To GRE or not to GRE… or LSAT or GMAT?

test prep

If you’re applying for graduate school, chances are that you’re considering taking a standardized test. The standard path, of course, is that those interested in business school take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test), those planning on law school take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test), and those applying for master’s or PhD’s take the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), if not a more niche test for their degree.  

Yet, the post-Covid world has marked many shifts in the graduate admissions space, from test optional to test flexible, and this paradigm of school type to test type may no longer be as true as it was in the past. You may be unintentionally missing out on playing to your strengths and taking another test (probably the GRE), so if you are interested in applying, make sure to do the following:  

1. Research the test types that the schools on your list accept.  

Post-Covid, top schools like MIT have waived standardized testing requirements for some graduate programs altogether. If this is the case for programs you are interested in, ask yourself how valuable testing would be to your application. Got off to a rough academic start in college or want to show an upwards trajectory in your academic abilities and grades? Then showing your skills through a great test score may be valuable for you, even at a test optional school. Graduating with a 4.0 and a plethora of academic awards? There are probably many other things you could put your time towards that would be equally, if not much more, valuable to admissions.   

2. If all of your schools accept two types of tests, decide what test is most advantageous for your skillset and goals. 

 Many top programs have become much more flexible with what types of tests they accept in recent years. For instance, top business schools (like Harvard and Wharton) accept both the GRE and GMAT and have score ranges of admitted students available on their websites. If you have multiple test types to choose from, evaluate where your skills lie. The easiest way to do this is often to take a practice test of each type under testing conditions - you can probably find a practice test on the test provider’s website. Figure out what score range your target schools are looking for and evaluate how you felt about each test/your results. Perhaps you are a STEM major who could take the GRE or LSAT for law school admissions. After an initial practice test, you might find the LSAT logic games section to be a beast—you could learn the techniques to ace it and spend time studying, or you could find that you are already in the top percentiles on the verbal sections of the GRE. Don’t be afraid to choose the path of least resistance and play to your strengths. I studied for the GRE for less than a week while a very smart friend of mine spent an entire summer studying for her LSAT all day, every day. We both ended up with the score we wanted, but her journey was so much more grueling because her strengths were elsewhere. If admissions accepts both tests, they aren’t going to disadvantage an exceptional student with a great test score, no matter which test it is. 

3. Plan your studying timeline and consider caveats. 

Be careful that you don’t overestimate your skillset, especially on things that seem easy. I’ve heard of numerous anecdotes from science whizzes who were so used to advanced mathematics that with the time crunch of the GRE’s mathematics sections, it was difficult to dredge up the tricks to answer all the questions in 45 seconds to 1 minute. Chances are that even if you are playing to your strengths, you might underestimate how quickly you can raise the score or how sensitive the percentiles are to getting an extra question right or wrong—so practice! Start early, take more practice tests, and don’t be afraid to ask for help to make the most of your limited study time.  

Julia holds a BA in Economics (summa cum laude) from Harvard College. She is currently pursuing an MSc in Statistical Science at Oxford University.


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