Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated September 2010
Heading off to grad school? Not so fast. If you haven’t completed the GREs or the GMAT, you should probably start preparing – and soon! In the same way that high school students take the SATs in order to apply for college, college students take the GREs or the GMAT in order to apply for graduate school.
These tests aren’t always required, but more often than not, graduate programs expect to see some standardized test scores. For future lawyers, that means taking the LSAT. For future doctors, the MCAT is the necessary exam.
The GREs (Graduate Record Exams) are more common; they’re designed for all other graduate school programs. The GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) is designated for MBA students. Scores from these tests help admissions committees to determine whether or not you’re likely to succeed in grad school.
Of course, your undergraduate transcripts, your personal statements, and your letters of recommendation are also important factors. But these materials are somewhat subjective. Admissions committees can’t tell if your undergraduate course work was unusually easy, if you received outside help with your essay, or if your references were exaggerated. Standardized tests, on the other hand, are objective and consistent. Grad schools require these scores as a way of making direct comparisons between applicants from different backgrounds, and even from different countries.
GRE general test
If your grad school interests are rooted in arts and sciences, you’ll probably need to take the GRE General Test. This test measures quantitative and verbal reasoning, along with writing skills and critical thinking abilities. You can take the test at any computer-based test center in your area. Test dates are available year-round. If you’re aiming to receive your scores in time for January, February, or March application deadlines, you should plan to take the test in the fall.
The GRE website provides free, downloadable practice tests, sample questions, and test-taking strategies. It’s a good idea to study with these resources, since test-takers who are familiar with the format tend to fare better. It’s also helpful to try a computer-based practice test (rather than simply marking answers in a book.) Test preparation is always more effective when your study methods mirror the actual test format.
GRE subject tests
If your grad school interests are rooted in math, literature, or a specific area of science, you may need to take a GRE Subject Test (either independently, or in addition to the General Test.) GRE Subject Test areas include: Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology.
Unlike the General Test, the GRE Subject Tests can only be taken in October, November and April. Students are advised to register at least 1 month in advance. That means you’ll need to register by October – at the absolute latest – if you hope to start a program the following September.
Subject tests can last up to 3 ½ hours. Make sure you arrive on time, with valid identification and several number 2 pencils. When you register, you’ll receive a practice test and a study guide that can help you prepare. You can also purchase study guides or review your college textbooks. GRE subject tests are quite rigorous – so don’t waste your time and money if you’re not well-prepared, or if your first choice grad schools don’t require these scores.
The Graduate Management Admission Test is an exam that’s offered worldwide, and is recognized by most MBA programs. It measures analytical writing skills, quantitative skills, and verbal skills – including reading comprehension, critical thinking, and sentence correction. The actual test lasts for 3 ½ hours, with breaks in between the 3 sections.
Test day check-in and security measures are fairly intense. Be prepared to supply your fingerprint, signature, and/or palm vein pattern, plus a photograph. There are strict rules about outside materials, so you’ll have to adios your cell phone, PDA, calculator, and any kind of food or beverage.
The GMAT website offers free, downloadable practice tests, sample essay topics, and sample test questions. In addition, there are dozens of study guides and manuals that can be purchased online or at your local bookstore. It’s a good idea to try a few practice tests – especially if you’ve been away from college for awhile. Basic math concepts and the ability to write organized paragraphs both take some time to reclaim. Practice tests also help you learn to pace yourself, which is a crucial part of completing all the test questions.
Photo by David Bleasdale