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Graduate School Admissions Tests

Applying to graduate school means you will be required to complete a standard entrance examination.

The idea behind these tests is to allow admissions tutors to see which applicants are up to meeting the demands of graduate school studies.

Standardised tests such as the LSAT and MCAT allow standardised comparisons to be made between applicants, and distinguish which individuals are more likely to succeed on a grad school program.

While you may already hold a high GPA score at your current college, this only tells the admissions staff you are doing well in your degree, and not whether you would still do as well when you move on to a program at graduate level.

By making all applicants complete standardized tests, fair comparisons can be made between students from different universities, and hold varying levels of GPA scores. For example, is an applicant with a 4.0 GPA from UCLA a more worthy candidate than an applicant with a 3.5 GPA from Yale?

Fellowships and other sources of financial aid are also awarded using standardized tests as a guideline.

Which grad school admissions test will I have to take?

How should I prepare for standardized tests?

There is no set way that will allow you to pass your test with flying colours, as most of the exams are carried out to assess your thinking skills, rather than your knowledge.

However, if you are applying for medical school you will certainly need to know your science before the test, as the MCAT also evaluates your proficiency in this area.

Generally though, try to assess your current vocabulary, math, reading and writing skills, and look for any weak areas you need to improve on.

You should be able to put together a structured, coherent and persuasive argument, as well as use and understand a wide range of vocabulary.

Brush up on algebra, arithmetic, geometry and data analysis to perform well in the math skills part of the test.

Only these areas are covered up to high school level, and does not include trigonometry, calculus or other types of higher level mathematics.

There are a number of good test prep books you can buy that will help you practice and prepare for the different aspects of the exam. Amazon.com is a great place to start looking for textbook study aids.

Some individuals also believe a review course is useful, as it can help identify your strengths and weaknesses, provide learning strategies so you can revise effectively, and show you where you are making mistakes.

However, these courses are often expensive (around $1,000), involve a lot of extra study outside of teaching hours, and large classes may mean you don’t get the support and guidance you need (and have paid for!).

It’s ultimately up to you how to prepare for your test, so don’t sign up for a prep class if you feel you don’t need to. If you’re happy to focus and put in the work on your own, then a self-help book with practice questions is likely to be enough.

On the other hand, if you think you are lacking in many of the areas the test is assessing, then a prep course might be better at helping you improve your abilities.

When deciding which one to attend, look at the quality of the faculty teaching it, and what study resources are available, both online and in print. Also try to find out about the content of the course, as good ones will show you how to study, which areas you need to focus on, and how to efficiently manage your revision time.

Bear in mind that simply signing up for a course won’t automatically make you excel in the test - you need to be prepared to put the effort in, and realise that just turning up to lectures without doing the homework isn’t enough.

Whether you choose to teach yourself or enroll on a prep course, working hard in either preparation method will help you do better in your test. After all, you only get out what you put in.

Further information

For more tips and advice on applying to graduate school, please see: