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Standardized Tests for Grad School: Which One Do You Need to Take?

Aug 14, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

If you’re headed to graduate or professional school, you’ll have to take a standardized test. While standardized test scores aren’t the only way grad schools evaluate applicants, they make the admissions staff’s job easier—by providing an easy way to compare many different applicants across a wide selection of subjects.

Here’s an overview of the most common four tests required for different types of graduate school.

The GRE 

The Graduate Record Exam or GRE is geared toward graduate school students in most areas aside from business, law, and medicine. It measures knowledge and skill across a broad spectrum of disciplines, and there are several different versions of the test geared to prospective students in different disciplines.

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There are two different types of GRE: the General Test  and the Subject Test. The GRE General Test has three sections: verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing. These sections test reading comprehension, math, and writing composition skills. The Subject Test is a more in-depth exam dealing with a single subject. GRE Subject Test topics include biochemistry, cell and molecular biology; biology; English literature; chemistry; math, computer science; physics; and psychology.

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You’ll be required to take the GRE General Test as part of the graduate school application process; however, whether or not you take the Subject Test depends on the program and sometimes your own choice. Some programs require both tests; others don’t. The scores for the Subject Test are often weighed more heavily than those for the General Test if you take both.

The GRE is made in the same format as the SAT and is administered by the same company. In graduate school admissions, GRE scores are used to judge an applicant’s potential for success in their programs, and the weight it’s given is quite high. It’s especially important to earn a high score on the GRE if your undergraduate GPA isn’t high.

The minimum score requirements for graduate school vary by program. The verbal and quantitative sections of the General GRE Test are scored on a range from 130 to 170, while the analytical writing section is scored on a scale from 0 to 6. The writing section is often given special weight, because of the importance of writing in most grad school programs.


The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is used in admissions for business schools. Like the GRE, it has sections measuring reading comprehension or verbal reasoning, math, and analytical writing skills.

There are some differences, however. The GRE puts a stronger emphasis on writing, requiring two essays where the GMAT only requires one. Generally, the GMAT has a reputation for being more challenging in the math section than the GRE, and is sometimes seen as more challenging overall.

Many business schools only accept the GMAT, but a growing number will accept the GRE as well. In some cases, you may have a choice as to which one you take—or whether to take both. Often the GMAT is seen as more challenging and its scores are given more weight, but this can vary from department to department and individual to individual.


The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is a half-day test required for admission to law school in the US. It measures both reading and verbal reasoning skills, and consists of five sections lasting 35 minutes each, as well as a 30-minute writing section. The exam tests reading comprehension, logical and analytical reasoning, and writing.

The LSAT is scored on a spectrum from 120 to 180. The average score is about 150, but most of the top law schools won’t accept scores lower than 160. In general, you should take the test by December if you’re planning on admission the following fall.


The Medical College Admissions Test is designed to measure your aptitude in various scientific and biological topics as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. It’s administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges and consists of four sections: verbal reasoning, physical sciences, biological sciences, and a writing sample.

Each section on the MCAT is scored individually, with a total cumulative score that can go as high as 45 points. Generally, the science sections are given more weight by medical schools than the verbal and writing sections. While different medical schools have different averages—Harvard’s is a 38—a 31 is generally considered a minimum strong score, with no section scored below a 9.

Both traditional and accredited online schools put a lot of weight on standardized test scores—and getting a high score is important, especially if your application is weak in other areas, such as your GPA. Get a high score on the standardized test required for your traditional or accredited online college graduate program, and you don’t necessarily get guaranteed admission—but your chances are much higher.




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