Studying in America and Canada  
4.2 Understanding the Entrance Exam Score

Obviously, the higher your score on an entrance exam, the better. The only exception is the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or similar exams, which tests your proficiency in the English language. You need only score higher than the threshold set by your prospective school; the amount by which your score exceeds the threshold is irrelevant.

As we mentioned earlier, standardized entrance exams are typically required for studies in America and Canada. We also outlined briefly the concept of standardized exams. Let us understand in more detail what it really means, through an example.

Consider the GMAT (Graduate Management Aptitude Test), a standardized exam often used for admission into the MBA program in America and Canada. The GMAT consists of two parts: Verbal and Quantitative. Each candidate is tested and evaluated on each part separately, and then a composite overall score is computed. Note that scores on individual parts are relevant and important to the selection process, and so is obviously the overall score.

A candidate in New Delhi, India takes the GMAT on October 29, 2001 and scores 650 out of 800. Another candidate takes the GMAT in Melbourne, Australia on March 25, 2001 and scores 650 as well, with identical scores on the Quantitative and Verbal parts to the candidate in India.

You can conclude from this example that:

  • Both candidates have demonstrated a similar level of competence according to the GMAT, despite having answered different questions on different days in different locations. These questions however, as mentioned earlier, are the "same" in content, structure and level of difficulty.
  • The score of 650 out of 800 on the GMAT means that the candidates in the preceding example performed at the 85th percentile level. The score of 85th percentile indicates that 85% of all candidates taking the GMAT scored below the candidates in our example (that is, below 650) and 15% of the candidates scored above the candidates in our example (that is, above 650). Note that we did not make up the percentile ranking. Translating a score into percentile ranking is based on the information provided by the examining body - it is available on the Web.

We are often asked the question: What is a good or respectable score on a particular entrance exam for a particular program of studies in America or Canada? It is an interesting, philosophical and rhetorical question, at best. Who determines what good or respectable is? Good and respectable are subjective terms in the best of contexts, and meaningless in the worst of contexts. The context of studies in America or Canada is too broad a context to be meaningful. The issue of goodness or respectability obviously relates to getting admitted to a college, in which case the respectability is determined by the college depending on how selective the college is. What may be considered respectable at a no-name school may not be considered respectable at all at a big-name school, for example.

The more relevant and important question is: Given your own score on the entrance exam, which colleges should you target to maximize your chances of being admitted and/or of securing financial assistance? The answer obviously depends - as discussed in detail in Chapter 3 - on the selectivity of various colleges. The iMahal College Finder has been designed specifically to address this question.

We can appreciate the curiosity and interest in the question of what score is good or respectable, particularly as it relates to aiming for a certain score as one prepares for the entrance exam. All one has to do is to go to the iMahal College Finder, input whatever score one likes, and see the spectrum of colleges where one might stand a chance - to a greater or lesser degree - of being admitted for that score.

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