Subject Tests are a series of one-hour multiple-choice tests in subjects such as Literature, US and World History, Mathematics, Biology, Chemistry, and Physics.

  1. TOEFL: Top Entrance exams for overseas study

Students who wish to study abroad in an English-speaking country are required to take a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). It assesses your ability to speak and understand English by analyzing your English skills in terms of reading, speaking, listening and writing. It evaluates how well you combine these skills to perform academic tasks. TOEFL is accepted as proof of English proficiency in 9,000 colleges, and it is conducted more than 50 times in a year by Educational Testing Service (ETS) – a US-based non-profit organization. TOEFL has two versions: TOEFL iBT (Internet-based Test) and TOEFL PBT (paper-based test). Both the versions of TOEFL test has four sections- Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing and takes about 4-hours to complete. Students can retake the TOEFL test as many times as they wish. It uses both human raters and automated scoring methods for evaluating a student’s performance.

  1. IELTS:

The International English language testing system (IELTS) is a popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. Its objective is to assess the ability and preparedness of students who wish to study or train in a foreign country. IELTS assesses the test takers English skills with respect to reading, writing, listening and speaking. It is accepted by over 9,000 organizations worldwide, including schools, universities, immigration authorities and professional bodies.

The two versions of IELTS are- the Academic IELTS and the General Training IELTS. The Academic IELTS is usually for people who wish to study abroad, and the General Training IELTS is usually for people want to follow a non-academic course or for immigration. The duration of IELTS exam is 2 hours and 45 minutes, and it consists of four sections which test the candidates listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

  1. PTE:

PTE Academic (The Pearson Test of English) is a computer- based English language test designed to assess the readiness and ability of non-native English speakers to participate in a university-level program which is taught in English. PTE focuses on real-life English used in academic surroundings. PTE Academic assesses listening, reading, speaking and writing skills. PTE is accepted by thousands of universities worldwide, including prestigious institutions such as Harvard Business School, INSEAD and Yale. In the three-hour test, there are three main sections- Writing coupled with speaking, listening skills and reading. There are twenty different types of question formats, ranging from multiple choice questions to essay writing and information interpretation.


TOEFL scores are accepted by a majority of universities in the US, Canada, UK, Australia and New Zealand. The IELTS is mandatory for Indian and other non-native English speakers, especially in the Commonwealth countries. The PTE is accepted by several institutions in the UK, Australia, USA, Canada, New Zealand and Ireland including Harvard, Yale and INSEAD.

While TOEFL and IELTS are more well-known, there are other tests like PTE, which is relatively new. All the three tests have a few characteristics that make them unique, but they also share a few similarities. The three tests have similar sections such as- Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing, but they differ when it comes to assessing the speaking skills, scoring and evaluation criterion and format of the writing section. Unlike IELTS and TOEFL, PTE has several innovative question formats.


The GRE is another examination which Indian students must give if they wish to study in the USA or Canada. It measures the verbal, mathematical and analytical skills of the student. It is a prerequisite for gaining admission into many graduate courses, particularly for engineering and the science field in USA. Students who wish to specialize in management courses (like MBA) must take the GMAT, which is an admission requirement for business schools in US and UK.

To sum it up, these top international entrance exams are a standard as well as reliable mode for assessing a large number of applicants who aspire to study abroad. Therefore, students must plan in advance and prepare well in order to get high scores in these exams and gain admission into the university of their choice.



One of the most important criteria for students who wish to pursue their further studies at an English-speaking university abroad is proficiency in English Language. Taking English Language Proficiency tests is essential for students from countries like India, where English is not the first language. The Proficiency of international students in English Language is assessed through certain popular standardized tests such as TOEFL, IELTS and the relatively new PTE. Due to the availability of so many options, students often get confused as to which test they should choose. Hence a comparative analysis of TOEFL, IELTS and PTE will enable students to understand all the aspects of these tests and make the right decision. TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE

About the tests: TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE

TOEFL– The Test of English Language as a Foreign Language, popularly known as TOEFL, measures a student’s ability to use and understand English. It tests how well a student can combine the listening, reading, speaking and writing skills while performing academic tasks. TOEFL is the trademark of ETS and it is older than IELTS and PTE.

IELTS– The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) is a standardized English Language Proficiency Test, which is one of the most popular tests taken by students who wish to study abroad. It is owned by British Council, IDP, IELTS Australia and Cambridge English Language Assessment.

 PTE– The PTE (Pearson Test of English) was launched in 2009. It assesses the English language skills of non-native English speakers. PTE is accredited by the QCA and is managed by Edexcel, which is UK’s largest examining body.

