Some kind of standardized exam is required for entrance to most graduate programs. This creates anxiety for many applicants, especially those who fear they are not “test takers.” A good way to lessen your anxiety about these exams is to plan for them and allow yourself plenty of time to prepare in whatever way will make you feel most confident on exam day. Below is a description of the various exams you may be required to take. Check the website for schools of interest to see what is required.
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
In the US, most graduate programs require that applicants submit scores for the Graduate Record Examination, commonly known as the GRE. The GRE General Test measures skills that have been acquired over a long period of time and that are not related to any specific field of study. In August 2011, the GRE was revised with a new scoring framework and new types of questions. The revised General Test includes sections on:
- Verbal Reasoning — Measures your ability to analyze and evaluate written material and synthesize information obtained from it, analyze relationships among component parts of sentences and recognize relationships among words and concepts.
- Quantitative Reasoning — Measures problem-solving ability, focusing on basic concepts of arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis.
- Analytical Writing — Measures critical thinking and analytical writing skills, specifically your ability to articulate and support complex ideas clearly and effectively.
Scoring for the first two sections is on a 130-170 scale, in one-point increments. Scoring for the Analytical Writing portion is on a scale of 0-6, in half-point increments (six being the highest score).
Taking the Test – where and when
All GRE tests are developed and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which is the world's largest private, nonprofit, educational testing and assessment organization. ETS develops standardized tests in the US for all levels of education and also administers international tests such as the TOEFL (Test of English for International Communication). To find out where and when you can take the GRE, consult the Educational Testing Services website. (Note that the closest testing facility to our campus is in West Springfield – less than 10 miles from campus.) For students planning to enter graduate school immediately after college, an ideal time to take the GRE is during the summer before or early fall of senior year. Doing so will ensure that your scores arrive in time for your application to be processed by the school’s admissions deadlines (usually between November and February) - dates and locations for GRE Testing.
Many graduate programs, especially at the PhD level, place a high degree of importance on GRE scores. Some programs are more concerned about an applicant’s performance on one section than on others. Nevertheless, it is wise to try to perform as well as you can on the GRE in its entirety. While a low GRE score may be overlooked if your transcript and recommendations are outstanding, a high GRE score will help you. You may be able to find out what the average or desired score of incoming students is for particular programs by checking their websites.
Preparing for the Test
There are many ways to prepare for standardized tests. Some students use a preparation book such as those by Kaplan or Princeton Review, and work through the test questions on their own. Some hire a private tutor. Others benefit from the structure of a professional test preparation course either on location or online. However you choose to prepare, allow plenty of time before you plan to take the test.
We have compiled a list of free test preparation resources to help you get started. This list is available to Mount Holyoke students and alumnae in Handshake.
In addition, the Career Development Center and the Office of Pre-Health Programs have put out several resources on reserve with the LITS Circulation Desk.
In addition to the general GRE, some programs require a GRE subject test. GRE subject tests are designed to test your knowledge of a particular subject area to determine if you have a foundation strong enough for graduate-level work. In order to perform well on a subject test, you should have a considerable background in the particular subject area—the background you would be expected to have if you had majored in the subject. There are specialized tests for Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. Subject tests are taken through the Educational Testing Service as noted above.
For admission to specific professional degree programs, tests other than, or in addition to, the GRE are often required. These include:
- GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) – often required for entrance to business school, this exam has four main parts including quantitative, verbal, and integrated reasoning sections, as well as an analytical writing assessment. Where and when you can take the GMAT.
- MAT (Miller Analogies Test) – an exclusively verbal test demanding a broad knowledge of Western culture, this test is occasionally permitted as a substitute for the GRE and is required for some programs. This test is administered at Controlled Testing Centers around the US. Learn more.
- TOEFL (Test of English for International Communication – a test designed to measure competency in writing and reading in English, this is sometimes required for non-native English speakers, although many universities waive this requirement if a student has attended an American college or university. The TOEFL is administered via the internet by ETS. Sign up for the test.
- LSAT (Law School Admission Test) – required for entrance to law school, this test is designed to measure reading and comprehension of complex texts; the organization and management of information; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of others’ reasoning and arguments. Advising about the LSAT and pre-law programs at MHC is available through the Career Development Center. Learn more.
- MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) - required for entrance to medical school, this is a standardized, multiple-choice examination designed to assess problem-solving and critical thinking abilities, as well as knowledge of science concepts and principles prerequisite to the study of medicine. Advising about the MCAT and pre-health programs at MHC is available through the Pre-Health office in Clapp Laboratory, Room 125. Learn more.
- DAT (Dental Admission Test) – Administered by the American Dental Association, this test is required for admission to dental school. Learn more.
- PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) – required for applicants to pharmacy colleges, this specialized test measures general academic ability and scientific knowledge necessary for the field. It has multiple choice and writing components. Administered by Pearson Education, test information is available.
- OAT (Optometry Admission Test) – Administered by the Association of Schools and Colleges of Optometry, this test is designed to measure general academic ability, comprehension of scientific information and perceptual ability. Learn more about this exam.