Studying in America and Canada

Colleges in America and Canada typically require candidates to take one or more entrance exams. Which exam(s) you should take depends on the program of study and the college(s) to which you apply. We shall offer rule-of-thumb guidance on the entrance exam requirements for various programs of study but, as always, your prospective college is the final authority for stating its specific requirements.

The entrance exams required for studies in America and Canada are called "standardized." The reasons an exam is called standardized are:

  1. The exam is the "same," no matter where and when a candidate takes the exam. The same does not mean the same questions; the same means the same structure and content, and the same types of questions with the same level of difficulty.
  2. The score is "standardized," using a statistical basis, in that a candidateís score is assigned and interpreted as being relative to other candidates. The score offers a direct translation into the percentile form, reflecting the percentage of candidates who scored above and below a particular score.

Since the entrance exam is standardized, a candidate needs to take only one or two exams for admission to all colleges in America and Canada. This obviates the need for taking college-specific entrance exams with unique structure and content, held only on specific dates (usually once a year) and in specific locations (a handful, if you are lucky) - as is often the case in India - with candidates crisscrossing the country to take the individual exams for each target college.

The standardized entrance exams for studies in America and Canada are conducted throughout the year in dozens of countries around the world. These exams are conducted by independent private bodies, which have nothing to do with the admissions process at colleges. These private organizations are responsible strictly for administering the exam and sending your score to colleges, per your directions. They do not check your qualifications or determine your eligibility. In fact, they arenít particularly interested in your qualifications or background - so long as you follow the stated procedure and pay the fee, you can take the test. This scenario is in contrast to the eligibility requirements for entrance exams in India - for example, the GATE (Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering) - where you must meet the stated qualifications before you are allowed to take the entrance exam.

You should take the entrance exam prior to selecting target colleges, and certainly before submitting applications. Colleges do not require this; you can submit your application before taking the test. However, as explained in Chapter 3, knowing your entrance exam score would help you target colleges more effectively.

A standardized entrance exam can be a computer-based test (CBT) or a paper-based test (PBT). One format is not better or easier than the other, just the means of taking the test are different. The PBT is being phased out rapidly, in favor of the CBT. When you take a CBT, you are given instructions on how to take the test, and you are allowed to practice until you feel that you are comfortable with the system. For a CBT, you know your score immediately upon completion of the exam. You even have a choice to "cancel" the exam you have taken - prior to your score being revealed to you - if you feel you have performed poorly. Sure, you waste your fee, but your performance is not officially recorded; effectively, it is as if you never took the test. Why you might wish to do this should become clear in a moment.

Unlike the entrance exams in the India - which are typically held once a year - the standardized exams are accessible throughout the year and one can take any exam multiple times. For example, an entrance exam in the CBT form can be taken typically as often as once per calendar month. If you take an entrance exam more than once, your scores for all attempts on the entrance exam - within the past 2 to 5 years, depending on the exam - are forwarded to the schools of your choice.

Entrance exams are designed and tested statistically to ensure that the outcome is not random; that is, the test score does not change through trial and error on repeat attempts, statistically speaking, beyond a low margin of error. It means that just re-taking the exam, without improving your competence through additional learning and hard work, is unlikely to change your score. Thus you should re-take the exam only if you feel that you have substantially improved your abilities, or else you are liable to obtain a similar score. Without additional improvement, the score would simply confirm your level of competence to the prospective school. Moreover, you should note that there is no guarantee that the score would only go up on a repeat attempt; it can in fact go down.

We have come across students who ask numerous people and spend endless hours to find colleges that do not require entrance exams. We seriously question their commitment and seriousness for higher studies. It is utter nonsense to target colleges by the criterion of no entrance exam. What about learning something valuable? What about the quality of education? What about the prestige and reputation of the college? What about the prospects of employment beyond education? Remember the old Indian saying: Tea is only as sweet as the sugar you put into it.

This book is written for serious students who want to succeed not only in education, but also in life; those who are willing to do "what it takes" to be successful. We strongly recommend that you set your goals first, and then do whatever is necessary to achieve your goals, as a matter of practice for life and not only for studies. Entrance exams, you may wish to note, are a means and not an end.

You would be well advised to recognize the entrance exams as being critical to your quest for studies in America and Canada.

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