Which Grad School Test Should I Take?


Which grad school test is right for you? Sort through the GRE, GMAT, LSAT and MCAT with this guide.

The GRE. The GMAT. The LSAT. The MCAT. That’s a lot of acronyms. And a lot of tests. How do you know which grad school test you need to take? Or if you need to take one at all?

First, figure out which postgrad programs and schools you plan to apply to. You can inquire with them about what you need to do to get admitted. Your own college advisor should also be able to help.

And if it turns out you do need to take a test—regardless of which test it is—you need to give yourself enough time to study. Preparation will pay off. At most schools, test scores, along with your grade-point average, are the most important factors for graduate school admission.

Also, higher scores give you a better chance of being picked for competitive programs and could help secure funding for tuition.

Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

The GRE is the most widely used graduate exam and is considered the most accurate test to gauge a student’s readiness for post-baccalaureate studies. More than 700,000 students take the four-hour exam every year.

The general test divides up into three sections: verbal reasoning, which includes reading comprehension; quantitative reasoning, or math and problem-solving; and analytical writing, which includes two essays.

The general test is computer-adapted, meaning the questions get more difficult if you are doing well. You can take the general test at any time during the year, and there are plenty of study resources available. It’s recommended that you spend two to three months preparing.

You can also take a subject test in biology, chemistry, literature in English, math, physics and psychology. Subject tests—available in April, September and October—measure your knowledge in that particular area of study.

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

The GMAT is growing in popularity as more people decide to earn a master’s in business administration, or MBA. About 6,000 business schools use this four-hour test for admissions, and about 250,000 people took the GMAT last year.

Set aside the recommended two to three months to prepare (similar to the prep time for the GRE).

The GMAT consists of an analytical writing assignment, which includes two essays, and multiple-choice sections on:

  • Integrated reasoning
  • Data sufficiency and problem-solving
  • Reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction

The multiple-choice sections have an added twist. More than one answer is possible, and if you miss even one, the whole question is wrong. Most test-takers score between 400 and 600 on a 200-800 scale, but the average mark at the top business schools is 714.

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

If you are headed to law school, you will almost certainly need the LSAT. Most pre-law students take the four-hour exam between the end of their junior year and early fall of their senior year.

At least three months of prep is recommended to give you a shot against the other 100,000 people who take the test each year looking to enter law school. The average score on a 120-180 scale is a 151.

The LSAT has four multiple-choice sections and a writing section. The essay is not actually graded, but it is sent with your final scores to the schools you are applying to.

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

The longest of the tests mentioned here, the MCAT clocks in at more than seven hours. It also has the longest recommended study period: four to five months.

Still, about 60,000 prospective doctors take the MCAT each year. The exam has four sections: critical analysis and reasoning; chemical and physical sciences; biological sciences; and psychological and social sciences.

Test Prep Courses: Are They Worth It?

Once you’ve determined the test you may need to take for admission, the challenge lies in how you prepare for it. Do you need to take a formal test prep course before taking the exam? Not necessarily.

“Most of the test prep companies offer free practice exams on their website,” says Tim Panfil, senior director of graduate admission and enrollment management at Elmhurst College. “Take the free practice test, review your scores and then determine if you need additional assistance or just a review book.”

If you do need additional test prep, find a format that works for you. Most test prep courses are offered in person, online or in a group format.

Learn More About Grad School Admission

Elmhurst University has offered graduate studies for more than 20 years. Learn more about our programs—and the admission requirements to get in—by completing the form below today!

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