Graduate Admissions Standardized Testing

Grad School Test Prep

By: Steve Dulan, GRE, GMAT and LSAT Tutor for Top Tier Admissions

In a perfect world, prep for any of the graduate entrance exams (GRE, GMAT, LSAT) would begin 3-6 months before the exam and would be treated like a 2-credit college course — with one to two instructor contact hours per week and 4-6 hours per week of practice work using a combination of commercial materials and actual, official released exams.

All of the exams test a combination of knowledge and skills to some degree. While many candidates are quite efficient at doing condensed learning of knowledge (a/k/a: “cramming.”), human beings require repetition in order to perfect skills. The one major skill that is relevant to all exams is Reading Comprehension. The type of reading that is required for standardized testing is very different from the type of reading that is rewarded in most college courses. So, many students require several weeks to make the transition required to maximize test scores.

Each exam has its own specific content areas. For example, GRE and GMAT both require math, while the LSAT doesn’t. However, the LSAT has a section called “Analytical Reasoning” (often referred to as: “Logic Games.”) that requires thought process and problem-solving skills that are very similar to math.

At Top Tier Admissions, we start each student with a diagnostic test that is used to pinpoint areas of strength and weakness by knowledge content area and skill-set. We then create a personalized plan designed to yield the best score increase in the time available. In some cases, when students must take the exam within a fairly short time frame, we actually suggest “sacrificing” certain question types that don’t occur often in order to focus on more-common types. At each step, we reevaluate priorities as candidates improve in specific content areas and skill-sets.

Many candidates are very self-aware and know exactly what they need to improve. Others need more guidance and direction in discovering what they need to work on. Most meetings, after the first, begin with a review of practice work and then move on to a discussion of a new area, including recommended strategies for learning and for test day, and end with a min/max assignment that allows for a bit of flexibility depending on the candidate’s ability to get work done between meetings.

Every candidate has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve prepared thousands of students for these exams over more than 25 years. Some key takeaways for students who are prepping for graduate school tests include:

  • Pace yourself with prep
  • Gain confidence with repetition as you learn the format of the exam and become comfortable with the structure of the test
  • Anticipate problem areas by taking as many practice exams as possible
  • For the GRE verbal section especially, remember that vocab is king
  • Practicing isn’t enough; analyze the questions and correct answers as you prep
  • Refine your critical thinking skills

High test scores are critical for admission to top graduate programs. Create a plan and conquer that piece of the application.

Stay tuned for tips on other areas of graduate school admissions.  And, as always, let us know what’s on your mind.

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