Tips for Prepping for Online Grad School Exams

By Ashley Paskill on June 22, 2020

In these times of pandemic and social distancing, colleges and universities are having to reconsider how they handle a variety of admissions processes and related organizations are looking at how to adapt. One of these considerations is grad school admissions tests like the LSATS and the GRE. Many of these tests are holding online exam times in place of in-person to help prospective students stay safe. This change can seem difficult, but as long as you prepare and know how to navigate the change, you are sure to be successful.

Make sure you know what test to take

When looking into your grad school program, make sure you make note of what exam you will need to take and whether or not you are required to do so. Your school may opt to make the test optional for students since they are aware of the pandemic. If you do have to take an exam, make sure you register for the correct test so that you do not go through the stress of studying and completing the test for nothing. Some schools or programs may give the applicant the option to choose between two or more tests. While it may be tempting to settle for the easiest, you may opt to take the one that is more difficult to help you stand out and show that you are willing to challenge yourself.

Make sure you check your school’s website to ensure that you take the exam that is required. There are several standardized tests for grad schools, so it is important that you know which one you need and register for the correct one. Medical exams are super specific, so it is crucial that you take the one required for your school and grad program. Take note of any specific subject tests you may need to take as well since these may pertain to your program and are crucial for showing the admissions office what you can do.

Consider taking the test, even if it is optional. This will help set you apart from other candidates who may not have taken the test and can boost your application. Even if you do not get the score(s) you hoped for, taking the optional test shows that you take initiative and are willing to go above and beyond.

Know your school’s score range

If your school requires the exam, be sure to not if there is a minimum score that you should aim for. This will help you have a goal in mind and will help you stay focused. While you should try to score higher than the minimum, remember that the test is not the only part of the application. See if there is a median score that accepted applicants scored on the exam so you can judge where you stand.

Take online practice tests

They say practice makes perfect, and this is true for grad school exams. Taking online practice exams can not only help you see what you need to focus on studying, but also help you make sure that your computer is up for the exam. It will also help you learn how to pace yourself since the test is timed. When you are taking the practice test, make sure you treat it like the actual test so that you can get a feel for how it is. Also, consider taking practice tests on multiple websites so you can get a variety of questions. Some say that taking one practice test a week can be helpful, but this depends on your schedule.

When you first start studying, consider taking a diagnostic test to see where your strengths and weaknesses are. That way, you can focus more heavily on things you need to work on and only study a bit for things you are good with. These tests are done best when they are timed and done with the conditions you need for the actual test so that you can get a sense of how the actual test day will be.

Image: Sergey Zolkin via

Study, study, study

Studying is crucial for making sure you are as prepared as possible for your exam. Start studying as early as you can to help maximize the amount of prep time you have. Look into books and workbooks that can help give you examples of the types of questions you will see and the material you need to focus on.

When studying, do not focus solely on getting questions right. If you get an answer wrong, go back and try to understand why your answer was wrong. This deep understanding will help you be able to succeed not only on the exam but in grad school.

Consider creating a virtual study group. Conferencing sites such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Skype are great for getting a bunch of people together. Some of these sites may require that you pay for service if you are using more than a set number of people. Even finding one other person to study with can help you stay focused and motivated and can help give you someone to bounce ideas off of. Just be sure that the people in your group re studying for the same exam you are so you are not wasting your time. The beauty of these platforms is being able to communicate with people all over the country without leaving your home, but be sure to accommodate for different time zones.

Know the cost of the exams

Like the SATs for undergrad, grad school entrance exams have fees for the exams. Knowing the fees can help you determine which exam you want to take if you have an option and will help you save up for the test. Many of the exams also have fee waivers for those who may not be able to afford the cost of the exam, so it is important that you leave yourself enough time to apply by the deadline.

With some tests, you may be able to send scores to a few schools for free, with additional schools being extra. Be sure to take advantage of these, especially if you want to keep your options open for where you go.

