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NAVIGATING GRADUATE EXAMINATION GUIDES

When preparing to attend graduate school, it’s easy to focus on the what an advanced degree can offer – increased earning potential, advancement in a career field, and achieving a lifelong goal. The first step for many programs is providing an admissions examination score. Prospective graduate students will likely need to take one of the five most common standardized tests for graduate school – GRE, GMAT, LSAT, MCAT, and TOEFL.

Use our navigation bar below to find specific examination guides with helpful tools, including study tips, sample exam questions, timelines for studying, and video guides from experts and former examinees. Students will also find information about testing dates and have their most common questions answered.

Grad School 101: Graduate Record Exam (GRE)

The GRE is considered one of the most accurate means of testing a candidate’s preparedness for graduate studies, making it the most widely used examination for master’s level programs. Because the GRE is often required for admissions to graduate school, students needing to take this exam are in a good position given the countless study resources available.

As with any major test, the key to crushing the GRE is allowing enough time to dig into materials and truly absorb the concepts and skill sets it will test. Wondering what else you should know going in?

10 Things to Know Before Taking the GRE

1You’re not alone

More than 700,000 hopeful students take this exam each year, and chances are you’ll know someone who has taken it. Use friends and colleagues as resources to learn more about insider tips and how to best prepare for testing day.

2Make plans early

Because GRE advisors recommend taking the examination during the third year of undergraduate students, studying should start the summer after sophomore year. While the test is offered numerous times throughout the year, students should check the application deadlines of all potential schools and create a schedule accordingly.

3It isn’t cheap

Students must pay $160 to take the GRE, which includes having scores sent to four prospective schools. For every additional school, there is a $23 fee incurred.

4Basic is best

Though many examinees worry that the materials covered will be too advanced for them, one of the most helpful tips is to study high school materials. Reviewing foundational skills and concepts, especially within math, can go a long way in raising a score.

5Time is money

While studying for hours on end may not seem like the most exciting way to spend several months, it can truly pay off. Individuals scoring in the top percentiles are much more likely to not only gain acceptance to better programs, but also increase their chances of funding. Most professionals recommend spending eight to 12 weeks poring over books before sitting the test.

6Adaptability is important

The GRE is a computer-adapted test, meaning the exam tailors the level of difficulty based on an individual examinee’s performance. If you are excelling, the questions will become more difficult.

7Practice makes perfect

Lots of practice test are available, both for free and for purchase. Using these resources will help examinees familiarize themselves with the structure and types of questions they’ll encounter, while also helping them learn about pacing.

8You can go local

There are hundreds of testing centers spread across the country, especially in urban areas. Individuals who live in a rural area may need to drive a bit further to reach an exam center.

9It’s not game over

Candidates who reach the end of the exam and feel they didn’t do their best are able to cancel their scores instead of having them sent to prospective schools. The test can be retaken each month, up to five times per year.

10Don’t make plans

This hefty exam clocks in at nearly four hours long, meaning test takes will likely want to clear their schedules for the entire day. Most tests begin in the morning and finish in the early afternoon.

Wondering what else you should know about this comprehensive entrance exam? Our guide, Crushing the GRE, will be able to answer your questions and provide useful resources.

EXPLORE BIGGER BUSINESS: GRADUATE MANAGEMENT ADMISSION TEST (GMAT)

The MBA surpassed education as the top master’s level degree choice in 2014, thanks to both its widespread acceptance by employers and a promising return on investment. Individuals aspiring to enter the world of business should be prepared for demanding, fast-paced environments requiring critical thinking skills that can be utilized under pressure.

The GMAT can be seen as mirroring the business environment in many ways, and is considered to be one of the most difficult standardized tests. Given that more than 6,000 business schools use this test to determine an applicant’s suitability, it’s emerged as a valuable and insightful way of finding the best and brightest students. Though it will take a lot of hard work to ace this exam, examinees that go in prepared will be in a good position to shine.

Should You Get an MBA?

How long have you been in the working world?

Because so much of the coursework and group projects are based on real-world scenarios, well-regarded MBA programs typically require candidates to have three to five years of professional experience under their belts.

