Grad School Entrance Exams: The COVID-19 Edition

Grad School Entrance Exams: The COVID-19 Edition

By Elizabeth LaScala, Ph.D.

September 1, 2020

If you have attended an undergraduate institution in the United States, you probably remember taking the SAT or the ACT as part of the admissions requirements. Standardized tests are also required by many graduate and professional schools. These tests allow applicants from different institutions to be assessed using a standard metric. Common graduate and professional school entrance exams and tests include the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

In the past, all of these were paper-based tests delivered in a testing facility. More recently, many have become computer based, though these have still been delivered in a testing facility. Now, with COVID-19, some have moved their tests online to ensure the safety of test takers. Also, many graduate schools have recognized the rapidly changing testing landscape and are accepting applications without test scores.

Below you will find information about the GRE, the most commonly required test in the graduate and professional school landscape, as well as the more specialized GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT.

 

GRE Basics

Sections:
Analytical Writing,
Verbal Reasoning, and
Quantitative Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Once every 21 days,
five times per year

The scores to aim for
– Perfect score = 340
– Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning: min 330 combined
(neither score below 160)
– Analytical Writing: min 4

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)

The GRE is designed to assess your analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning. It is required by many graduate and professional schools in the United States and Canada as well as other international institutions. Different institutions – and even different departments within the same institution! – may weigh the scores from the three categories differently, placing a higher emphasis on writing and verbal or quantitative reasoning. The school or program you wish to attend may state a cut-off score for each category. If they don’t, you may be able to find the average scores for last year’s class at your preferred institution. This will help you design a tailored preparation plan that will get you the scores you need in relevant categories.

Due to COVID-19, the GRE General Test is temporarily being offered on your own computer at home. The test has the same content, format, and on-screen experience as the test you would take in a test center, and it is even administered by a human proctor online through ProctorU®. The test is currently available 24/7 through September 30, 2020. You will need to register first before making an appointment.

Even though the GRE is being offered in this way, several institutions have voiced concerns that this puts prospective students from rural and low-income backgrounds at a disadvantage. Test takers must use a computer (not a tablet or a smartphone) with a webcam as well as a private testing space (not a library or public venue) with a stable internet connection. Schools that find these technological requirements problematic are waiving GRE scores until a more equitable solution can be found. Other schools are dropping GRE scores from their application requirements entirely, even if test takers are able to return to venues. Be sure to check with your chosen institution(s) for what they require before investing the time and money required to excel at the GRE.

GRE Basics

Sections:
Analytical Writing,
Verbal Reasoning, and
Quantitative Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Once every 21 days,
five times per year

The scores to aim for
– Perfect score = 340
– Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning: min 330 combined
(neither score below 160)
– Analytical Writing: min 4

 

GMAT Basics

Sections:
Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Once every 16 days,
five times per year,
eight times total

Total Score to aim for
– Perfect score = 800
– Top 10 schools: 720 or higher
– Top schools: 700 or higher
– Good schools: 650 or higher

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

Business schools demand more than basic quantitative and verbal skills. The GMAT was designed to test higher-order skills, including analysis of elements and relationships, production of a plan of operations, and hypothesis formulation and evidence-based evaluation. Although the GMAT does provide a total score, scores from different sections (Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning) may be valued differently depending on the program. You may find that you are more proficient in some sections (depending on how close you are to the material in your work or your major). Other sections may require more preparation.

The Graduate Management Admission Council (the administrators of the GMAT) has introduced GMAT Online to protect examinees from COVID-19. The online version is half an hour shorter, there are no rescheduling fees, and appointments are available 24/7. However, there are two key considerations, one positive, one cautionary. Positive: the online test does not count towards the eight total times you are allowed to take the GMAT. A word of caution: you can only take the online test ONCE. If you want to retest, you will have to go to a testing center.

GMAT Basics

Sections:
Verbal, Quantitative, Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Once every 16 days,
five times per year,
eight times total

Total Score to aim for
– Perfect score = 800
– Top 10 schools: 720 or higher
– Top schools: 700 or higher
– Good schools: 650 or higher

 

LSAT Basics

Sections:
Writing, Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, Logical Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Three times per year,
Five times in five years
seven times in a lifetime

The scores to aim for
– Perfect score = 180
– Top score: 164-180
– Competitive score: 159-163
– Good enough score: 152-158

Law School Admission Test (LSAT)

The LSAT in integral to the law school admission process in the United States, Canada, and a several other countries. The test assesses critical reading, analytical reasoning, logical reasoning, and persuasive writing skills. The LSAT is the only test accepted by ABA-accredited law schools and Canadian common-law law schools.

The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is offering the LSAT-Flex until the health and safety issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic can be mitigated. LSAC sees this as an emergency measure and will be returning to in-person testing when it is safe to do so. The LSAT‐Flex is a shorter test that will be remotely proctored. Unlike the GRE and GMAT, the test is only offered on certain days, though the times are flexible. Please check with the LSAC website for updates regarding available test days.

LSAT Basics

Sections:
Writing, Reading Comprehension, Analytical Reasoning, Logical Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Three times per year,
Five times in five years
seven times in a lifetime

The scores to aim for
– Perfect score = 180
– Top score: 164-180
– Competitive score: 159-163
– Good enough score: 152-158

 

MCAT Basics

Sections:
Bio and Biochem Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Bio Systems; Psychological, Social, and Bio Foundations of Behavior; Critical Analysis and Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Three times per year,
max four times in two years,
seven times in a lifetime

The scores to aim for
– Perfect score = 528
– Aim for 518 or above with a 3.8 GPA

Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)

While medical schools do value a high GPA, not all coursework you would have taken during your undergrad is relevant to the medical profession. The MCAT tests for foundational material and provides information about the applicant’s readiness to be successful in medical school. Three sections of the MCAT focus on foundational concepts and one focuses on critical analysis and reasoning skills.

Unlike the other tests, the MCAT is still being offered in person at testing facilities. Multiple health and safety measures are in place at all Pearson Vue test centers, including social distancing and required masking of staff and examinees. Also, the exam time (total “seated” time) is being reduced from 7 hours and 30 minutes to 5 hours and 45 minutes to minimize social contact. You must reschedule if you have tested positive for COVID-19 or are feeling unwell. All rescheduling fees are being waived for the time being.

Even with these precautions, the Association of American Medical Colleges, which administers the test, has recently been criticized for not moving the test online. Several schools, including Stanford, are waiving the MCAT. If you are applying for medical school, it is vital to stay up to date with the evolving testing and admissions requirements.

MCAT Basics

Sections:
Bio and Biochem Foundations of Living Systems; Chemical and Physical Foundations of Bio Systems; Psychological, Social, and Bio Foundations of Behavior; Critical Analysis and Reasoning

How often can I take it?
Three times per year,
max four times in two years,
seven times in a lifetime

The scores to aim for
– Perfect score = 528
– Aim for 518 or above with a 3.8 GPA

 

Subscribe to My Newsletter

I am a…
Parent
Student
Working Professional
College Admissions Advisor (High School to College)
Graduate and Professional School Admissions Advisor

Interested in contributing articles?:
Yes

Article Topics:

View the Newsletter Archive