Saturday, May 24, 2014

Admissions Tests for Postgraduate/Professional School: Irritating, But Not Impossible

I made the decision earlier this week to pursue a dual degree program at UT Austin once I finish with my undergraduate degree at The University of Texas at Tyler. It consists of courses that work toward a Master of Public Affairs Degree (MPAff) and a Law Degree (J.D.-Doctor of Jurisprudence). The process requires three years of coursework, and is considered a grueling, but rewarding endeavor for students who wish to work toward a specific field in domestic public policy and legal matters. In order to get into this program, however, I have to score well on both the GRE and the LSAT, both required to get into the LBJ School of Public Affairs and the UT School of Law, respectively. When I told this to an admissions worker at the LBJ school, I was told that I was "a glutton for punishment." I'm not sure if she was referring to the actual coursework, or the requirement of taking two postgraduate admissions tests within a six month time frame.

This is a pretty rare case, as most students that seek a Masters degree or professional degree rarely take more than one admissions test to continue on after their undergraduate degree is completed. These tests vary based on the school/profession you seek: for instance, you can take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), etc. Regardless of what test you need to take, they all require an ample amount of studying and preparation in order to do well.

Most undergraduate students can recall taking the SAT and/or ACT prior to their admission to a college or university; specifically, the amount of stress and energy that goes into preparing for the standardized admissions tests. Students often take prep courses for these tests, they study manuals and test handbooks sold by companies such as The Princeton Review, and some even avoid studying completely. The same process exists for postgraduate and professional school admissions tests--a lot of studying, a lack of sleep, and an abundance of caffeine to keep on churning. However, the difficulty at this level is a lot higher than for tests like the SAT, as the knowledge and critical thinking requirement for grad school is elevated significantly in order to challenge students and retain exclusivity.

It is important to keep the similar study habits with these tests as you had with your SAT/ACT in high school. Take a prep course, take practice tests on your own, etc. This form of preparation greatly benefits you on test day, as you are aware how the test is structured, what the methodology is for the various question types and sections on the test, and how to optimize your score to improve your image with the grad school you wish to attend. Personally, I know that I want a GRE score above a 160 (the scale is 130-170) and an LSAT score above a 165 (the scale is 120-180). I set these standards for myself based on the school that I wish to attend and their average scores for the exam for those that are accepted. For instance, the LBJ School of Public Affairs reports their average GRE scores for accepted students to be the following: 160 on the GRE Verbal (83rd Percentile), 156 on the GRE Quantitative, and a 4.4 on the GRE Writing. For the UT School of Law, their average LSAT score is around 167.

Keep in mind that school consider more than your admission test scores are not the only thing considered by grad schools. They also take into consideration your GPA, letters of recommendation, the list of classes you took as an undergrad student, etc. However, the importance of these tests are increasing within admissions offices nationwide. So, break out those prep books and get cracking!


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