Test Versions: TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE

TOEFL consists of TOEFL PBT (TOEFL Paper-based Test) and TOEFL iBT (TOEFL Internet-based Test).  IELTS has two versions: Academic and General Training and PTE has three versions: Academic, General and Young Learner Test.  The Academic version is for students who wish to secure an admission into a university whereas the General version is for non-academic purposes. The PTE Young Learner Test aims to assess how well children can use language structures and communicate.

Basic information about tests: TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE

  • TOEFL has both paper-based and Internet-based tests, but the internet based test is more popular. Although a student can retake the test unlimited number of times, he cannot take it more than once in a 12-day period. TOEFL scores are accepted by around 8,500 colleges and other institutions in approximately 130 countries. Students can register for the test either online or by mail, phone or in person. While registering online, by phone or in person, registration closes seven days before the test date and while registering by mail, registration closes four weeks before the test date.
  • Around 8,000 organizations accept IELTS scores as evidence of English language proficiency. IELTS is conducted on 48 fixed dates, the IELTS Academic Version being available on all 48 dates and the IELTS General Training Version being available on only 24 dates. Students can register for the test either online or via mail.
  • Since PTE is a relatively new test, the number of students giving this test and the number of universities accepting it might be lower than that of TOEFL and IELTS however, PTE Academic scores are accepted by top US and UK universities as well as certain government organizations. The PTE Academic test is conducted in a number of test centres across 46 countries. Students can register for the test either online or via phone.

 Test Sections: TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE

All the three tests have similar sections- Reading, Listening, Speaking and Writing, however, there are certain features which differentiate them from one another.

In IELTS, during the speaking test, students are required to conduct a conversation with a certified IELTS Examiner, which is then recorded into a digital recorder. Whereas in TOEFL and PTE Academic, students are required to speak into a microphone and the computer records the audio. In TOEFL, the Speaking test is evaluated by a human rater, while in PTE, the Speaking test is evaluated through a computer program. In TOEFL, during the writing section, students are required to write an essay based on reading and listening tasks. They are also required to support an opinion in writing. In IELTS Academic, questions are asked based on an argument or on a diagram, graph or chart. PTE includes a lot of innovative question formats, and it has an automated speech and writing scoring as well.

 Scoring: TOEFL vs IELTS vs PTE

All the three tests have different scoring patterns. In TOEFL, scores are given to students on a scale of 0 to 120. In IELTS, students are given scores from 1 to 9 based on their performance and in PTE, students are assessed on a scale of 10 to 90.


Students receive the TOEFL score reports within two weeks, and IELTS score reports after 13 calendar days. In the case of PTE, students receive their results online in five days. If students have taken TOEFL and IELTS, then their scores are forwarded to 4-5 universities respectively for free. If students take PTE, their score reports as well as recorded speech samples are sent to the university’s admission committee. However, the TOEFL, IELTS and PTE Academic scores are valid for two years.




The International English language testing system (IELTS) is a popular English language proficiency test for higher education and global migration. IELTS assesses the test taker’s English skills with respect to reading, writing, listening and speaking. It is accepted by over 9,000 organisations worldwide, including schools, universities, immigration authorities and professional bodies. IELTS – TEST FORMAT AND SCORING

The two versions of IELTS are – the Academic IELTS and the General Training IELTS. The Academic IELTS is for people who wish to study abroad and the General Training IELTS is  for people who want to follow a non-academic course or for immigration purposes.


The duration of IELTS exam is 2 hours and 45 minutes, and it consists of four sections, which tests the candidate’s listening, reading, writing and speaking skills.

  1. The Listening Test: IELTS – TEST FORMAT AND SCORING

In the listening test, students have to listen to a pre-recorded passage. This test is the same for both the IELTS versions – Academic as well as General Training. The duration of the test is approximately 30 minutes and students are allowed an extra 10 minutes to write their answers in the answer sheet provided.

 The IELTS Listening test assesses a wide range of listening skills, including how well the students –

  • understand the main ideas as well as the specific information
  • recognize the opinions, attitudes and purpose of a speaker
  • follow the development of an argument

The IELTS Listening test has four sections, wherein students answer questions based on –

  1. A conversation between two people.
  2. A monologue set in an everyday situation.
  3. A conversation between some people set in an educational or training context.
  4. A monologue on an academic subject.

However, each section can only be heard once.


40 questions are asked in this test, and students may have to answer multiple choice questions, fill in the blanks, complete a table or a flow chart or give short answers.


Every correct answer is awarded one mark. The scores out of a total of 40 are then converted into the IELTS 9-band scale.

