The Big Four: LSAT, MCAT, GMAT & GRE

The Big Four: LSAT, MCAT, GMAT & GRE
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Whether you're seeking to continue your education right after your bachelor's degree or you're going to grad school after years of working, you'll need to research the admission testing requirements for your prospective school. Depending on your field of study, you might need to take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) or Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Learn what these tests involve and cost, who needs them and how to register, prepare and take your exam.

Importance of Graduate Admission Tests

When graduate schools consider your suitability for admission, you'll find they don't only consider your past grade point average (GPA), past coursework, letters of recommendation and experience relevant to the program. Rather, they want to know whether you have a variety of general skills that make you likely to succeed as a graduate student during your first year.

That's where graduate admission tests come in handy since they can show whether you can understand, analyze and interpret information effectively as well as whether you have strong writing skills. Some of these tests also look at whether you can perform calculations or demonstrate subject-matter knowledge relevant to your prospective graduate program.

Schools use the test scores to see where you fall in line with the other applicants, and they may have cutoff scores. Scoring well can make you more competitive among other applicants and improve your chances of getting accepted, especially if you're aiming for getting into a competitive school. At the same time, standardized test scores can matter when it comes to reducing your graduate school expenses since they can play a role in scholarships you could receive.

Learning About the GRE

Offered through the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the GRE is widely accepted for a variety of graduate school programs such as those in the humanities, arts, science and business. The six-section test uses a computer-adaptive format and has a time limit of ​3 hours 45 minutes​. When taking the GRE, you have to write two essays for the analytical writing assessment, complete two sections on quantitative reasoning, go through two sections on verbal reasoning and do an experimental portion that might give you verbal or math questions.

Rather than receiving a total score for the GRE, your results get broken down into analytical writing, verbal and quantitative components. While the analytical writing score ranges from ​zero to six​, the other two GRE scores will range from ​130 to 170​. You can consider a score of around ​150​ to be average for verbal and quantitative parts.

ETS lets you choose to take the GRE at a Prometric testing center or from home. If you go with the at-home option, you can take the exam any time of day, while you'll have to find an open appointment spot during the operating hours at a physical test center. Either option will cost you ​$205​.

Exploring the GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) offers the GMAT exam that is a popular choice when you want to study at a business school for a master's of business administration (MBA) or similar degree. However, you might take the exam when applying to a non-business program too. The computer-adaptive exam has a time limit of ​3 hours and 30 minutes​ and features four parts. You'll write an essay and go through individual multiple-choice sections on verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning and quantitative reasoning.

The GMAT will give you a total score between ​200 and 800​ that's determined based on your performance during the different sections. You'll also get a percentile ranking that shows where your GMAT score falls compared to other test-takers. The GMAC mentions a range of ​400 to 600​ as being typical for the majority of GMAT test-takers.

You can choose between going to a Pearson VUE testing location or taking the GMAT online from home. As with taking the GRE online, you get more flexibility in testing times and more convenience. You can also save money that way since you'll pay ​$250​ for the online version versus ​$275​ for the in-person version.

Understanding the LSAT

The LSAT offered through the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is specifically for law school applicants and is a much more popular option than the GRE that some law schools accept. It used to be a pen-and-paper exam until it went digital in 2019, and the exam takes around ​three hours​. The LSAT has a section requiring a writing sample as well as individual multiple-choice parts covering reading comprehension, logical reasoning and analytical reasoning. You'll also do an unscored section that's multiple choice and experimental.

You'll get a total LSAT score that can range from ​120 to 180​ and will come from the non-essay parts of the exam. A score band is also provided to provide better accuracy for your school to judge your proficiency. Rather than assigning the essay a score, the LSAC will provide your law school with the essay so they can evaluate it themselves during the admissions process.

Aspiring law students normally take the LSAT at a physical testing center. However, concerns about COVID-19 have led the LSAC to decide to only offer it as an online proctored exam until June 2022, but in-person testing may become available if conditions allow. There are generally ​seven​ testing dates each year available. You'll pay ​$200​ to take the LSAT.

