While it may not make your top 10 favorite things to do list, taking a standardized test is usually necessary for grad school admissions. Depending on what kind of program and career you’re pursuing, you’ll most likely be taking one of five most commonly offered standardized tests: the GRE® test, the GMAT™ exam, the LSAT®, the MCAT® test or the DAT®. If you’re an international student, you may be required to take a TOEFL® test as well.
What does “test optional” mean?
“Test optional” means that the admissions committee doesn’t require or heavily weigh a test score as part of the application process by which you’re being judged. It’s often referred to as holistic admissions. Over the past few years, many graduate programs have become test optional. While some schools and programs adopted this policy pre-pandemic, many have opted into this policy because of COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, students didn’t have access to tests, were affected by travel restrictions or were financially compromised, preventing them from registering for the tests and taking the recommended prep courses.
How can testing help with admission?
If a school or program you’re applying to is test optional, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to or shouldn’t take a test. In an extremely competitive graduate landscape, you want to give yourself every advantage, and an impressive test score can help with that. This is especially advantageous to those whose resume and transcripts may not necessarily help them stand out.
Another reason to take a test, even if not required for admissions, is to show what you’re made of — not just to the admissions committee, but to yourself. The discipline, determination and commitment required to prepare and take one of the graduate level tests is what a program admissions committee wants to see. In addition to assessing the important skills you’ll need to be successful in a graduate program, it’s a good self-assessment as well. You’re not only showing a school you can work hard and complete a task successfully, you’re showing yourself.
Give yourself time to prepare.
Whether you take a standardized test because it’s required or because you just want to give yourself an extra advantage in the admissions process, it’s important to prepare ahead of time. These aren’t the types of tests you sign up for a week in advance. In many cases, you should consider taking your test before you even start searching for a program. Your score may dictate where you’re able to apply.
There are many test prep sites out there, including on each test’s website. Take advantage of these. They are worth the investment as they may be the key that unlocks the door to your dream graduate program.