What is a College Entrance Exam?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 March 2020
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A college entrance exam is a test administered by an institution of higher learning or outside agency, either to determine admission status or to rank already admitted students. These tests may be general knowledge exams or may only cover specific subjects, such as law or medicine. Depending on both the college and the region, a college entrance exam may be mandatory for all students, mandatory for certain majors, or not required at all.

Some college entrance exams are given while students are still in secondary school. These are typically general tests that rate a student's level of comprehension and ability on subjects such as math, reading, writing, and foreign languages. Many colleges require incoming students at the first year level to submit scores from this type of college entrance exam; students transferring from another university, or those who have attended community college and are transferring to a university as upperclassmen, may be exempt from this requirement.


In different regions, a college entrance exam may have different weight on admission opportunities. In the United States, entrance exams typically only make up one part of an admission packet, with significant weight also given to factors such as personal essays, high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, and special talents. In China, all students who want to attend college must take the National College Entrance Exam; scores on this exam are considered to be the primary factor in determining admission. Rare exemptions may be made for students with exceptional athletic or academic abilities.

A college entrance exam may also be administered for students pursuing certain types of degree. These exams are more typically reserved for graduate studies, and are not required for all graduate majors. Students intending to study law, medicine, and education are likely to have to take a test as part of their admission process. Some universities also require a general graduate level exam that is to be taken by all students. Specialty schools, such as graduate art, theater, or film schools, may require portfolios of work from students as an alternative to taking a standardized college entrance exam.

Many students spend weeks or months preparing to take a college entrance exam. In many cases, performance on the examination can affect acceptance chances to top universities, making it very important to do well. Private tutoring, preparatory classes, and study groups are all common ways to boost efficiency of preparation and improve performance on the exam. Practice tests and study booklets are often available in college bookstores and through online merchants, and can also help a student prepare for the types of questions that will appear on the test.



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