Prepare for Key Exams
Will you need to take an entrance exam to be admitted to a graduate program? If so, which one?
The answer to these questions vary considerably depending on your intended graduate field and the specific programs to which you will apply. While there are many common entrance exams for graduate school, the most commonly required exam is the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General Test, occasionally supplemented by a variety of GRE Subject Tests. Other key exams include the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT), California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), and California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET).
The list of potential exams can be quite long, so we encourage you to use this page to get started.
Get to Know the GRE
The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) General Test is a standardized exam that is required by many schools for graduate admission. Though it is the most frequently required exam for admission into graduate school, not all programs require the GRE in their admissions process and many have moved away from it over time.
It is important to first learn whether or not you will need to take the GRE as part of your preparation for graduate school applications. Begin by reviewing the admissions requirements of the graduate programs which you are targeting and use the following tips to become familiar with the exam.
The GRE is composed of three primary sections:
- Verbal Reasoning
- Quantitative Reasoning
- Analytical Writing
Each section is scored independently and includes a scaled score along with a percentile (see this example Test Taker Score Report for details). Graduate programs may value your performance in one section more than another, depending on the field of study.
The GRE is a computer-based test offered year-round by testing centers worldwide. The three closest GRE testing centers to UCSB are in Camarillo, Bakersfield, and Los Angeles (each is a 60-90 minute drive by car, depending on traffic). There may be a testing center that is convenient to your hometown, as well.
The GRE typically takes around 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. Test takers with disabilities or health-related needs can apply for Accommodations for Test Takers with Disabilities or Health-related Needs.
The expectation of what a “good” score is will vary depending on the specific programs to which you are applying.
Generally, scoring in the 75th percentile (or above) in any given GRE section is typically considered to be a good score, and scoring in the 50th percentile (or above) is considered to be above average. You can see an example Graduate Institution Score Report to get familiar with how scores are presented to you, and you can look at an example Test Taker Score Report to see how your scores are presented to graduate programs. Lastly, you can review GRE General Test Interpretative Data, organized by the graduate fields of study those test takers are intending to pursue.
Always do your research. Some graduate programs indicate the specific score that is required in their admission requirements, which takes the guesswork out of the process for you.
Ideally, you should take the GRE just once. It costs money, it takes time, and it draws energy away from your academic and career pursuits. Prepare yourself well enough the first time, and you will not need to retake the GRE.
There is a lack of published data to suggest that a well-prepared test-taker significantly improves their scores by taking the GRE again. If you research this further, you may find differing advice from certain sources. Keep in mind that the opposing advice is often given by test preparation companies (and even test administration companies), which make more money when students take the test multiple times. Consider advice from these sources as inherently biased.
Nevertheless, it is common for students to take the GRE multiple times. If you performed much worse on test day than you performed during your practice tests, it may seem productive to take the GRE again. Additionally, if you were acutely impacted on the day of the test by illness, family emergency, or another external factor, retaking the GRE may yield improved results. Overall, though, it is best to avoid taking the GRE multiple times unless it is necessary.
You are allowed to take the GRE up to five times in any 12-month period. You also must wait at least 21 days after taking the GRE to be able to take it again, even if you cancel your first score.
Once you have completed the GRE, you will have the option to select up to four different schools to which you can automatically send your scores. You may not know what schools you want to apply to at the time of taking the GRE, you may have more than four schools to send score reports to, or you may want to hold off in sending your scores out because you are unsure if they are high enough. In any of these cases, you will need to send additional scores out to graduate programs afterward. This can be done by Ordering Additional Score Reports; each report sent after your testing day requires an additional fee (see below for registration details), so budget accordingly.
When sending scores years after you took the exam, consider the limited length of time for which your GRE scores are valid (see below for timeline details). Planning ahead goes a long way in preventing complications in the future.
Registration and Timeline
The GRE costs $220 (as of January 2023) to take in the United States, though a GRE Fee Reduction Program exists to potentially lower your out-of-pocket costs. You can send your test scores to four schools for free if you specify those schools when you sign up for the test. After that, a fee of $35 (as of January 2023) is charged per recipient school (see the list of Fees for GRE Tests and Related Services).
Your scores remain valid for five years after your test date, so there is no harm in taking the GRE well in advance of applying to graduate programs if you are confident that it will be part of the admissions process for programs that you apply to.
Campus Learning Assistance Services (CLAS) at UCSB offers pre-recorded GRE workshops through the CLAS Academic Skills page on Shoreline. When workshops are not scheduled, set up an academic skills appointment with CLAS to prepare for the GRE.
You can also find free and paid test preparation materials and courses online. Many students prepare by reviewing a test preparation book thoroughly for several months and taking practice tests to gauge their scores. There are also a variety of preparatory courses available through large, nationally recognized operations, such as Kaplan, Princeton Review, and various regional businesses.