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How to Best Prepare for Graduate Admission Exams

If you plan on attending graduate school, whether it’s business school, law school, medical school, or some other graduate program, you’ll most likely need to take one of several graduate admission exams as part of your application. Preparing to take graduate admission exams long after your initial undergraduate admissions process can seem daunting, but the sooner you get started the sooner you can be on your way to a rewarding graduate school experience.

Different Graduate Admissions Exams

The entrance exam that you take will depend on the graduate degree you are seeking and, in some cases, the specific school or program to which you apply. Law school applicants will need to take the law school-specific exam, the LSAT. Students applying to medical school will need to take the MCAT. Most business schools require applicants take the GMAT, however, some programs will also accept the GRE. The GRE is the preferred exam for most other graduate programs. When planning for graduate school it’s important to know the testing requirements of the school and program to which you’re applying in order to properly prepare for the exams.


Those applying to law school will need to take the LSAT, a three-and-a-half-hour exam that includes one writing section, one reading comprehension section, one analytical reasoning section, two logical reasoning sections, and one unscored section. Each section is 35 minutes long and is multiple-choice, with the exception of the writing assessment. The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120-180. The LSAT is a written test and is only offered four times a year at designated testing centers. For list of test dates and locations, visit the LSAT website here.


Students applying to medical school will need to take the MCAT. The MCAT is a seven-and-a-half-hour exam (including breaks) with four sections:

  • Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
  • Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills

Students have 95 minutes to complete each section, with the exception of the Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills section, which is 90 minutes long. Each section is scored on a scale of 118-132 and the section scores are added up to reflect a total score.

The MCAT is computer-based and offered 25 times between January-September at designated testing centers. For a list of test dates and to find a testing center near you, visit the MCAT website here.


Most students looking to pursue a graduate management degree like an MBA will need to take the GMAT in order to be considered for admission. The GMAT is a three-and-a-half-hour exam with four sections: analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning.

The exam is administered on a computer, and is an adaptive test, meaning that the difficulty of the next question is determined by whether or not you answered the previous question correctly. For example, at the start of the test, you are given a medium-level question. If you answer correctly, the next question will be harder. If you answer incorrectly, the next question will be easier. Because the test is adaptive question-by-question, you cannot go back and revisit previous questions or change your answers.

Total GMAT scores are based on verbal and quantitative scores and range from 200-800. The analytical writing assessment and integrated reasoning section are scored separately, on a scale from 0-6 for the writing assessment and 1-8 for the integrated reasoning.

The GMAT is offered year-round and is taken by appointment at a local test center. For a list of test centers near you, visit the GMAT website here.

In addition to the GMAT, some business schools might also accept the GRE for admission.


Most other graduate programs, and some MBA programs, accept the GRE for admission. The GRE is a three-hour and 45-munite exam with six sections, including an unscored section, which tests verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. The analytical writing section is first, with the verbal, quantitative, and unscored sections following in random order.

Like the GMAT, the GRE is administered on a computer and is an adaptive test. However, while the GMAT adapts to each question, the GRE is adaptive based on each section. For example, if you perform well on the first verbal section, the next verbal section will be more difficult. If you don’t do well on the first verbal section, the next section will be easier. Your raw scores are then scaled based on the difficulty of the questions you answered.

The verbal and quantitative reasoning sections are each scored on a 130-170 point scale, with the analytical writing section scored on a 0-6 scale.

The GRE is offered year-round and can usually be taken by appointment or on a specific day at a local testing center. To find a test center and date close to you, visit the GRE website here. And before you register, make sure you understand how to study for the GRE.

How to Prepare For Graduate Admission Exams

While it may feel like déjà vu, preparing for graduate exams is a little different than preparing for undergraduate exams such as the ACT or SAT. Most likely you’ll just have one test to choose from, not two, and more time to prep as you’ll have more control over your admissions timetable. However, some key tips are the same.

  • Research. Make sure you know the admission and testing requirements for the program to which you’re applying. For example, students applying to the University of California Berkeley’s chemistry program must take the GRE, but the admissions office also highly recommends students submit scores from the GRE chemistry subject test. If your top-choice MBA program only accepts the GMAT, don’t prepare for the GRE. And don’t prepare for the GRE assuming every program will accept it. Do your research beforehand to make sure you prepare for the appropriate test.
  • Take a Diagnostic. See where you stand and where you need to improve with a diagnostic test. Take it under timed conditions so you’re simulating the test-day experience, and use the diagnostic as a starting point. If you’re preparing for the GRE and your verbal score is solid but you have a low quantitative reasoning score, make a plan to identify the types of quantitative questions that gave you trouble and work to improve.
  • Develop a Testing Timeline. Prospective graduate students taking the GRE or GMAT generally have more flexibility over their testing schedule, as these computer-based exams can be taken pretty much whenever they choose. Testing timelines, in this case, are more driven by application deadlines to specific programs, rather than a set test date. While you’ll have more flexibility, you’ll still need to plan ahead. Don’t schedule your GMAT the week before your business school applications are due. Leave enough time to retake the exam before your application deadlines, if needed. Other exams like the LSAT and MCAT have limited test dates and locations, and require much more planning beforehand. It’s important to identify when you plan to apply to your specific program in order to develop an effective timeline. For example, those applying to law school for fall admission should take the LSAT in September, or December at the latest. Since some of the earliest medical school application deadlines are in October, most students aim to take the test in June, leaving room to take the August or September exam, if needed.
  • Practice Test-Taking Strategies. Just like with the ACT and SAT, there are a number of test-taking strategies to utilize when practicing for graduate admission exams. For example, know when to skip questions and come back on the GRE – there’s a review screen at the end of the section that can tell you which questions to go back to. The GMAT, however, does not allow you to go back, so work on process of elimination, as it’s best to guess if you don’t know the answer. On the LSAT, don’t read the answer options on the logical reasoning section before the stimulus. This is a technique many use on the ACT or SAT – reading the questions and answer options before reading the passage, but it can work to your disadvantage on the LSAT. Know each test and research test-taking strategies to help you maximize your time and score.
  • Take Practice Exams In Test Day Conditions. The best way to prepare is to simulate the test-day experience. If you’re taking a computer-based test, try to take a few practice exams on a computer in order to get used to the format and the physical demands of staring at a screen for an extended period of time. Take practice tests under timed conditions, too, in order to become familiar with the pacing so you’re able to complete sections in the time allowed.
  • Seek Help If Needed. Don’t be afraid to seek tutoring help if needed. A few prep classes for any of these exams can go a long way toward maximizing your score and chances of admission to your top-choice program. At IvyWise, we have a number of tutors with experience helping students prepare for the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, and MCAT.

Planning for graduate admission exams is the first step on your journey toward advancing your education and career through a graduate degree program. Be sure to start planning early and only sit for an exam if you’re absolutely prepared.

For more information on our graduate counseling and tutoring services, contact us today!

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