Ultimate Guide to Grad School Standardized Tests in the US

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 9, 2023

Understanding grad school standardized tests can help you choose your ideal graduate program and university. Our grad school exam guide outlines the admissions tests that US universities may require international students to take.

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

Whether you dream 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 exams for graduate school: DAT, GMAT, GRE, LSAT, MCAT, OAT, or PCAT. A grad school test is typically administered via computer at an official testing center and requires a few months of studying.

Read on to know more about these grad school standardized tests so you can start preparing for your studies!

What Grad School Tests Do You Need To Take?

Choosing your particular postgraduate program is the first step in figuring out which one of the grad school standardized tests will be required. A firsthand source can provide the most accurate information, so consider speaking with a university advisor or enrollment officer about their requirements for admission. You can also speak to an advisor through Shorelight’s international student and scholar advisory services.

Different programs and schools may require specific grad school standardized test scores. For example, if you want to go to law school, your top-choice university may have a minimum LSAT score in order to be admitted. Alternatively, some programs may waive test score requirements for candidates who meet certain conditions (e.g., have met a minimum grade point average as an undergraduate student, or have several years’ professional experience in a related field). 

As international students, you may need to take additional English tests such as TOEFL or IELTS to prove your English proficiency. As these requirements can vary, it is important to clearly understand a postgraduate program’s requirements before applying for grad school standardized tests. 

How to Prepare for Standardized Tests 

Knowing what to expect before you begin studying for your grad school standardized tests can help you prepare. Learning more about the exact requirements early gives you a good head start to preparing more effectively, so you can work toward achieving the required scores for your chosen university. 

When preparing for your standardized test, taking enough time to study can make a significant difference for your final score. Usually, most standardized testing institutions recommend a 12-week preparation period, but this can be longer or shorter depending on your familiarity and confidence with the testing material. 

Gather the recommended and available resources for your grad school standardized tests and use them for your study prep. Most testing institutions offer exam resources and mock exams on their websites; test prep companies, such as Kaplan and Khan Academy, may offer useful materials as well. 

Read on for an overview of standardized testing United States and the major exams for graduate school. 

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.

Since dentistry is considered one of the best jobs in the US, graduate admissions to dental school are competitive. Like some tests to go to grad school, you must apply to take the test before registering.

The DAT takes four and a half hours and consists of the following sections:

  • Natural Sciences

  • Perceptual ability (PAT) assessment

  • Reading comprehension 

  • Quantitative reasoning 

DAT test-takers will receive eight scaled scores in the range of 1 to 30. Scores include six scores based on the individual sections, an Academic Average, and a Total Science score. You can view the results soon after the exam (since it is a computer-based assessment). 

Non-refundable exam fees for the DAT are $510 each time you take it. DAT scores are valid for two years and you can take the exam three times before requiring special permission to take it again. 

2023 update 

While Prometric, the global testing services provider, had initially closed its testing centers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they have resumed testing again in more than 90% of their global testing centers. Reopened centers do not require masks to be worn in test centers, but will encourage students to follow health measures regardless of mandate or vaccination status. 

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


Many admission tests feature questions within the exam that do not count toward your score. However, you are not informed on 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 may accept GRE scores instead, depending upon the applicant. 

This grad school admission 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.

The GMAT consists of four sections and takes approximately three hours and 30 minutes to complete.

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment

  2. Integrated Reasoning

  3. Quantitative Reasoning

  4. Verbal Reasoning

GMAT scores are given in increments of 10 points, within a range of 200 to 800. The quantitative and verbal sections are scored together, while the analytical writing and integrated reasoning sections are measured separately. 

You can retake the exam up to eight times in total with a minimum of 16 days between each attempt, but you can only take it five times a year, even if the scores are canceled. The online GMAT can be retaken once. 

Non-refundable exam fees for the GMAT range between $250-$300 each time you take it, depending on your location, and if you take your exam at a test center or online. Your recorded scores are valid for five years.

December 2022 update

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) continues to maintain the online version of the standard GMAT, open to all candidates globally excluding Mainland China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Slovenia (because of regulatory and local data privacy rules). The GMAT online registration fee is $275 in most parts of the world, but a few countries have local prices.


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 grad school standardized test 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, mathematics, physics, or psychology.

GRE takes three hours and 45 minutes to complete and consists of three sections. 

  1. Verbal Reasoning

  2. Quantitative Reasoning 

  3. Analytical Writing 

Candidates receive separate scores for each section. Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning are scored on a scale of 130-170 in one-point increments, while Analytical Writing is scored on a scale of zero to six in half-point increments. 

While there is no set pass or fail scores for the GRE, if you are unhappy with your scores, you can retake the grad school exam every 21 days, up to five times a year. 

The GRE General Test fee for most countries is $220 in all countries except for China, where the fee is $231.30, and India, where the fee is $228, each time you take it.

