Making the grad school grade

By on December 6, 2006

Some students think that after taking the SATs in high school, their standardized testing torture is over. Others know differently. Meet a few of the SATs’ first cousins: the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and the Dental Admissions Test (DAT). These three, along with a handful of other admissions exams, are the source of much preparation and angst for many college students across the country.

The LSAT is a three-hour and 25 minute Scantron test with sections like analytical and logical reasoning and reading romprehension. According to Kaplan, the vast majority of admission decisions by law schools are based on only two criteria: your LSAT score and your undergraduate G.P.A.

The MCAT is a longer test than the LSAT, taking up to six hours to complete the four sections: verbal reasoning, physical and biological sciences and a writing sample. It used to only be offered twice a year in Scantron format, a process that took up to eight hours. However, January 2007 will be the first time that it is available on a computer, with as many as 20 test dates a year.

Similar to the LSAT, the DAT is a test based out of four sections: natural sciences, perceptual ability test, reading comprehension and quantitative reasoning. According to the Kaplan DAT review book, the test is given in computer format and the test-taker has about four hours to complete the four sections.

Senior Dana Tsakos is currently preparing to take the LSATs. “I spend about seven to ten hours a week preparing for my test,” the political science major said. “I go to a private tutor who gives me homework and I take a lot of LSAT practice tests.”

In addition to private tutors to prepare for taking such an exam, Kaplan Test Prep and admissions offers many classes to help students get ready for their tests.

Senior psychobiology/chemistry major Meghan McCarthy attends Kaplan classes in New Haven to prepare for her MCATs on Jan. 27, as well as going over the material on her own.

“I spend anywhere from six to 12 hours a week reviewing,” said McCarthy, who will be taking the first MCAT to be given on a computer.

Another option for test-takers is to get one of Kaplan’s review books and study entirely on their own.

Senior biology major Jamie Zile, who took the DATs Nov. 1, did most of her studies independently while using the Kaplan DAT Review Book to take practice tests and prepare for what each section will be like.

“I spent about 10-15 hours a week going over practice exams and reading about each section,” Zile said. “I made a checklist starting a month before my test so I would have ample time to feel comfortable with each section.”

Each test is not just different in layout, but in grading systems as well.

“The LSATs are based out of 180 points and anything from about 120 and up is a good score,” Tsakos explained. “For example, the QU Law School wants a 155-160. I’ve found that most averages are in the 160s. You could probably get into whatever school you wanted if you got anything 160 or above.”

The other two tests, however, are based out of smaller numbers.

“The MCATs are based out of 45 points,” McCarthy said. “A good average score is 25ish so I’m aiming for somewhere in the low thirties because that is a pretty good score to get into medical school.”

The DATs are based out of 30 points, with 17 being an average score. Zile scored a 21 on the test, which she hopes will give her an edge over other dental school applicants.

Another thing that doesn’t end in high school is the application process. These graduate programs require the same amount of work as applying to college, with extensive forms and fees for each school.

“My top choices are the University of Illinois in Chicago, the University of Colorado in Denver and the University of Nevada in Las Vegas,” Zile said. “I will have all of my applications sent in before I leave for Christmas break, so hopefully I’ll be hearing back from them early in the year.”

“My first choice is Suffolk University in Boston, and I’ve applied to Boston University and New England Law,” Tsakos said. “What’s cool about sending out your LSAT score is that after you take the test, you have 24 hours to cancel your score so the law schools don’t get it. It used to be that if you took the LSAT more than once, they would let you keep your median score, but this year they changed it that you can keep your highest score, which is awesome.”

McCarthy hopes to go to University of Connecticut’s Medical School to study pathology, which is the science of the origin, nature and course of diseases.


About Kaitlin Greene