Do you want to own your own business?

There is a lot of debate within the business and entrepreneurial worlds on whether or not those who aspire to have their own companies should undertake an MBA. Leaders in the field have said that it’s a personal decision and no overarching answer will be right for every person, so it’s a question you’ll need to research when trying to understand your motivations.

How important is earning potential?

While individuals with an undergraduate degree in business command good salaries – the average being $54,000 in 2014 – their MBA counterparts significantly outpace them. During the same year, the typical starting salary for recent MBA graduates was $100,000. Depending on the area of business an individual chooses, this amount can easily escalate to $250,000 to $300,000 as their career progresses.

Do you enjoy being a leader or a follower?

One of the big reasons MBA holders have such great earning potential is because they are generally seen as being skilled in working under pressure, making touch decisions, and leading teams to carry out a company’s mission. Individuals who prefer being given their tasks are likely to dislike the roles commonly filled by those with MBAs.

What’s your plan?

Though having an MBA will open many doors, knowing how to position yourself and be proactive is just as important as the degree itself. Before enrolling, potential students should think about their goals, topics they want to focus on, networks they want to join, and relationships they want to build.

Is recognition important to you?

Whenever a potential employer or colleague sees that an individual has completed their MBA, there are certain ideas of prestige, intelligence and advanced business acumen that come along with those letters. Though many self-made businessmen and women exist, individuals who find it important to have the credentials to back up their skills are often drawn to MBA programs.

Does your current career path feel stale?

The MBA is a perennially popular choice for individuals who have spent a number of years working in a different area and are now ready to expand their professional possibilities. Because an MBA is so favored by employers, completing this degree makes it possible to pivot careers into myriad arenas.

Does your dream job require an MBA?

As more students undertake graduate degrees, jobs in the business world are increasingly calling for professionals with an advanced education. Especially in areas such as finance or brokering, an individual’s options may be limited without this degree.

Do you want to work within the global economy?

The MBA is a globally recognized credential, so it’s no surprise that thousands of international students complete their degrees in America. The Class of 2017 for the top nine MBA programs include anywhere from 32 to 47 percent of students hailing from outside the United States. American students should take this into consideration and utilize their peers from around the world when it comes time for job hunting.

Do you have the personality for it?

In the same way that certain individuals are better suited to the rigors of working in business, the same is true for those who elect to complete an MBA. People who don’t enjoy networking, tend to work in abstract theory, or don’t have a solid work ethic often struggle with the coursework and projects required for an MBA, so it’s best to do a thorough self-examination to determine if your natural strengths and interests will be well suited to this path.

Potential students who think business school may be the right path for them will likely find useful information in GoGrad’s full guide on preparing for the GMAT.

BY THE BOOK: LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS TEST (LSAT)

The LSAT is a difficult, competitive examination, with 101,689 exams administered during 2014-2015. Countless television shows and movies have portrayed the anxiety that comes along with taking the LSAT, but examinees who have thoroughly reviewed the materials need not fear this test. Students are sometimes surprised by the years of hard work and preparation that goes into taking the LSAT, gaining admission to a program, and graduating from law school.

The following timeline helps prospective students learn about when and how they should start working toward their dream of becoming a lawyer.

Summer Before Junior Year

Students should sign up to take a diagnostic LSAT exam, offered free of charge through numerous testing services. Finding out what you currently know will help you to identify areas to strengthen.

Junior Year

If they haven’t done so previously, students should seek out the Pre-Law advisor on their school’s campus to assess their academic, work and community experiences and learn about other opportunities that will be appealing to an admissions panel. For students who plan to go straight into law school, this is also the year to spend every moment studying. The majority of law school applications are due in the November of senior year, meaning examinees should take their final LSAT exam by that October. Students who wish to take it more than once will need to do so either at the end of their junior year or during the summer.

Senior Year

After completing the LSAT, it’s time to pull together transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essays, and information about extracurricular involvement and send it to prospective schools. On average, students apply to six or seven schools to ensure they have numerous options when it comes time to select the best program.

