Grad School Application Checklist: 5 Months Out

Now’s the time to begin preparing for the GRE, GMAT, or other standardized tests.

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Grad school hopefuls should start studying for exams such as the GMAT or LSAT now to ensure they are prepared.
Grad school hopefuls should start studying for exams such as the GMAT or LSAT now to ensure they are prepared.

This is the eighth installment of our series on what you should be doing in advance of submitting your graduate school applications. Five months before applying, begin preparing for your standardized admissions tests.

Most graduate programs require applicants to submit scores from a standardized test. They use this information to get some indication of an applicant's verbal, quantitative, analytical, and reasoning skills.

Here are six important tips regarding this component of your application.

1. Know the various standardized tests: The four most common of these are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT), and the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

International students will have an additional standardized test requirement: They will have to submit scores for a test that measures ability to communicate and write in English. Two examples are the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) and the International English Language Testing System (IELTS).

[Learn more about studying at a U.S. graduate school.]

2. Find out what is required: It is important that you find out exactly what is required of you regarding these tests. For instance, if the GRE is a requirement, there could be additional subject-specific tests that are required. Also, some graduate schools have a minimum score requirement, especially for English ability.

For example, international students may be required to achieve a score of 100 on the Internet-based TOEFL in order to have the application move further through the evaluation process. Hopefully you have placed this information on your grad school spreadsheet.

3. Take time to adequately prepare: There are many resources available to assist you in preparing for your test(s). Most major bookstores have a large college and grad school prep section. In addition, the organizations that own and operate each test have excellent resources:

Educational Testing Service (GRE, TOEFL)

Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAT)

Law School Admission Council (LSAT)

Association of American Medical Colleges (MCAT)


4. Don't obsess about getting high scores: Some applicants are better test takers than others. Should you not score as well on your test as you had hoped, take it a second or even a third time. This does not make you look less competitive in the application process.

Rather, in most cases, it demonstrates that you are trying your best to perform well on the test. Most graduate schools will use your highest scores when reviewing your application.

[Read our blogs on MBA, med school, and law school admissions.]

5. Don't take a test too many times: Taking a test more than three times is overkill—it makes you look desperate and unprepared.

During my tenure as dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, we had several applicants who took the GMAT at least 10 times. This immediately lessened their appeal to the admissions committee, as it seemed that the candidates spent an excess amount of time on one component of the application that could have been better spent polishing essays or résumés.

Remember: If other parts of your application are strong—such as a high GPA, professional work or internship experience, published work, extracurricular activities, volunteer service, and excellent recommendations—these will most certainly help to offset a lower test score.

6. Consider taking a test even if it's optional: While some graduate programs allow applicants to decide whether they will submit test scores, it might help to take the test, and if the scores are good, submit them. This shows you took some initiative, and could make a difference in the admissions decision.