GRE, MCAT, LSAT, oh my!

When I decided I was going to apply for graduate school after my undergrad, there were so many things I had to consider: where I was going to go, what program I would be doing, and what tests I needed to take. I went to a couple info sessions on grad school, and knew for the program I would be applying for I had to take the GRE. But between the GRE, the GMAT, the MCAT, the LSAT, and more, it’s very easy to get confused on who needs to take what test and why.

Think of all of these as the grown up versions of the SAT and ACT. While this probably isn’t (and probably shouldn’t) be on your mind during your high school years, it’s important to know what all these acronyms stand for and when they might come in handy. 

GRE: Graduate Record Examination 

What it is: It’s a standardized test with three sections: analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. That’s the fancy way to say an essay, math, and reading/vocab. It can be a bit more challenging for students than ACT/SAT simply due to the fact that you might not have taken a math class since high school! Most colleges offer workshops on what the whole process of signing up, studying for, and taking the exam looks like, so you’re not alone. As with all of these exams, everyone prepares in different ways. Don’t be afraid to try a few different techniques and see what works for you. 

What programs: Your typical masters and doctoral programs

Score range: 260-340 for quantitative and verbal combined, 0-6 for writing

Time: ~3 hours, 45 minutes

Cost: ~$205

MCAT: Medical College Admission Test

What it is: Exactly what it sounds like. It contains four sections that roughly break down into chemistry and physics, verbal reasoning, biology and biochemistry, and psychology and sociology. The MCAT is required for almost all medical programs. In addition to the MCAT, most medical programs have requirements for courses, so that’s something else to keep in mind. If you utilize Pre-Health advising services at Illinois you’ll get all the info you need about the MCAT early on in your college career.

Score range: each section: 118-132, full exam: 472-528

Time: ~7 hours, 30 minutes

Cost: ~$315

LSAT: Law School Admission Test

What it is: The LSAT contains 5 different sections: logical reasoning, reading comprehension, logic games, writing sample, and an “unscored variable section”. This last section is similar to one of the first three, but is only used to test potential new questions. The writing sample is unscored as well, but is sent along with your scores to whatever schools you apply to. Many pre-law/political science classes cover lots of the types of questions that will be asked on the LSAT; however, many pre-law students still spend up to a year studying for the exam. LSAT scores are often looked at as a good indication to your dedication and future success in law school. Pre-law advising at Illinois has a great blog on what students of any year can do to start preparing. 

What programs: Law schools 

Score range: 120-180

Time: ~3 hours, 30 minutes

Cost: ~$190

GMAT: Graduate Management Admission Test

What it is: The GMAT has 4 sections: an analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal. Integrated reasoning is about analyzing data in multiple formats. The other three sections are relatively similar to that of the GRE.  While not all business schools require the GMAT, it’s often recommended as it shows commitment to the program and is said to be a good indicator of success in business programs.

What programs: Business administration, finance, accountancy masters programs

Score range: 200-800

Time: ~3 hours, 30 minutes

Cost: ~$250

I hope this helps! Applying to graduate school is a time-consuming process, so it’s good to get an early start. Knowing what type of test your program will require can allow you to start studying early on, and ease the weight of it later on down the road. But for now – focus on your undergrad and keep a planner handy!


Class of 2020
After switching majors four times, I've finally fallen in love with what I'm studying: communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. I hope hearing about my experiences can put all your worries at ease, because college really isn't as scary as you might think!

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