Law School: Three Years

Students attending classes full-time typically complete their Juris Doctor in three years, during which time they are referred to as 1Ls, 2Ls and 3Ls.

1L

During the first year, students get an overwhelming overview of the legal field, following a set curriculum designed to lay the foundation for future coursework. Most ABA-accredited universities require classes on civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, torts, legal research, and legal writing.

2L

Less structured than the first year, students in their second year tend to take a mix of other foundational courses, such as evidence, while also starting to specialize their knowledge in specific areas of law. Some of the upper-level coursework includes studies in intellectual property, environmental, taxation, international, or human rights law.

3L

Most general coursework will be completed during the first two years, giving students in their final year the time to further focus on specialized studies. Brown University offers a comprehensive list of the different types of law a student may elect to specialize in.

After Law School

Once the Juris Doctor has been completed, students must take the bar exam for the state where they plan to practice. The summer after graduation is typically reserved for poring over materials and study guides in preparation for taking the exam during the fall months. After this is completed, graduates are considered licensed and can apply for a number of associate-level roles. Though the most common image of a lawyer is within a courtroom, individuals with law degrees have countless opportunities available, working with law firms, government agencies, judges, individual organizations seeking in-house counsel, the military, or non-profits in a variety of roles. Some of these include:

  • Judicial clerk

  • Lobbyist

  • Prosecutor

  • Legal Aid Lawyer

  • State/Federal Representative

  • Political Advisor

  • Legal Professor

  • Contract Negotiator

  • Regulatory Affairs Director

Taking the LSAT is a big, and sometimes scary, step toward starting law school. For students on the fence or just beginning to study for this intimidating examination, consider our Guide to the LSAT at your first top on the path to law school.

MED SCHOOL FIRST STOP — MEDICAL COLLEGE ADMISSION TEST (MCAT)

Presented as an exam unlike any other, students aspiring to work as licensed doctors must take the Medical College Admission Test and be accepted to a medical program to fulfill those dreams. Although thousands of pre-medical students undertake the MCAT each year, many encounter challenges that prevent them from succeeding on test day and being accepted to a program.

Here are 10 of the top challenges prospective students face when applying to medical school, and how to avoid them.

Picking the wrong undergrad path

While the American Medical Association offers data showing a student’s undergrad major has no real bearing on their ability to succeed in med school, good grades and extracurricular activities do. Baccalaureate students aiming to continue into a medical program should pick a degree that they both find interesting and that will allow them to excel academically.

Being uniquely you

Admission panels receive thousands of applications from students with excellent GPAs, stellar MCAT scores, a laundry list of extracurricular activities, and shining letters of recommendation – so why should they remember your application? While it’s important to share all of your accomplishments, try to think outside the box and include a uniquely unforgettable part of yourself. Owning a business, living abroad, running a marathon, or even having a hometown with a memorable claim to fame are all ways of standing out.

Not dreaming about the MCAT

Becoming a doctor means asking someone to trust you with their lives, and the MCAT will push you to the breaking point to ensure you’re up for the challenge. Examinees live and breath these test in the months leading up to the examination. Though not literal, if you’re not close to the point of having dreams about it – or at least spending considerable hours each day studying and reviewing prep materials – chances are admissions panels will be able to pick up on this based on your score. The Medical School First Stop guide offers a helpful section entitled “Navigating the Test” to help examinees familiarize themselves with the structure and content.

Tardiness

You’ve put in months of studying, gotten your professors to write letters of recommendation, and laboriously pored over your application 12 times. In all your hard work, however, you somehow missed the deadline and sent your application in a few days late. Regardless of how captivating your application is, timeliness is of paramount importance in medicine. How can an admissions panel feel confident in your abilities if this small task is submitted late?

Underestimating communication

After reviewing applications, many medical programs invite students to visit campus and interview with department heads. Outside of MCAT scores and GPAs, these interviews are the most significant part of the process, as panels are able to ascertain a candidate’s ability to demonstrate interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence – both of which are crucial to possess as doctors. If candidates feel nervous, they should try and spend the few weeks before their interview talking to a variety of people and normalizing the process.

