Everything to Know About Studying for a Grad School Test

By Elise Nelson on May 14, 2018

School is out soon, but for prospective graduate school students, the studying shouldn’t stop! Summer is the perfect time to think about your grad school test. It’s a big part of your application, so you’ll want to be as prepared as possible when test day comes around.

Here is everything you need to know about studying for your grad school test this summer. Start by learning about your test so you know what you’re getting into.

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Which grad school test do you need to take?

Law School Admission Test (LSAT).

This grad school test is for students who wish to enroll in American Bar Association-approved law schools in the United States or Canada. The LSATs are meant to measure skills necessary for success in law school, such as evaluating arguments and analyzing texts.

Dates: The LSAT is generally offered in February, June, October, and December. The score that you receive on the LSAT will be valid for five years. If you wish to enroll in law school after that, you will have to take the test again.

Cost: The exam costs $180 in basic fees, plus up to $200 in auxiliary fees.

Scoring: Your score will fall somewhere on a scale of 120-180.  All questions have an equal rating, but one section does not count towards your score—this section is simply there to trial new questions. You will also be given a percentile ranking to see how your score compares to other test takers.

Structure: The LSAT will take three hours and 30 minutes. There are five multiple choice sections with 23-27 questions. Each section will take 35 minutes.

You will see analytical reading questions, which test your logic; logical reasoning questions, which will have you solve arguments; and reading comprehension questions, which test your ability to interpret a sample reading passage.

There is also a writing section in which you will compose one essay to be sent to law schools with your applications.

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

The MCAT is a grad school test administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges for any students enrolling in medical school. The test will measure problem-solving and critical thinking skills, as well as general knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social sciences.

Dates: Multiple dates for the MCAT exam are offered between January and September.

Cost: The initial registration fee for this grad school test is $315. However, the cost will increase to $370 if you register within 8 days prior to your exam date.

Scoring: Each section will have a score within the range of 118 to 132. Your total score will then fall between 472 and 528.

Structure: The MCAT will take seven hours and 30 minutes to complete, and it is taken electronically. There are four multiple choice sections and a writing section.

The verbal reasoning section will test your ability to evaluate and apply text information. The physical sciences and biological sciences sections will cover reasoning in chemistry, physics, biology, and organic chemistry. Finally, the writing sample will ask you to state and develop a central idea.

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

Many graduate programs at business schools require applicants to take this grad school test. The exam evaluates verbal, mathematical, and analytical skills. The GMAT can be taken once every 16 days, but no more than five times in a year.

Dates: The GMAT is available year-round. Simply sign up for a seat at a nearby testing center on their website. Your score will be valid for five years.

Cost: Globally, this grad school test costs $250. Additional fees are added for rescheduling or canceling appointments and requesting extra score reports.

Scoring: The verbal and quantitative sections of the exam are scored from 0-60. The analytical writing assignment is scored from 0-6, in increments of 0.5. Finally, the integrated reasoning section will be scored from 0-8. You will be given a percentile ranking for each question, and your final score will be on the 200-800 scale based on the verbal and quantitative sections.

Structure: The GMAT is split into four sections, taken electronically. The exam will last approximately 3 hours.

The analytical writing assessment asks you to write one essay which analyzes an argument in 30 minutes. The integrated reasoning section consists of 12 multiple choice questions that evaluate multi-source reasoning. This section will also take 30 minutes to complete.

The quantitative section, lasting 62 minutes, will ask 31 questions about data sufficiency and problem-solving. Finally, you will have 65 minutes to answer 36 questions about reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction.

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Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

This grad school test is the general exam offered to graduate school applicants across all disciplines. There are two versions of the GRE—the General Test and the Subject Test—and the test you take will be determined by your graduate program.

Your prospective school will tell you which GRE you need to take. The Subject Test will assess your knowledge of a particular field, while the General Test evaluates verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing.

Dates: The General Test is offered year-round, while the Subject Test is offered in April, September, and October. Your scores will be valid for five years. The tests can be taken once every 21 days.

Cost: The GRE Subject Tests cost $150 worldwide. The General Test costs $205 in the U.S. and most other areas of the world, but between $220 and $255 in some countries.

Scoring: The verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections are scored from 200-800 on the General Test, while the analytical writing section is scored from 0-6. The Subject Tests are scored from 200-990 per section.

Structure: The General Test will take 4 hours to complete and can be taken electronically.

The verbal section will evaluate your reading comprehension skills and your knowledge of relationships between words and concepts. The quantitative section measures problem-solving skills and math concepts. Finally, the analytical writing section tests your ability to express and support complex ideas.

The Subject Tests take 3 hours to complete. The following subjects are offered: Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology, Biology, Chemistry, Literature in English, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology. The sections vary based on the Subject Test.

Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

This grad school test demonstrates English-language proficiency for in students who wish to study a program delivered in English. The test is also available to people applying for visas, entering or exiting an English-language learning program, and scholarship candidates.

