Standardized tests give most people a lot of anxiety. If you are applying for a graduate degree in the U.S. or Canada, you will have to take one of the following exams:
- Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
- Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
The GRE tests your general knowledge whereas the remaining exams evaluate your knowledge of a specific field and establish how prepared you are for graduate studies.
The difficult part about preparing for these tests is that there is not a specific set of materials that you should study or a short set of terms that you have to memorize. Instead, they are standardized exams that are meant to test every graduate student who goes on to take them and are based on what you should have studied during your university years. In reality, however, they are really testing how good you are at taking tests.
But there are some ways to successfully take them. Below are four tried and true strategies for getting a high score on standardized exams for your graduate school applications.
Familiarize Yourself with the Test Layout
Every standardized test has its own structure and scoring system and is not necessarily based getting all the questions right. For example, the GMAT has a score range of 200 to 800, and they assign a specific number to each question you answer correctly. At the end, if you score higher than most of the other GMAT test-takers, then you have a good chance of getting admitted to a program.
One way to do this is to become familiar with how the test is set up. It is helpful to know how many sections are in the test along with how many questions and subjects are in each section. In most cases, you do not have to answer the questions in order. You can mark the difficult ones and return to them later to save time. If you already know where your weak points are (for example, the math section of the GRE), then you can mark the questions you know will take you more time to figure out, and breeze through the rest of the questions that are easy for you first.
Take Practice Tests and Time Yourself
One of the things that often happens when students sit down to take a standardized test—whether it is the GRE or the GMAT—is that they are not prepared for how quickly the test moves, and how little time they have. Moreover, they do not often realize how tense and difficult the test is until they are sitting in the room. Practice tests give you the chance to put yourself in that tense, high-pressure testing situation so that you know how to handle it on test day. When you know exactly how much time you can spend on each question, or how fast the test actually goes when you are taking it, you will be well prepared on the day of the test.
Take Advantage of Study Guides
Companies like The Princeton Review offer wonderful study guides for students who are preparing for their standardized tests. They give concrete explanations, strategies, short lessons, and reviews of all of the topics students should expect on their tests. New study guides are released every year for each standardized test, and they are updated to accommodate the new challenges that these tests throw at you. As a result, students can get updated information and try to get ahead of any unexpected or difficult parts of their upcoming tests. Be sure to use these study guides to beat your exam.
Study Every Chance You Get
Just like making flash cards to help you memorize terms, formulas, and concepts during your undergraduate studies, you should use the same strategy for your standardized tests. For the LSAT, GRE, and GMAT, it is important to have a list of vocabulary words that you can study from at any time. Take them with you on the bus, or review them during your lunch break at work. Once you get the hang of making this study technique a habit, you will be ready to keep yourself in the test-taking mindset.
Students put a lot of energy and thought into these tests and for good reason. These exams can sometimes mean the difference between getting into the university of your dreams or being rejected, but do not let those things get you down. The most important thing to remember about these tests is that they do not assess how smart you are or how prepared you are for graduate study; they are meant to test how you handle a stressful testing situation (and, frankly, they are masters of it).
Be sure not to let these tests stress you out. Scoring low on your GRE or LSAT is not the end of the world. You always have the chance to take them a second time, and you have ample opportunities to improve your score.