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The Ultimate Guide to Standardized Tests for Graduate Programs in the US

standardized testing
Last updated on November 12, 2020

If you are an international student hoping to attend graduate school in the USA, you will most likely have to take an admission test first. Our guide to admission tests outlines all the potential entrance exams for getting into US graduate programs.

A row of students sit at a table holding pencils as they take a standardized test.

Whether you are dreaming of becoming a doctor, earning your Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree, or enrolling in another advanced career graduate program, applying to study in the United States requires scores from one of the main standardized tests: DAT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, OAT, or PCAT. These admission tests are typically administered via computer at an official testing center and require a few months of test preparation. 

Read on to learn all about these admission exams.

What is the DAT?

The Dental Admission Test (DAT) is an entrance test that is required for admission to dental school in the US. It measures the test taker’s understanding of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry in relation to the study of dentistry.

Because dentistry is considered the second-best job in the US, graduate admissions to dental school are competitive. Like some other admission tests, you must apply to take the test before registering.

August update 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prometric, the global testing services provider, decided to close selected test centers for the DAT exam. While continuing to monitor the situation, Prometric resumed testing where possible.

For more information, please visit the Prometric COVID-19 FAQ website.

Grad school tests pro tip 1

Many admission tests feature questions within the exam that will not count toward your score, though you will not know which questions are experimental. With many tests there is no penalty for guessing, which means you should attempt to answer each question. 

What is the GMAT?

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a graduate admissions entrance exam designed for students who want to go to graduate school for an MBA, master of accountancy, or master of finance. Some programs will accept GRE scores instead, depending upon the applicant. 

The test covers analytical and quantitative skills, as well as reading, writing, and verbal skills. The ability to analyze and evaluate written material in English is important to note for ESL students.

August update 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) has launched an online version of the standard GMAT, open to all candidates globally except for Mainland China, Iran, Cuba, Sudan, and Slovenia (because of regulatory and local data privacy rules). The duration and the structure of the exam are the same as the standard GMAT.

Test centers are also reopening worldwide. Visit the GMAT test website to see the availability of test dates for your location. 

For more information, please visit the GMAT test website.

Grad school tests pro tip 2

Typically, calculators, timers, mobile phones, or other electronic devices are not allowed in official testing rooms. 

What is the GRE?

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized exam required for admission to various graduate programs at universities and colleges in the US, often those focused on the liberal arts. The GRE evaluates verbal and quantitative reasoning, as well as analytical writing and critical thinking skills, so English comprehension is important for international students preparing to take the GRE. 

The GRE is the most general admissions exam, and it offers additional specialized standardized tests that measure knowledge for degree programs like biology, chemistry, literature in English, mathematics, physics, and psychology.

August update 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Educational Testing Service (ETS) is launching the GRE General Test at home, which is identical to the standard GRE General. The test can be taken everywhere the computerized GRE General Test is available, except for Mainland China and Iran because test centers there are reopening!

In Mainland China, the GRE General Test resumed in July with four testing dates in ten locations. Testing dates for August are still being reviewed. For Iran, testing resumed in June. Visit the GRE General Test website to see the availability of test dates for your location.  

For more information, please visit the GRE General Test website.

What is the LSAT?

The Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required to apply to most law school graduate programs in the US. It measures reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and verbal proficiency. Law schools in the US are competitive, so a good LSAT score is important to the admissions process.

Test takers must analyze and evaluate written material, which is a consideration for international students who do not speak English as their first language. 

August update

Due to the COVID-19 health crisis, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) is providing an online version of the LSAT (LSAT-Flex). For the LSAT-Flex, students have the option of choosing a time that works best for them from a list of preset options. It takes approximately two hours to take the exam, which consists of three thirty-five-minute scored sections without any breaks. This is different from the standard LSAT, which contains four thirty-five-minute scored sections plus an unscored section.

For more information, please visit the LSAT-Flex website

What is the MCAT?

The Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) is required for admission to most medical graduate programs in the US. While knowledge of biology and chemistry is crucial, the test also measures critical thinking and logical reasoning skills necessary to study to become a medical doctor. 

Medical school in the United States is very competitive, so MCAT scores factor heavily into admission decisions. Unlike most standardized tests, which take around four or five hours, the MCAT is more than seven hours long.

August update

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic,  the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is temporarily offering students a shortened version of the MCAT from May 29 to September 28 and is also expanding the testing calendar to accommodate three test appointments per test date at test centers. Students have the flexibility of choosing a time that works best for them from a list of preset options.

The duration of the shortened MCAT will be five hours and forty-five minutes, compared to seven hours and thirty minutes for the standard MCAT. You will receive the same scores on the shortened exam as on the full-length exam. Visit the MCAT website to see the availability of test dates for your location. 

For more information, please visit the MCAT exam website.

What is the OAT?

To become an optometrist, or eye doctor, the Optometry Admission Test (OAT) is required for admission to Doctor of Optometry (OD) programs at the US’s twenty schools of optometry. 

The test measures aptitude in natural sciences, reading comprehension, physics, and quantitative reasoning. Like the DAT, you must apply to take this exam.

August update  

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Prometric decided to close selected test centers for the OAT exam. While continuing to monitor the situation, Prometric has resumed testing where possible

For more information, please visit the Prometric COVID-19 FAQ website.

What is the PCAT?

The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) is required to study for a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree to become a pharmacist, also known as chemist or druggist, in the US. 

This test evaluates general academic ability and scientific knowledge—such as biology, chemical processes, writing, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning—skills necessary for a pharmaceutical education. 

August update

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Pearson has decided to reopen selected test centers for the PCAT test. To find out whether a test center near you is open, visit the Pearson test website. If your appointment for the PCAT is affected, you can also choose to reschedule for a new date that will be available for testing—log in to your Pearson VUE account to find out if your exam appointment is available.

For more information, please visit the Pearson COVID-19 FAQ website.  

Each of these graduate school entrance exams has various formats, scoring rules, fees, exam schedules, and more. No matter what your goals are, be sure to familiarize yourself with the exam that will serve as a gateway to your career of choice. 

Speak with a Shorelight advisor today to start planning your next steps toward studying in the US >