A lot of people might say that deciding to go to grad school is the easy part. In a way, it’s true — the hard part comes later on when you have to start preparing for and applying to schools. Then, you’d actually have to do the studying, researching, and working, which is a whole different ball game altogether.
If you’ve just freshly decided to go into graduate studies, chances are you might find the application processes of each university quite daunting. There’s a lot that goes into a grad school application, and one of those things is taking a grad school test. Many schools have standardized test requirements, meaning you’ll have to take certain graduate school exams and send the results in with your application.
But what test must you take in order to get into most graduate colleges?
Grad School Test Guide: Tests You Might Need to Take
There are a few grad school tests you might need to take as part of the admissions process. It’s not likely that you’ll need more than one, but it all depends on what the schools you’re applying to require.
The list below will explain the most common graduate entrance exams, what they’re for, and who needs to take them.
The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is the most common general knowledge grad school test that universities require from master’s degree and doctorate applicants. Results from this exam are required or at least recommended by thousands of educational institutes worldwide. You may also need your GRE results to qualify for certain kinds of financial aid.
The GRE tests your quantitative and verbal reasoning skills, as well as your critical thinking and your analytical writing abilities. The exam contains the three sections listed below.
- Verbal Reasoning will test your level of reading comprehension and text completion. It also tests your sentence equivalence skills through sample sentences and written passages.
- Quantitative Reasoning will test how well you can understand or analyze quantitative information. This section also tests your ability to solve problems using mathematical models and how well you can apply various math concepts like arithmetic, geometry, and algebra. It will also look at your data analysis capabilities.
- Analytical Writing mainly looks at your written English capabilities. This section will require short responses wherein you need to articulate your ideas and build your evidence-based arguments.
GREs are computer-based and are very widely available. There are over a thousand test centers in more than 160 countries, so it’ll be easy to book in to take your test no matter where you are. The exam will take you 3 hours and 45 minutes to finish. If you’re concerned about scheduling, there’s no cause for concern — you can book your test when you’re available since they are conducted several times a month.
It’s usually a good idea to start studying a couple of months before your scheduled exam since this will give you enough time to prepare. It’s best to schedule your GRE three or four months before your application deadline.
Sending the scores takes roughly fifteen days, but giving yourself this time allowance makes it possible to retake the exam if you please.
Taking the test a second time might help you improve your scores since you’ll most likely be more comfortable during your second go. You can choose to send the improved results to your prospective universities, which might improve your chances of admission.
GRE Subject Tests
While the GRE tests general knowledge, the paper-based GRE subject tests will measure your knowledge of specific fields of study. The exams are offered for the subjects below:
- English Literature
Unlike the GRE general exam, subject tests aren’t always required. There are some master’s programs that will ask you to take them to apply, while others will only recommend you take them to supplement your application. Read admissions requirements carefully to find out whether you need to take a subject test. If it’s unclear whether you need one or not, you can reach out to the programs or schools to ask them.
You can take subject tests throughout the year at paper-based centers, but only on specific dates. Make sure you schedule your test early to allow you ample time to prepare and retake the exam if you feel like doing so.
The standard GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is the exam you’ll need to take if you’re applying to business school. Most business schools will require GMAT results when you apply for an MBA. More than 2,100 educational institutions accept GMAT results, making it another widely available exam.
The GMAT is computer-based and will take you three and a half hours to finish. You’ll have to complete the three sections (multiple choice) and the writing assessment below:
- The quantitative multiple-choice section will test your understanding of and your skills in arithmetic, geometry, and algebra.
- The integrated reasoning multiple-choice section will measure how well you can infer information when given data in charts, tables, and graphs.
- The verbal multiple-choice section has you read a written passage and tests your logic skills, grammar, and ability to answer questions.
- The 30-minute analytical writing assessment will have you write an essay argument about a general interest or a business-related topic.
There’s no real need to worry about being able to fit the GMAT into your schedule. You can take the GMAT any day you’d like, except for holidays. There are more than 600 test centers around the world.
When scheduling your exam, don’t forget to factor in the two to three months of prep time you’ll need for studying. You might also want to schedule the GMAT 3-4 months before your applications are due, so you can retake the exam if you wish.