  1. The Reading Test:

Students are required to read three different passages and answer questions based on them. The content of the Reading test is different for IELTS Academic and IELTS General Training tests. The duration for this test is 60 minutes.

The Reading test assesses a wide range of reading skills, including how well a student can –

  • Read and obtain a general sense of a passage along with the details and main ideas.
  • Understand inferences and implied meaning
  • Recognize a writer’s opinions, attitudes and purpose
  • Follow the development of an argument

The IELTS Academic Reading test has three sections, and each one contains one long text, which is taken from books, magazines or newspapers. The text might be accompanied by diagrams, graphs or illustrations, and students are expected to understand both.


40 questions are asked in this test and students may be asked to answer multiple choice questions, fill gaps in a passage of written text or a table, complete sentences or give short answers to open questions.


Every correct answer is awarded one mark. The scores out of a total of 40 are then converted into the IELTS 9-band scale.

  1. The Writing Test:

The writing test is designed to assess a wide range of writing skills, including how well a student can organize ideas, write meaningful and relevant answers, and use a range of vocabulary with grammatical accuracy. The duration of the Writing test is 60 minutes.

The writing test has two tasks, wherein students will be asked to write at least 150 words for the first task and at least 250 words for the second one. In the first task, students will be presented with a graph, table, chart or diagram and they have to describe, summarize or explain it in their own words. In the second task, they have to write an essay based on a point of view, argument or problem.


The scoring for the Writing test is done by a certified IELTS examiner. The scores are reported in whole and half bands.

  1. The Speaking Test:

In this test, students have to talk to a certified examiner. The test is interactive and as close to a real-life situation as possible. The test is recorded and a variety of accents may be used. The content of the Speaking Test is the same for both the IELTS test versions. The Speaking test takes 11-14 minutes.

The Speaking test assesses a wide range of skills. The objective of this test is to see how well students can –

  • Express opinions and communicate information on everyday topics by answering a range of questions.
  • Speak on a given topic using appropriate language
  • Express ideas coherently and justify their opinions
  • Analyze and discuss issues.

The Speaking test has three sections:

Part 1– In this section, the examiner will introduce himself and ask the student to introduce himself and confirm his identity. The examiner then asks general questions about the student’s family, work, studies and interests. The duration is 4-5 minutes.

Part 2– In this section, the examiner gives a task card and asks the student to talk about a particular topic, giving him one minute to prepare notes. Then the student will be asked to talk for 1-2 minutes on the topic and the examiner will ask a few questions on the same topic.

Part 3– In this section, the examiner will ask the student further questions, which are connected to the topic of Part 2. The questions are designed to give the student an opportunity to discuss more abstract issues and ideas.


Certified IELTS examiners assess the students’ performance in this test. Students will be marked on the following four criteria –

  • Fluency and coherence
  • Lexical resource
  • Grammar
  • Pronunciation

The scores are then reported in the form of a 9 band scale.

Cost of IELTS:

The IELTS test fees vary from country to country, but it is the same for both the versions of the test (Academic and General Training).

IELTS Test Day:

Students can apply to take the IELTS exam at any IELTS Administration Centre. They must ensure that they have the right ID with them. If they bring the wrong ID, they will not be allowed to take the test. Students must carry two recent identical passport-sized photographs as well. Only a pen or pencil, eraser and the ID will be allowed in the exam centre.

Understanding IELTS Scores:

Students receive a score for each test component – Listening, Reading, Writing and Speaking. The individual scores are then averaged and rounded to produce an Overall Band Score. IELTS is scored on a nine-band scale; wherein each band signifies a student’s competence in the English language. The overall band scores are then reported to the nearest half band. This means that the score is rounded up to the next half band if it ends in .25 and it is rounded up to the next whole band if it ends in .75.Students must note that most of the ivy league colleges in  U.S. require a minimum score of around 7.0.

IELTS Results:

IELTS test results are provided 13 calendar days after the test date. An Overall Band Score from 1-9, along with a band score for each of the 4 sections of the test is provided.

If a student has nominated institutions to provide copies of the IELTS test results during registration, then the results will be sent automatically on his behalf. Students must note that the Test Report Forms will be valid for two years only.

If a student wishes to take the exam again, he does not have to wait for any mandatory period to elapse in order to re-take the exam. Also, there is no limit to the number of times a student can give the IELTS exam.

If a student is not happy with his result, he can apply for a re-examination, which is known as an Enquiry on Results, within six weeks of the test date. However, he will have to pay an enquiry fee, which will be fully refunded if the band score is changed post the re-examination.



TOEFL Vs IELTS – Which one is better for me?

