Most graduate and professional schools require applicants to take a standardized test to demonstrate their readiness to enter the program. Almost all the tests have acronyms that end in “AT,” making the whole thing sound like the Cat in the Hat (apologies to Dr. Seuss…).
These tests are given at a variety of times in a variety of places, for a variety of fees. Your mission, as an applicant, is to:
1. Find out which test is pertinent to your field.
2. Find out whether the particular programs to which you plan to apply require the test.
3. Find out when the test results must be submitted.
4. Find out when you should take the test so that there is time for the results to be considered.
5. Decide what kind of preparation you need to do for the test.
6. Finalize your timeline so you can prep, take test, get results, prep more, and re-take test.
Sounds fairly straight forward, doesn’t it? We can get you started by decoding the names of the tests and providing links to the testing websites.
DAT = Dental Admission Test (for dental schools)
GMAT = Graduate Management Admission Test (for business schools)
GRE = Graduate Record Examination (many graduate programs)
LSAT = Law School Admission Test (for law schools)
MCAT = Medical College Admission Test (for medical schools)
PCAT = Pharmacy College Admission Test (for pharmacy schools)
OAT = Optometry Admission Test (for optometry schools)
Special Note for Future Veterinarians: The VCAT for Veterinary School Admission has been discontinued. Most vet schools now require the GRE (most common) or MCAT (2nd most common). Perhaps some dogs protested the acronym.
Six Vitally Important Points About Grad/Professional School Admission Tests
1. By working through prep tests and related materials, the disciplined student can achieve 80 percent (or more) of the value of a prep course.
2. Taking the test for a first time without serious prep, “just to see how you do” is a terrible idea! Why? Because all your scores will be reported, not just your best or most recent, because it is a waste of time and money, and because you will get a low score! Need we say more?
3. Schools use standardized test results mainly because the rigor of coursework and grading standards varies across undergraduate colleges. Test results are “objective” measures of your capability and knowledge.
4. You should be careful not to take admission tests before you have completed the courses that teach you the material to be tested! This is why taking the exam in your junior year makes the most sense.
5. The grad/professional admission tests are rapidly moving toward computerized test administration. This means you get results faster and have much wider choice of test date.
6. Be sure the programs you are considering really do require the tests before you start investing time in preparing. For example, some graduate programs will allow students with a high undergraduate GPA to skip the GRE. If the GRE is “optional,” consider whether taking the test could be advantageous—to offset a non-stellar GPA, for example.
Special Note for Pre-Health Students:
The health professions entry tests, however, are rarely if ever optional. And the application dates for those schools tend to be very early, so plan ahead for the tests.
EXTRA CREDIT DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
When do you plan to take a graduate or professional school exam and what will you do to prepare?
What other suggestions do you have for students contemplating the graduate and professional school admissions tests?
Share your thoughts in the Comments section below!