Not getting out there, clinically speaking

The majority of time spent by doctors is in a clinical setting, so applicants without any prior experience in this arena will likely be red flags for application review committees. Whether shadowing a friend or family member who works in medicine, volunteering at an elderly care facility, or asking a family physician if you can observe them, these types of experiences will make candidates much more competitive.

Using spare time wisely

When applying to medical school, applicants will need to demonstrate a commitment to going above and beyond what is required, and this is typically done through extracurricular activities. While involvement doesn’t necessarily need to revolve around medicine or biological sciences, taking on leadership roles or organizing community events will help committees see your level of devotion.

Respecting the process

For many students, getting good grades and acing the MCAT are their main concerns. Though both of these are monumentally important, oftentimes applicants shortchange themselves by not paying just as much attention to the application. Writing plays a big role in medicine, as doctors are required to clearly and effectively make notes and recommendations about patient treatment. Not being able to communicate effectively could raise concerns amongst those who know the position well.

Getting solid recommendations

Rather than focusing on professors who gave them the best grades, prospective students should instead try to build mentorship relationships with faculty members who have impacted them. Admissions panels are looking for recommendations that give insight into who the student is, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and what they will bring to the program. Only professors who have spent significant time with the student will be able to answer those questions in a meaningful way.

Not casting the net wide enough

Though it may seem extravagant or unnecessary to apply to a raft of schools, it’s worth noting that less than half of all medical school applicants for the 2011-2012 academic year received a spot at any of the schools to which they applied. As important as it is to have “reach” schools – those that are less likely – it’s just as important to apply to a wide spectrum to increase the chances of being accepted to at least one.

With so much on the line, the Medical School First Stop guide is here to help students get their heads around the MCAT and what to expect.

SHOULD YOU TAKE THE TEST OF ENGLISH AS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE (TOEFL)?

The TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language is a global examination designed to ascertain the ability of a non-native English speaker to communicate effectively. The test is divided into four sections, consisting of reading, writing, listening, and speaking, and is currently used in more than 130 countries. Over 30 million individuals take the exam for a variety of reasons, ranging from attending an English-speaking university program to applying for a job where English is the dominant language.

Do you need to take the TOEFL? Keep reading to find out.

Are you
applying for a visa?

A number of visas, including the J-1 Visitor Exchange Program and the F-1/M-1 student visas, require a certain level of English proficiency to be considered. Students, visiting lecturers, interns, and those participating in exchange agreements between their countries and America typically apply for this type of visa.

Do you want to attend a language course?

While the goal of these programs is to help students improve their ability to communicate in English, they frequently require a minimum TOEFL score to be admitted. Because each section of the examination is scored on a scale of 0 to 30, language programs can use these scores to determine an applicant’s level of proficiency.

Do you plan on completing an American education?

Whether applying to high school, an undergraduate program, or an advanced degree, nearly every program and department will have set guidelines about minimum TOEFL scores for admittance.

PROSPECTIVE TEST TAKERS PROFILES

The MBA Applicant

This candidate has been studying English in their home country for the last few years, building up their vocabulary and learning about the application process by reading websites of prospective American universities. While their skills in these two areas are constantly improving, they have little opportunity to practice listening comprehension and they haven’t written many long-form assignments. After reviewing common TOEFL entrance requirements and learning that most of the top business schools look for a score between 100 to 109, the student realizes she will need to enhance her skills in these areas before applying.

The International Job Seeker

After gaining prominence in his home country, this individual is looking to further his career by gaining international experience in America. While he frequently interacts with clients and colleagues in English, the majority of his vocabulary is focused on everyday conversations and concepts pertinent to his career path. The TOEFL is recognized as the preeminent exam for academic institutions, yet it may not be the best test to take in this instance. Instead, this individual may be better suited to other English proficiency exams that cater more to professionals, such as the IELTS.

Deciding to take the TOEFL is a big decision and requires tireless commitment to truly excel. Inside the TOEFL is here to help students learn about what to expect, offer helpful studying tips, and provide resources to gain the best possible score.