Dates: Test dates for the TOEFL are generally in October, November, and April. Your score will be valid for two years.

Cost: The cost for this grad school test depends on the testing location. For example, the price in Milan is $245, while the price in Bogata is $220.

Scoring: Each section is scored out of 30—the total score is out of 120. You will also receive performance feedback reports, which can be sent to four institutions for free.

Structure: The TOEFL takes around four hours and 30 minutes to complete. You will see a reading section, which asks 36-56 questions based on passages from academic passages. A listening section will ask 34-51 questions based on audio recordings.

There are six tasks in a speaking portion of the exam where participants will speak on familiar topics and class material. Finally, you will write two short essay—one about topics previously introduced, and one where you express and support an opinion.

Practice makes perfect: study tips for your grad school test

Enroll in tutoring sessions. If you feel more confident studying for your grad school test with a partner, you can sign up for tutoring sessions. Your tutor can help you create a study plan and figure out the areas you need to work on the most. They’ll offer guidance on practice sets and help you reach your study goals.

Check for local tutoring programs in your area for face-to-face sessions. You can also get matched with an online tutor through websites like Wyzant if you’re comfortable working remotely.

For more rigorous studying in a larger setting, you can also enroll in grad school test prep courses. Although they can be pricey, they’re worth it. Kaplan offers courses in a classroom setting depending on your location, as well as live online courses, starting at $1299.

grad school test, tips, infographic

Infographic by Elise Nelson via Venngage

Take practice exams. Your grad school test’s website will have official practice exams to work on. For example, you can find free sample questions with explanations on the LSAT website, plus copies of actual past exams. Find as many versions of the test as you can and keep taking them until you feel comfortable. Complete the exams entirely, including the writing section.

I know what you’re thinking—it’s bad enough to sit through a 3+ hour exam when the actual test day comes around, and now you’re supposed to practice the whole thing more than once. You can begin by completing small portions as you have time, but you should run through the exam in its entirety at least once if you can. This way, you’ll know for sure that you can handle the real test for that long.

Use supplemental study resources. Before you take the practice exams, you can start studying with grad school test prep booklets. You’ll find sample problems and explanations, and even some extra study tips to help you get the best score possible. Bring your booklet and a pencil everywhere and work on it in your free time. Again, you can find official guides on the test’s website and on some tutoring sites.

Flashcards are also a great on-the-go study tool. Use them to memorize formulas, vocabulary, or helpful facts. Quizlet is a great website (and app) for making flashcards and running through them on your own. You can create flashcard sets yourself or search for sets that other grad school test-takers have created. The site also has various games and quizzes for faster learning.

Create a study schedule (and stick to it). You’ll find the most success if you begin studying early and spread it all out. Customize your schedule however you’d like—smaller chunks once a day, bigger chunks once a week, etc. No matter what, it should stay consistent. Take breaks sparingly—don’t use a “break time” as a way to give up! If it helps, you can reward yourself somehow every time you reach a study goal.

Ask someone who has taken the test before. Do you have any friends or family members who have gotten through your grad school test before? Is there an undergraduate professor at your school that you can sit down and talk to about the test?

They can tell you what to expect on the day of the exam, from entering the testing location to the answering the final question. They may also let you in on some valuable study secrets that helped them feel confident.

Grad school test day tips to ease your nerves

Arrive at your testing location early. Signing in may take time, especially if there’s a big crowd. Anticipate standing in line, signing some forms, and possibly getting a test day photo taken. The MCAT will also ask for your fingerprints at the testing center. Plus, you may feel flustered for the entire exam if you find yourself rushing all morning.

Pack only the essentials. Some testing locations will be strict about what you’re allowed to bring into the exam with you. Stay on the safe side and only pack a small bag. Check your grad school test’s website for a list of items to bring with you.

You’re generally required to bring an admission ticket with a recent photo, a valid government I.D., and sharpened No. 2 wooden pencils. Aside from this, you may bring a clear plastic bag with your wallet, keys, medical products, a drink and snack for the break, and so on.

Take your time on the test. The time limits may seem scary, but it’s no reason to rush. Think through each question carefully. You’ll receive better results in the end.

Don’t make plans for later. Remember that this test is going to take several hours to complete. For one thing, you won’t quite know what time you’ll be finished. You’ll also have to wake up early in the morning on test day, so you may feel a little wiped out by the end. Give yourself some relaxation time. You’ve earned it.

Visit your exam’s website for even more grad school test tips. Good luck!

By Elise Nelson

Uloop Writer
Elise is a senior at Albright College in Reading, Pa, studying journalism. She hopes to pursue a career in feature writing and editing for a magazine. Much of Elise's time is dedicated to being Editor-in-Chief of Albright's student newspaper, The Albrightian. She is also a member of Sigma Tau Delta English Honors Society, and co-hosts a radio show on WXAC 91.3 FM.

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