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.