Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Those standardized tests

Why would SAIS want applicants to take one of two standardized tests, the GRE or the GMAT? And how important are the results in assessing a candidate's application?

Good questions! First, let me try to answer the "why".

SAIS receives applications from candidates from all around the world. Admissions committee members who read applications know many of the candidates' universities but they cannot know all of them. It can be difficult to compare academic records from different universities and different countries.

In that sense, the Graduate Record Examination and the Graduate Management Admission Test provide a useful benchmark.

The basic purpose of the tests, then, is to provide both SAIS and the candidates with a common measure. SAIS, and the many other graduate schools that require such exams, can get a sense of a candidate's strengths and weaknesses from the results. Candidates can get an idea of their performance and where they stand.

Before discussing how the results are used, let me mention an important caveat:

The results of standardized tests do not by any means give a complete picture of a candidate. An exam result is one among many elements that are considered by Admissions.

We recognize that such standardized tests are familiar fare for some students, especially those who have been educated in the United States. They can be an unfamiliar challenge for many of our applicants. We are aware of that, which is one reason why they are required of those who apply to the SAIS DC Admissions Office but are not for non-U.S. citizens who apply to our Bologna Admissions Office.

Now, let me try to answer how the results are used.

First, there is no minimum score for either the GRE or the GMAT. A very high score does not guarantee admission; a relatively low score will not necessarily deny admission. In many cases, a candidate will score quite differently on different sections of an exam.

If these tests provide a benchmark, it can be useful for both SAIS and candidates to know where they stand. Here are the average scores of MA students recently enrolled at SAIS Washington: 650 in the GRE Verbal, 729 for the GRE Quantitative, 41 for the GMAT Verbal and 46 for the GMAT Quantitative (corrected data).

The results of the tests are considered along with the many other elements in a candidate's application: academic transcripts, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, English-language competency, work experience. Also, SAIS Bologna interviews all its candidates.

Although neither the GRE nor GMAT is required for non-U.S. citizens who apply to SAIS Bologna, we strongly recommend that candidates take them. A good score can enhance one's application, especially in the case of non-native English speakers. And the results can provide an indication, to both SAIS and the applicant, of whether the candidate is in a position to benefit fully from the SAIS educational experience.

So to sum up, GRE and GMAT scores are part of a broader picture that a candidate presents when applying. They will always be partial measures, and results can depend on a variety of factors. But they can provide  information to both SAIS and the candidate about the suitability of a highly challenging graduate program for the applicant.

A word of advice: both the GRE and GMAT measure skills as much as knowledge. Especially for candidates who are unfamiliar with the structure of such exams, it can be very useful to study how the exams work. It can be particularly helpful to take practice exams, available on the web, to familiarize oneself with the types of questions and how much time should be allotted to each section -- in short, how the exam works.

Also: if English is not your native language or you have not studied in a U.S. program before, you should be particularly keen to take either the GRE or the GMAT to see how you measure up. A non-native English speaker can take the GRE or GMAT instead of one of the three English-language tests (TOEFL, Cambridge or IELTS).

Take up the challenge!

Finally, please remember that SAIS Bologna has its own code for both the GRE and GMAT: 3561. (The codes for SAIS DC are 5610 for the GRE and KGB-GX-99 for the GMAT.)

Tomorrow: Speakers

Nelson Graves