Your scores on the GRE and other grad school admission tests are only one piece of your grad school application. While a graduate admissions officer is not likely to dismiss your application based solely on your test score, a good score will help boost your candidacy.

What standardized test are required for grad school?

Standardized tests for grad school are long exams that test makers proctor independently of any school. Schools that require you to take the tests use your scores to assess your aptitude for study. Just as you had to submit SAT or ACT scores to supplement your undergraduate application if you went to school in the United States, you may have to do something similar for grad school. Graduate study-related standardized tests include the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT), Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), Miller Analogies Test (MAT), Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), and more.

Typically, you don’t have to take more than one or two tests, and the knowledge you need to do well on the test may be unrelated to the knowledge you need to excel in school.

Because comparing the Grade Point Averages of applicants is difficult (some colleges are seen as more academically rigorous than others), standardized tests offer a way to assess and “rank” you among your peers. While the scores themselves are standardized, not every admissions committee will look at them in the same way, and some schools do not require them at all. Scores are simply one more piece of the puzzle in understanding your abilities better.

If you do need to better your scores, find out if the school penalizes you for retaking the test. Kathryn Meyer from Texas A&M University Bush School of Government & Public Service says: “Find out how competitive your target school’s admissions process is and how they view retakes if you are not happy with the initial score. Some will average the totals, others will mix-match the highest sections, and others will count the highest total in one setting. Many times, retaking a test is a good idea for two reasons: It helps a candidate stay viable during a competitive admissions stage and can help a candidate qualify for a larger scholarship when merit-based aid is considered.” You will only know what is recommended by your target schools if you ask.

Action steps:

  • Determine which tests your target school requires by looking at its website.
  • Find out the median test scores of students accepted into your target schools to better understand where you will stand in the admissions process.
  • Ask how the university will count your scores if you decide to take the test more than once. Will they average them? Or take the highest score in one setting?
  • Register for the tests as soon as possible to be sure you can take the test when you feel ready, and also so that your target school will receive your scores before the deadline.

About the GRE

Many graduate and business schools require applicants to submit GRE scores. It’s more common than not. But just as some undergraduate programs are starting to disregard the SAT or ACT, your first-choice grad school may not require them either. The best way to tell is to check the admissions website for your target program.

If you know for sure that you’ll need to take the GRE and not a different test, sign up for the test here.

How to prepare for the test

Just as you probably saw a number of ways to prepare for the SAT or ACT when you were in high school (if you attended high school in the U.S., that is), there are many ways to prepare for the GRE, MCAT, LSAT, or other tests.

Take a group course

Well-known test prep companies like Kaplan or the Princeton Review provide structured group courses that will get you ready for the test. But beware, these don’t come cheap. Test prep courses may cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

If you’re currently an undergraduate, you campus probably provides resources to help you study for the GRE or other popular exams. There may be a free or discounted rate for current undergrads. Look into this by visiting your career center, financial aid office, or academic advisor.

Not a current undergrad? Never fear! There are other, cheaper ways to provide yourself with structure and guidance while studying for your grad school test. If you live in a populated area, there are probably other people out there getting ready to take the same exam. Connect with them through social platforms like Meetup or StudyPal, a network that matches you with other aspiring grad students currently pouring over the same test prep books you are. Find a study partner or four or six for extra accountability.

Finding a private tutor

If you think you’ll need one-on-one guidance for the test (and you can afford it), it may be worthwhile to find a private tutor. This can be someone you know who’s already passed the GRE/LSAT/MCAT, a local professor tutoring on the side for extra income, or a full-time professional tutor. Look for them at professional tutoring companies in your area, or check online listings at Wyzant.

No matter how you choose to prepare, it’s a good idea to purchase or borrow test prep books from your library (the more recent, the better), and take advantage of any free sample tests or sections you can find online.

How to take the test

Most likely, you’ll be able to take the general and section test on paper at your undergraduate campus or at a nearby university or community college. If you register for the computer-based test, you’ll have to go to a local testing center.

Retaking the test: is it always a good idea?

Depending on your target graduate program, some schools may or may not care if you take the GRE more than once. Even for the LSAT or the MCAT, you’re technically allowed to take the test multiple times. But it’s always best to check with the admissions center at the school you’re applying to regardless. Some programs look at your highest score, while others consider your most recent score.

Sending your results to the best grad schools for you

According to ETS.org, the GRE General Test scores on a point scale:

  1. A Verbal Reasoning score is reported on a 130–170 score scale, in 1-point increments.
  2. A Quantitative Reasoning score is reported on a 130–170 score scale, in 1-point increments.
  3. An Analytical Writing score is reported on a 0–6 score level, in half-point increments.

When you take the test, you can select four grad programs to receive your score. If you’re applying to more than four programs, it’ll cost $27 for each additional recipient.