December 2022 update 

The ETS, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, has introduced the GRE General Test at home — identical in content, format, and on-screen experience to the standard GRE. It can be taken everywhere the computerized GRE is available. If you are taking the exam in China, you must visit the official GRE site for China for specific information, policies, and procedures related to the test and registration.

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

What Is the LSAT?

If you plan to pursue a law career in the US, attending law school is the typical pathway. First, the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) is required to apply to most law school graduate programs in the US. This grad school test measures reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and verbal proficiency. Law schools in the US are competitive, so a good LSAT score is important in 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. 

The LSAT takes approximately three hours to complete and consists of five sections that test a candidate’s logical reasoning, reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and writing skills. 

LSAT’s scaled scores range from 120 to 180 with an average score of approximately 150. Since law school is very competitive in the US, a score above average will improve your chances of admission. Scores are typically received three to four weeks after the grad school exam.

Exam fees for LSAT are $215 each time you take it. The LSAT can be taken up to three times a year, up to five times in five years, and up to seven times in your lifetime.

December 2022 update 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the LSAC continues to provide an online version of the LSAT that costs the same as the standard LSAT. For more specifics, visit the LSAT 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, physics, psychology, sociology, general and organic chemistry, and biochemistry is crucial, the grad school test also measures critical thinking and logical reasoning skills necessary to study to become a medical doctor.

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

The MCAT consists of four multiple-choice sections.

  1. Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems

  2. Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills (CARS)

  3. Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems 

  4. Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior

Each section is scored on a scale of 118 to 132. The total MCAT score is a sum of the scores from the four sections and the test can be retaken three times a year, and seven times in your lifetime. 

The standard registration fee for the MCAT begins at $330. Those testing outside the US, Canada, or US territories will be charged a $120 international fee in addition to the initial registration fee. Rescheduling and cancellation fees range between $50-$200, depending on the date of registration.

December 2022 update

The American Medical Colleges (AAMC) offer 30 MCAT test dates for 2023. There are four test dates in January, and then a break before testing resumes in mid-March. Starting on March 11, tests are administered frequently until early September, with the final test date being September 9, 2023, and tests are held once per day starting at 8 a.m. Scores are released roughly one month after the test date. Visit the MCAT website to see the availability of test dates for your location.

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 20 schools of optometry. 

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

The OAT takes approximately five hours to complete, including optional tutorial, break, and post-test survey, and consists of four multiple-choice sections.

  1. Survey of the Natural Sciences

  2. Reading Comprehension

  3. Physics

  4. Quantitative Reasoning

OAT is scored in increments of 10 points within a range of 200 to 400. The final score is obtained by scaling the raw scores from the individual sections. 

Non-refundable exam fees for the OAT are $505 each time you take it and scores are valid for two years. You can take the exam three times, with a minimum of 90 days between each attempt, before requiring special permission to retake it.

December 2022 update 

While Prometric, the global testing services provider, initially closed its testing centers due to the pandemic, they have resumed testing again in more than 90% of their global testing centers. Reopened centers are closely monitored; however, they will not require masks to be worn in test centers, but will encourage students to follow health measures regardless of mandate or vaccination status. 

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 graduate standard examination evaluates general academic ability and scientific knowledge — skills necessary for a pharmaceutical education. 

The PCAT approximately takes three hours and 40 minutes to complete. It consists of the following subtests. 

  1. Biology

  2. Chemical Processes

  3. Writing

  4. Critical Reading

  5. Quantitative Reasoning 

PCAT is scored within the range of 200-600, and you will also receive a percentile rank. You should be able to view your unofficial scores soon after the exams, and your official transcript will be available within five weeks. 

Exam fees for PCAT are $210 and include three transcripts, which will be automatically sent to your chosen schools unless canceled. The PCAT can be taken up to five times before requiring special permission to retake.

December 2022 update 

Pearson VUE has decided to open most Pearson Professional Centers (PPCs) for exams. Some independent third-party test centers (PVTC and PVTC Selects) may be operating at limited or changed capacity. To find out whether a test center near you is open, visit the Pearson test website.

Reopened test centers follow strict health measures for test-taker safety and require test-takers to have proof of vaccination and wear face masks. Learn more at the Pearson COVID-19 FAQ website.  

Next Grad School Admission Steps 

Once you have completed your grad school standardized tests, you can work with your advisor to add your scores to your application materials and send all required application paperwork (including essays, references, etc.) to your universities’ admissions teams.

While you wait for a response from the university, you can start preparing and gathering the documents required for your student visa application ahead of time.

Preparing applications and meeting standardized test requirements is an important and time-consuming step in applying for graduate school, but by planning ahead, making strategic decisions on which graduate standard examination you take, and studying extensively, you can submit a strong application that helps you stand out. 

Good luck and study hard!

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