Preparing for Graduate Admission Tests

Staff Writer

Updated September 13, 2021 Updated September 13

For prospective international graduate students, admission tests such as GRE, GMAT, TOEFL and IELTS are often the most dreaded stage of the application process. Using advice from students and academics, TopUniversities.com explores some of the most common admission tests, and how to prepare for them.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

As many as 700,000 aspirants sit for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) annually and almost all graduate courses and business schools accept a GRE score for admission. The test examines your analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning.

In August 2011, the format of the GRE was revised, in order to accommodate questions which expect you to react to ‘real-life scenarios’.

The test is four hours in length and gives no partial credit to examinees. “You have to nail the content just right,” says Lee Weiss, director of graduate programs, Kaplan Test Prep.

Many candidates about to appear for this admission test are high achievers and sometimes tend to take the tests lightly. Weiss says, “An average score of 600 in GRE requires a minimum 100 hours of preparation. However, the brilliant candidates often underestimate it. This is not a test to cram for; it requires consistent study—not 8 hours a day but one and a half hours a day for 2-3 months at least.”

Weiss also advises students to get used to the computer-based format of the test. “Practicing on the computer, and regularly, will build endurance and give confidence,” advises Weiss.

Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

About 200,000-300,000 candidates bound for business school appear for a GMAT every year. Weiss advises that unless one is sure of doing a management course, one should not take the GMAT, even though the scores are valid for five years.

Weiss says, “Our surveys have revealed that like GRE, the GMAT score is the most important part of the application and it should not be taken lightly”.

Raghav Sharma, 26, due to attend Nanyang Business School, Singapore, feels that the key is not to, “get overawed or fall for the hype around GMAT”.

He also feels that candidates have to realize that practice is their only saviour. “Practice, practice, practice and more practice,” he says.

Raghav feels that it is important that you focus on what are you weak at, while not getting over-confident about what you already know.

Time management and handling pressure are also crucial. “Time your speed and don’t give more than a certain amount of time to each section. Take regulated short breaks to collect your thoughts before you begin the next section. Don’t lose focus if you get a feeling that your test is not going good,” he says.

Like in the GRE, the GMAT has recently been revised. In June 2012, the Integrated Reasoning Section was introduced; this lasts for 30 minutes and measures a candidates’ ability to “evaluate information from multiple sources.”

Candidates are asked to “interpret data presented graphically, analyze different types of information, and evaluate outcomes,” keeping in mind the demands of the changing times, and will receive a separate grade for this new section.

As a result of the introduction of the Integrated Reasoning Section, the Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) now consists of just one essay, instead of two.

English Language Tests: IELTS and TOEFL

International English Language Testing System (IELTS) and Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are the two most popular tests available, for testing your understanding of the English language.

Most universities require an IELTS or a TOEFL score for non-native English speakers and they both examine your ability to read, write, listen and speak the English language.

“IELTS and TOEFL determine the level of study to which you are eligible to apply. Prospective applicants can opt for self-study through preparatory books etc, or can go in for practice classes offered by competent organizations,” says Harmeet Pental, Regional Director, South Asia, IDP Education India Pvt. Ltd.

Zoravar Singh, will be studying at Nottingham Trent University, UK, this Fall. Although all of his education has been in English, he felt practice was the only thing which got him through the IELTS.

“I went through a lot of practice sample tests online to get the hang of the IELTS test. Some of the questions are not direct and there is a lot of information you must absorb before answering."

Although Zoravar is quite fluent in English and can speak and write in it confidently, he put in a lot of preparation for the listening section.

“Sometimes the accent is difficult to catch and hence I went through a lot of sample interviews to get it right. One can listen to the BBC or any other English channels to get the hang of it,” he says.

Zoravar feels that if your knowledge of English is limited, then it is better to take classes and language courses to gain command over it.

“IELTS is all about how adept you are at the language and you can’t grow a vocabulary in a short time. Your style of writing and speaking is something you develop over the years, it doesn’t just happen overnight!”

This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in September 2021

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