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PhD Graduate Entry Tests

by Dr Nathalie Mather-L'Huillier

You want to study abroad, fantastic news! You’ll have a lot of planning to do, especially admissions procedures and visa applications. You may, for example, be asked to provide graduate admission scores. In most cases, it may be just a language proficiency test, but depending on the country you have selected you may also need a graduate entry test score before you can complete your application to the university of your choice. Although not used as often as for masters or MBA admissions, PhD applicants in the United States, Australia and Canada will often be asked for one. So, be sure to check what is required and whether you need a particular test or a subject-specific one. If you already have a test score then be aware that some tests are accepted more widely than others. Below is a list of graduate entry and language proficiency tests. This is by no means exhaustive and specific subject areas may require specific graduate admission tests, especially if you are going abroad to study law or medicine at graduate level.

Good luck!

GRE - Graduate Record Examinations

The GRE test is one of the most widely accepted graduate admission tests, particularly in the United States and other English-speaking countries like Australia. It is worth noting that it is NOT often a required test in the UK. This test is exclusively provided by a company called Educational Testing Service (ETS) which also owns TOEFL (for English language proficiency). The GRE is not just for postgraduate study in business and management and may be requested for postgraduate degree admissions in a wide variety of subject areas. For more information, see our article on the GRE test.

GMAT - Graduate Management Admissions Test

The GMAT is a standardised test which determines the ability of candidates to undertake graduate study in business schools, most often prior to entry to MBA and masters in management, but also PhD programs. The GMAT is delivered in English and is a combination of numerical, reasoning and writing aptitude. It is important to note that not all Business Schools will ask for a GMAT but in some countries such as the USA, Canada, India and Australia, a GMAT score is likely to be required as part of the application process so if you are thinking of doing a PhD abroad, it is worth checking whether you need it as it can take time to prepare for it and to secure a place in an assessment centre. For more information, see our article on the GMAT.

General tests

Postgraduate Admission Test

A standardised test which is compulsory for admission to all graduate schools in mainland China. It may not apply to international students applying for a PhD in China.


GATE - Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering

An all-India standardised exam which primarily tests the candidates comprehensive understanding of undergraduate subjects in Science, Engineering and Technology. In India, GATE is compulsory for those applying to postgraduates programmes such as a PhD or M.Tech (a prestigious Indian qualification in technology or engineering which allows the holder to teach in these subject areas) in institutions which receive public funding and who hope to receive a scholarship. The score itself is important but the candidates ranking in annual cohorts holds more weight and the top candidates have their profiles featured on the GATE website. GATE is also used in Singapore, Malaysia and some technological universities in Germany when selecting Indian students for postgraduate admission.

GPAT - Graduate Pharmacy Aptitude Test

An Indian standardised test similar to GATE but in the area of pharmacy.


Admission Test for Postgraduate Studies in Economics (ANPEC), Admission Test for Postgraduate Studies in Business Administration (ANPAD) and Admission Test for Postgraduate Studies in Computer Science (POSCOMP) are graduate entry tests in Brazil delivered in Portuguese and therefore most often for Brazilian students themselves. They are not required by all universities so check whether yours does.

Language Tests

If your mother tongue is not the language of tuition of the country in which you want to study, then it is highly likely that you will have to present evidence of proficiency in that language. The most common tools used by universities to determine if you have the necessary language skills are language tests (also called proficiency tests, language certificates, diploma of language X as a foreign language). They are available in most languages with the most common being the English language tests such as TOEFL or IELTS. There may be instances where you may be exempt from these tests. For example, if you are going to Germany to study for a PhD delivered in English, you wont require a German language test. Similarly, if you have studied in that language at home, you may not be required to have a foreign language certificate.

English Language Tests

TOEFL, IELTS and Cambridge are the most widely used by universities worldwide for admissions on postgraduate courses. Make sure you check what tests are accepted and the scores you require at the point of application and enrolment. Can you apply without a test and get a conditional offer so you have more time to prepare for the test? Can you present the test later on (but well before you start your course), as is common in the UK?

To find out more about these tests and what they involve, why not read our article on the subject?

Tests in languages other than English

Language tests are available in a wide variety of languages such as French, German, Spanish, Portuguese or Chinese. Whatever the language the tests that you should select are those which are accredited (and often delivered) by national authorities such as Foreign Offices, or Ministries of Education. For some languages, there may be less choice in where and how often the tests are held by accredited centres.

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