What Test Do I Take? A Guide to the Testing Acronyms

The world of academia can be a confusing one – especially for new students. Deciding which test is right for you is a hassle in itself, but determining what test is meant to be taken at what time, what test measures what subject, and so on, can be quite complex.

To choose the test that is right for you, you’ll probably have to do a little extra reading. However, having a basic understanding of the types of tests and their names will at least start you down the right path. Here is a guide to the testing acronyms to help you decide which test you should take – and when.


ACT stands for American College Test, and it is meant to establish whether a high school student is equipped to enter college-level courses. Usually taken in a student’s junior or senior year, the ACT is required for admission to many colleges.


The SAT is the Scholastic Achievement Test and serves a purpose similar to that of the ACT. It also measures college readiness and is taken during the junior or senior year.  You may also hear the PSAT referenced. As you may imagine, the PSAT is meant to be taken before the SAT in 10th or 11th grade.


AP is short for Advanced Placement and is used to identify classes for which there are aptitude tests available. If you take an AP class, you’re eligible to (potentially) test out of a subject and avoid taking a particular course in college. These classes are more challenging than other high school courses and typically require more work.


The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination and is required for admission to many graduate schools. Like the SAT and ACT for high school, the GRE determines readiness for graduate school.


The Graduate Management Admissions Test is basically a GRE for business school. Taken during your senior year of college or, if you take some time off, before entering business school, the GMAT evaluates preparedness.  


The Law School Admission Test is administered to students who wish to enter law school. It is offered at specific times during the year (fewer than most other tests) and evaluates reasoning instead of actual knowledge. Like all of these tests, the LSAT can be retaken if your score is lower than you had hoped.


As you may have guessed, MCAT stands for Medical College Admissions Test and looks at whether or not a student is prepared to enter medical school. Like the LSAT, it requires reasoning skills, but also looks at overall knowledge.


The TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, is a test used to determine a student’s ability to read, write, and interpret the English language. The test is given to many international students from non-English speaking nations before they can enter U.S. schools.

Obviously, if you happen to fall within one or more of these categories, it is worth giving the test some additional research. There’s a wealth of information available for all of them, so did deeper into those that apply for you. Seek out guidance online from fellow students, tutors, and guidance counselors, and soon you’ll have the answer to the question, “What test do I take?”