Looking Into the MCAT

Offered through the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the MCAT is for those applying to specific medical school programs such as those for becoming a medical doctor, podiatrist or veterinarian. This computer-based exam is known for the challenge it brings and its length of around ​7 hours and 30 minutes​ on a single day. The exam has all multiple-choice questions and includes four sections covering the physical sciences; biological sciences; reasoning and critical analysis; and biological, psychologist and social foundations of behavior.

The four sections of the MCAT come with their own scores ranging from ​118 to 132​. Further, you'll get a total score that can fall between ​472 and 528​. The AAMC lists the median scores as ​125​ for individual sections and ​500​ for the total score.

Unlike the other standardized test options, this graduate admission test has no remote option, so you'll need to go to a Pearson testing center. You'll usually choose from many test dates that range from January through September each year. The MCAT is the most expensive test option out of these four since it costs ​$320​.

Checking Your School's Test Requirements

Even if a particular standardized test is standard for your type of graduate school program, check the admissions requirements online or contact the school to clarify the tests accepted. During the process, you should also determine if you qualify for any kind of waiver. Doing this research can help you avoid spending time and money taking an exam that the school doesn't accept or that you might not even need.

For example, if you plan to attend business school, your school might offer the flexibility of choosing either the GRE or GMAT. They might even let you skip both tests if you had a high undergraduate GPA, took graduate courses already or gained a few years of work experience. This flexibility is especially common for online degree programs for nontraditional students.

Some graduate schools – even those offering medical and law programs – might not require GRE, GMAT, MCAT or LSAT scores from anybody applying. In such cases, the school might exclude the test scores from the admissions decision entirely or make them optional. It's also possible the school will have its own admissions test to take instead.

Scheduling Your Graduate Admission Test

Once you've determined which of these graduate admission tests you need to take, check with your school about the application deadline for your intended program. This will give you insight into how far in advance you should have your exam scheduled, and you might find you need to schedule your exam many months early. You'll then want to check with the organization offering the exam to determine when test results get released to your school so you can choose an appropriate test date.

When you're ready to schedule, you'll want to head to the ETS website for the GRE, AAMC website for the MCAT, LSAC website for the LSAT or for the GMAT. You'll find an option to register for the graduate exam, and this starts by creating an account with the website to provide your information. You'll move forward by choosing an exam option and location (such as online versus at a testing center), choosing a time and date and paying the test registration fee.

After you've scheduled your test, you should get a confirmation and information on the rules for taking the test. For example, you'll get notified of what you can or must have with you – such as a calculator and photo identification – as well as how early you should show up. If you need to change the test day or time, you can usually return to your account, pay a rescheduling fee and choose another available option.

Preparing for Graduate Admission Tests

To reduce the need to retake one of these tests, it's recommended to dedicate at least a few months to test prep so that you have plenty of time to become familiar with the types of questions on the exam and set yourself up to score well. Rather than trying to memorize a lot of information, you'll want to get practice using the skills tested such as your reading comprehension, reasoning and problem-solving skills. If you're taking the MCAT, you'll additionally want to study the specific scientific and medical subject matter covered.

You can find many free and paid resources through the website for the organization offering the test. For example, you can see sample test questions, purchase official study guides and enroll in test prep courses. If you search online for test prep providers and other websites, you'll come across other options like tutors, interactive study guides and flashcard programs for learning vocabulary. You can also check forums where test-takers have shared their experiences.

Obtaining a practice test is a good idea for getting used to what the exam requires and practicing working under timed conditions. You can use the results from the practice test as guidance for working on your weak areas, whether you struggle with a certain type of question or the pressure of a timed test in general.

Taking Your Graduate Admission Exam

When the day comes to take the GRE, LSAT, MCAT or GMAT, follow the directions from the testing provider so that you're on time and have any necessary documentation and tools. If you're taking the test online from home, you'll need to follow instructions for using the proctored test platform and make sure you're in a private location. Once you get started, you'll want to carefully watch the time for each section since the timing can vary by test and skills being assessed.

When you finish the test, you may get an unofficial score right away, or you may need to wait at least a few weeks to see it online or get a letter. You'll want to make sure that your graduate school receives your score promptly. If you decide you want to try to get a higher score, check with the testing organization since retake policies vary. Also, know that some schools may average the scores rather than just accept the highest one.