Most law schools will require you to take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) to qualify for admission. As the only test accepted by law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, you might want to take the LSAT if you’re looking to study law in the US (and even in some other countries as well).
The LSAT is a digital exam that measures a law school applicant’s logical and analytical reasoning skills. It also assesses reading comprehension. When you take the LSAT, you can expect five multiple-choice sections that take 35 minutes each to complete. You can also expect a writing exercise.
- Reading comprehension tests how well you can read and understand long, complex materials.
- Analytical reasoning assesses your ability to analyze structures of relationships, grasp them, and draw conclusions from them.
- Logical reasoning uses two sections to test how well you can analyze, evaluate, and complete an argument.
- You’ll encounter an unscored section used to test questions that might be included in future LSATs.
- The 35-minute writing exercise used to be required. As of 2019, it is no longer included in the test. If you want to accomplish this section, you’ll need to register for it separately and complete it on your own (through your home computer or other similar devices).
LSATs are conducted on select dates multiple times a year, so you can choose whichever date is most convenient for you. Remember that in most cases, law schools require you to take your LSAT by December if you want to apply for admission by fall of the next year.
Unlike other graduate school tests, retaking the LSAT is usually discouraged since retakers often find their scores barely improving. Some even find that their scores have worsened. The best way to get a good result on your LSAT is by preparing for it ahead of time.
The LSAC (Law School Admission Council) has provided this resource to help you prepare for the exam.
The standard MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) is required for anyone who wants to get into medical school. This test assesses various skills like critical thinking and problem-solving. It also tests your knowledge and understanding of the various concepts of behavioral, natural, and social science. The MCAT is required to apply to practically all the medical schools in the US.
The MCAT will take you 7.5 hours to complete, making it the longest test on this list. You’ll have to complete the four sections (multiple-choice) below:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems tests your understanding of inorganic and organic chemistry, biochemistry, and biology concepts.
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems measures your knowledge of introductory-level physics, biology, biochemistry, general chemistry, and organic chemistry.
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior tests your introductory-level knowledge of psychology and sociology, as well as biology.
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning assesses your reading comprehension of various passages from the social sciences and humanities.
If your med school application is due by December, you’ll probably want to take the MCAT by September. However, MCAT test dates fill out quickly, so the earlier you can book it, the better. Test dates are available multiple times a month.
Like the LSAT, retaking the MCAT is not recommended. The best way to get a great score is by preparing for your test early and putting in as much as three to six months of study time. Retaking the MCAT is only recommended if your score is very low or doesn’t meet the minimum requirement.
Preparing for Your Graduate School Test
If you’ve already figured out which tests you’ll need to take for your grad school applications, the next step is to register for them. When you register, you can choose a date to take your exam on. Plan ahead and allow yourself enough time to prepare for the test to give yourself the best chance at success. You’ll need a minimum test score to qualify, but better scores may mean a better chance at admission.
You can prepare for your exam on your own. However, there are many courses and review classes you can attend if you’d prefer to go that route.
Do You Really Need To Take Graduate Exams?
It wasn’t too long ago that test results were a standard requirement to apply at any grad school.
However, as times have changed, universities have begun to adjust. Many schools have now put less emphasis on standardized test scores when considering an applicant for admission. This lessened emphasis is particularly true of the Graduate Record Examination, whether the test is for general or subject knowledge.
Nowadays, many graduate programs and universities might offer applicants exam waivers as long as they meet qualifying conditions.
For example, applicants that can show that they’ve met the minimum undergraduate GPA requirement often get an exam waiver. Some schools might even be flexible enough to accept relevant past work experience in place of exam scores.
It’s a good idea to ask the schools and programs you’re applying for whether the test scores are required or if you can get an exam waiver somehow.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking to go into law school or med school, you’ll most likely still need the LSAT or MCAT. The same applies to business school, where you’ll need to take the GMAT before admission.
Grad school tests might feel daunting, but with adequate preparation, you might just be able to get a great score.
However, when it comes to taking your exams, you should always remember to schedule them several months in advance.
Also, allow yourself an adequate time allowance for a retake (for GRE general and subject tests).
If you’re wondering what else you need to prepare for when you’re applying for grad school and when you need to do it, check out this article.