Effective communication in English involves much more than understanding grammatical conventions. The education system in most western countries is highly collaborative and research oriented.  Therefore, students are required to understand the contextual and colloquial usage of English. This is why most acclaimed universities expect students to have a strong command over the communicative aspects of English.  Being able to express your ideas cogently in succinct language is a sought after skill.  Moreover, the ability to read, comprehend and respond to huge volumes of library reference material ensures a student’s success in academic and research undertakings.  Hence higher education aspirants from countries where English is not the first language need to exhibit required proficiency in English in order to become a part of an international classroom setting. TOEFL vs IELTS

On this account, the two standardized English language testing systems, which are widely accepted in most of the foreign universities i.e. IELTS (International English Language Testing Service) and TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) are sought out by students and professionals alike. The IELTS and TOEFL are similar in many ways. Both IELTS and TOEFL gauge the student’s skills in the four linguistic competencies — Reading, Speaking, Listening and Writing.  Both are widely accepted all over the world. So the on-going debate of which test to take has become a moot point amongst aspirants. TOEFL vs IELTS

Simplifying the matter, the choice between TOEFL and IELTS depends on the following criteria:

  1. a) Your destination
  2. b) Your purpose
  3. c) Your specific strengths and weaknesses

Firstly, if you are going to the US or Canada for higher education, then TOEFL should emerge as your first choice.  The reason for this is pretty simple. TOEFL is administered by ETS (English testing service) and lays special emphasis on  testing a student’s understanding of US English, specifically in an academic context. For instance, the audio recordings in TOEFL listening section are mostly in the North American accent. The TOEFL integrated writing and integrated speaking sections test how well a student can grasp and work within the usage of English in an academic setting. So performing well in TOEFL would not only clear your pathway to a top school in US or Canada, it would also boost your confidence in your ability to communicate well in US English and to be able to flourish specifically in the US or Canadian Academic environment. TOEFL vs IELTS

However, if you are headed for UK or Australia for higher education, you might want to consider taking IELTS instead of TOEFL. Again, the reason is closely related to the test content. IELTS is jointly conducted by the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, British council and IDP Education Australia.  It predominantly focuses on testing a student’s understanding of UK English. The listening section consists of audio clips that are in Australian, UK or other European accents. TOEFL vs IELTS

Furthermore, The IELTS proves to be the correct choice for those who wish to immigrate permanently to Canada, Australia and any European country via the direct work permit route. The IELTS- General Training is designed especially for such candidates. The questions in IELTS General training test are more relevant to everyday social interactions. They focus on ‘Social Survival’, ‘Workplace Survival’ and ‘General Reading’. Thus, such students, whose prime focus is immigration may find IELTS more suitable for developing ‘social’ linguistic skills as opposed to TOEFL which might be more useful for developing skills required to adapt to an ‘academic’ setting.

Apart from these major factors, the following minor considerations in terms of format may also help you make the right choice.

  1. The primary difference between IELTS and TOEFL lies in the way speaking capabilities are tested. IELTS requires you to speak to a human voice, and there is a real time communication happening between the examiner and the examinee. TOEFL necessitates you answer into a microphone and the conversation is recorded and subsequently reviewed by a panel of examiners. So if you prefer actual conversation instead of speaking to a computer then you should choose IELTS. Moreover, students who face speaking challenges such as stammering or stuttering may choose IELTS.  Since the IELTS speaking test is a face to face conversation, the speaking disability would most probably be noticed and accounted for. In TOEFL test however, the student’s speaking challenge may go unnoticed and be considered as a skill related problem.
  2. TOEFL questions are all multiple choice questions, whereas IELTS has various types of questions like sentence completion, true or false, match the following etc. While some may find the TOEFL monotonous, others may like it specifically because they don’t have to worry about different question types.
  3. Time taken for TOEFL exam is close to four hours, and IELTS takes two hours 45 minutes. While the duration of the test is in no way indicative of its level of toughness, students with weaknesses in particular skill- sets may benefit from choosing a particular test over the other.  For example, if a student has problems reading huge passages in quick succession and cannot sustain interest for a long time, the IELTS test might be a good choice for him/her.  The TOEFL reading section may require him to read a 4th passage while the IELTS academic reading test contains only 3 passages.

To conclude, whether you should take TOEFL or IELTS is mostly a matter of opinion and individual preference. While TOEFL is more popular in North American countries, IELTS has wider acceptance globally especially in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.  You must do a thorough research on the testing requirements of the universities you intent to attend. While some may accept both, others may give preference to one over the other. It is always a good idea to get a clear picture before you seal your decision. TOEFL vs IELTS

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