Last week, my daughter Kayla took her first of (sadly) many standardized tests.  Up to now, she has taken the Massachusetts assessment tests that seem to be given to school children every-other-day from March to June each year, but this was her first of the fill-in-the-bubble college entrance exams.  Fortunately, the PSAT doesn’t count for much, particularly for 10th-graders like her.

We’re very aware, from both personal and professional experience, how annoying, daunting, nerve-racking, irritating, (fill in your choice of adjective here) the graduate-level standardized exams can be.  As I may have written before in the blog, when I started to work in admissions, I had hoped I’d find the GRE and GMAT to be useless.  As it turns out, I learned that the exam scores help us interpret the endlessly diverse education backgrounds reflected in the applications we receive.  Fortunately for applicants, we don’t have minimum acceptable scores, and we don’t assess applicants against the mean or some other statistical basis.  While (probably I don’t need to say this) higher scores are always better, we evaluate test results in the context of the applicant’s overall application.

So what’s a test-taker to do?  At a minimum, follow the advice I gave to Kayla:  prepare yourself by becoming familiar with the test format and the many different question types that tend to recur on exam after exam.  And you really should time your practice tests.  So often I hear that nerves and time-management difficulties are what kept an applicant from doing as well on the exam as he had hoped.  Whether you should study for months on end, or sign up for an expensive test prep class, is a judgment you’ll need to make, but I certainly believe it’s a mistake to hand over your money to the GRE or GMAT people and not try to do as well as you can.

And what about re-testing?  In general, for Fletcher anyway, there’s not much point in re-testing if your scores will only change by ten or 20 points.  (And that’s assuming they’ll go up — scores can also go in the other direction.)  But if you were sick on the exam day, or your car had a flat tire on the way to the test center, or any other circumstances prevented you from doing as well as you believe you could have, then consider taking the test a second time.

Once the tests are taken, make sure you  have had the scores reported to Fletcher, and then think about other aspects of your application.  I can assure you that we never make decisions solely on the basis of GRE or GMAT results.

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9 Responses to Testing. Testing.

  1. Priya says:

    That was an extremely pertinent & apt post. I agree with every bit that you have to say, Jessica. Though I’d like to add that nothing & absolutely nothing can prepare you for the (often) nerve wracking experience of the test itself. If you were to take your actual GRE as a practice test at home, you’d definitely take a shorter amount of time! Which is why trying to finish home tests before time makes a lot of sense. As for the test itself, I realized that if you put on imaginary blinkers & tell yourself that it’s no different from all that you’ve already practiced , the test dragon does seem a little less intimidating .

  2. Ina Spaho says:

    Mrs. Daniels,

    I just wanted to thank you for bringing this post. As a current applicant, the GRE is the one part of the application that worries me the most. (I work much better when I take the time to think about problems) It gives me courage to know that admissions considers everything in totality, rather than individual scores. I know other schools do have a cut off for the GRE. So reading this put me at ease, and I just had to say thank you!

    Ina

  3. I’m glad that this post was helpful. It’s true that I dodged the subject of the computer-based test format. I know it can be particularly intimidating, and most of us don’t have extensive practice with it until the test itself. That said, the intimidation goes across the board for all applicants, which helps to level the playing field a bit.

  4. Kristin Burke says:

    Mrs. Daniels,
    As you mentioned in your post, you hear a lot about all the things that went wrong for test takers. With that in mind, should applicants use a few lines in the “additional information” section of the application to explain their circumstances, or is it unnecessary? For example, if students took the test in a foreign country with a very different testing environment or, as you mentioned, got a flat tire on the way to the test, are these explanations helpful for the admissions committee?

    Thanks for continuing to write this blog!
    Kristin

  5. Thanks for your question, Kristin. Yes! The Additional Information area of the application is the place to provide explanations, or for anything that doesn’t otherwise fit in the application. PLEASE don’t use space in your personal statement to discuss undergraduate grades, test scores, the effect the economy has had on your job search, etc. That said, not everyone needs to explain anything at all. For example, someone who anticipated GRE scores in the range of 600 verbal and 650 quantitative, should not bother to explain why he scored 590/640. Be judicious in your explanations!

  6. Pip says:

    I’d also like to say thank you for your helpful post. I have a question too – I’m not based in the US and am doing a little background reading on the GRE and GMAT to understand the tests better and work out which I should complete. Does it matter which test I use for the admissions process?

  7. Thanks for raising this question, Pip. From the perspective of the Fletcher admissions office, both the GRE and the GMAT are equally good choices for MALD or MA program applications. MIB applicants should take the GMAT, and PhD applicants generally submit results from the GRE. If you’re applying to the MALD or MA program, you can feel free to make a decision based on which exam suits your schedule best, or on any other factor that may come into play for you.

  8. Emily says:

    Thank you for the post. I was wondering if you take the highest verbal and quant score from various tests. The first time I scored average on the Verbal, but the second time did much worse on verbal and a little better on the quantitave section? Any advice?

  9. Hello Emily,

    Yes, we do take the highest scores for each GRE section. The GMATs don’t break down in as convenient a way, unfortunately.

    Jessica

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