What are the most common tests? What do they measure?
Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
Most prospective MBA students are already familiar with the GMAT. It is used for admissions in graduate management programs of business schools. It assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills. There are 4 sections: analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal, over the course of 3 and a half hours. The analytical writing assessment consists of a 30-minute writing task. Test takers are given an argument to analyze and critique in an essay. The integrated reasoning section is also 30 minutes long, with 12 questions. The quantitative and verbal sections have 37 and 41 questions, respectively, and are 75 minutes each. These last two sections are multiple choice.
The GMAT is actually not a standardized test; it is a computer adaptive test. This means that the test adjusts questions to the test taker’s level of ability to determine their scores. At the start of a section you are presented with a question of average difficulty. If you answer it correctly, you are presented with a more difficult question, and so on. If you answer it incorrectly, you are presented with questions of decreasing difficulties until the computer has accurately determined your score.
GMAT scores are in the range of 200 to 800, with most selective schools looking for scores around 700 or higher. The average score in 2013 was 540. These scores are valid for 5 years.
Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
The GRE is a standardized test required by most graduate schools in the US. The GRE General Test measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills. This is a general test that is supposed to measure analytical ability, as well as preparedness for post-graduate programs.
Two forms of the GRE are administered globally. The paper-delivered test is . The computer-delivered test is adaptive. This means, like the GMAT, the difficulty level of the questions will depend on your answers. However, unlike the GMAT, the GRE is adaptive by section, not by question. Your performance on the first verbal and math sections will determine the difficulty of the second sections.
The GRE was previously scored on a 200-800 scale, but the scoring scale has been changed to 130-170. Your scores are valid for 5 years.
Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
The MCAT has been used as part of the admissions process for over 80 years. It is a computer-based, standardized exam consisting of three sections. Students are tested on their knowledge of biological and physical sciences and verbal reasoning. Its purpose is to test the key skills and knowledge required for success in medical school. It assesses students on their readiness for medical school, both in terms of knowledge and also analytical ability.
Each MCAT section is scored out of 15. The subscores are then added to give a composite score out of 45. A key point to note is that there is no penalty for wrong answers. The validity of your MCAT scores depend on the universities you are applying to.
Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
The LSAT provides a standard measure of acquired reading and verbal reasoning skills. Law schools in the US, Canada and many other countries use it as an important factor in the selection process. It has three types of questions--reading comprehension, analytical reasoning, and logical reasoning. These questions assess students on skills considered essential for success in law school.
There are five 35-minute sections but only four of the sections contribute to your final score. One of the sections is an unscored section; this section is used to pretest new potential sections or to compare new test forms and how students score on them. The LSAT is scored on a range of 120 - 180, with each question carrying the same weight. Do keep in mind that you must send all your scores to law schools; you cannot send partial score reports. Also, you may not take the LSAT more than three times in a two-year period.
GRE vs GMAT for Business Schools More and more business schools around the world are starting to accept the GRE in lieu of the GMAT. This is great for students who are more confident of their ability to score on the GRE. The GRE is also cheaper. Another benefit is that the GRE is not only tailored to management courses, so students who are applying to different post-graduate programs (for example, an MBA and a Master's program in Clinical Psychology) only need to focus on one test for multiple programs.
Is it really necessary?
Standardized tests were introduced as a way to compare the abilities of students from a variety of educational backgrounds and institutions. There has, however, been a lot of backlash that these tests are not an accurate reflection of students’ capabilities, especially with adaptive tests like the GMAT. Many students go through rigorous preparatory programs targeted to boost scores on standardized tests, skewing the results in favor of those who can afford such classes. However, even though many universities have adjusted their policies about standardized testing at an undergraduate level, entrance tests for post-graduate programs are still required.