If you want to keep the fees down, consider practicing on your own instead of paying for study help. There are plenty of free resources that are just as good, such as Khan Academy. Books may also be a lower-cost option than hiring a tutor.

Find out the rules and conditions of the exam

One of the most important things you can do is taking practice tests, especially under the conditions of the test. Since you will be doing the exam online, make sure you have a good set up in your space with the essentials you will need the day of the exam. Taking online practice tests is preferred since this will help you get used to being in front of your computer for an extended period of time. Find out what materials you need close by and what things you are not allowed to use. As mentioned before, taking timed tests can help you learn how to cope with the pressures of the exam and how to pace yourself.

Timing is key

Make sure you take your exam early enough that you can have time to retake the exam if you do not get the score you were hoping for. Each test has specific rules for the timeline of when you can retest, so make sure you have plenty of time to retest if necessary.

Also, be sure to complete the exam with enough time to send the results to the program(s) you are applying to. Check the school or program’s website for information about application deadlines so you can arrange your test accordingly.

Planning ahead also helps ease the burden of worrying if something comes up. No one expected the COVID-19 pandemic to happen, but it did and some grad school exam dates were canceled as a result. Getting an early start can help ensure that you have the time you need to still be able to take the test before the deadline and retake it if needed.

Be sure to schedule your exam well in advance of when you hope to take it. Though testing is online, human proctors are administrating the exams so it is important that you are able to get your desired timeslot, especially since many applicants are taking the exams as well. When scheduling your exam, decide what time of day works best for you and when you are at your best.


Clear your calendar for the day of the exam

Since the testing process is long, it is best to not make other plans the day of your exam. That way, you do not have to feel rushed through your exam and you can relax after. Just knowing that you have a clear schedule can help you feel less stressed. After all, you worked hard to study and prepare for the exam, so use the rest of the day to take care of yourself and ease the stress from the exam. Even if you decide to retest, do not think too much about it the same day. Take a few minutes to reflect on your experience and take note of how you can improve.

Do not stress about the exams

While it is important to do your absolute best when taking the test, it is a fact that some people test better than others. It is said that you should avoid taking the test more than three times, but each school and program has a number of times you can submit the test and they usually take the highest score of the ones you submit. If you decide to retake, go back and learn from your first experience to see how you can progress. Remember: the exams are just one aspect of your application. Even if your scores are average, you have room to shine in the essays and resume. The exams show what you know, but they do not show who you are as a person and all you have been through.

If you get to the end of the exam and do not feel like you did your best, you have the option to cancel your scores. This takes some of the pressure off of getting a top score, though you should still aim to do the best you can. Life circumstances can come up and you may have other things going on in your mind. This is why it is so important to study and be as prepared as you can so that, even if you are distracted, you know your stuff and can recall the answers, no matter what else is going on.

Adaptability is crucial

As you go through the exam, you may find that the questions get harder and harder as you continue to get answers right. Do not panic. When preparing for the exam, be sure to focus on a wide variety of questions so that you are prepared for anything that comes your way. Being adaptable is crucial for grad school since you likely will have a lot thrown at you academically and personally. Being able to manage your stress will be crucial for your success in and out of grad school, so prepare for this. Preparing can help you be adaptable, especially on the exam.

Day of the exam

When you reach the test day, make sure you are well-rested and eat a good breakfast. Double-check to make sure you have all of the materials you need and are aware of all of the rules and conditions. Make sure you plug in your laptop so it does not die in the middle of the exam and that you have a quiet place to take the exam. Consider taking a few minutes to meditate and/or pray before the exam. Take a couple deep breaths to help clear your nerves and think of positive affirmations.

Grad school exams can be stressful, especially with the online proctoring, but being well-prepared can help make sure you succeed and that you put your best foot forward. Keep in mind that the tests are only one part of the application, but it is still important to do the best you can.

By Ashley Paskill

Uloop Writer

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