Three-hour classes twice a week, four-hour practice tests on Saturday mornings, review exercises … are these the answers to higher standardized scores? Even without the added costs and time required for test preparation, the application process for graduate school itself can be daunting. From the MCAT to the GRE to the LSAT, students often prepare well in advance through prep courses, practice tests and course books. Have these prerequisites become standard or even required for high standardized tests scores?

Review courses offered by Kaplan Test Prep and Princeton Review guarantee increases in standardized test scores through their online courses, private tutoring, small class courses and practice guides.

According to Princeton Review, the average increase for the GRE is 212 points, seven points for the LSAT, and eight points for the MCAT. They guarantee satisfaction and increased scores or offer the course again for free.

“My prep course for the LSAT was extremely helpful. I had significant increase in scores based on practice exams and would recommend it to anyone planning on taking the LSAT,” said LSA senior Jeff Rich.

The cost of preparation can weigh heavily on students. Kaplan Test Prep has a variety of teaching services offered, with the cheapest option being online tutoring for $499. A small classroom course ranges from $1,099-$1,299, while a private tutor can be as expensive as $3,999.

“I took the Princeton Review MCAT prep class, which was $1,600. Obviously, it was a lot of money, but since practically everyone takes a course, you are at a serious disadvantage if you don’t,” said LSA senior Liz Zambricki.

Along with the costs of the preparation, students need to sacrifice large amounts of time for attending classes and taking practice tests. According to Zambricki, she studied for four months prior to the test with up to 10 – 12 hours a week outside of her prep class. In addition, she took five practice tests that took seven hours on a Saturday.

“My score from the practice test to the real exam went up from about the 60th percentile to the 94th percentile. I would recommend the course, but people need to do the work to get the results. Just going to class won’t do the job,” added Zambricki.

According to the Career Center (formerly Career Planning and Placement) there are many opportunities on campus to assist in the application process beyond the prep classes. The center sponsors events and information fairs where admissions officials from schools all over the country attend to provide information and applications.

The Career Center offers counseling where application essays and personal statements can be critiqued. In addition, the center has extensive web resources and links to many graduate school programs and informational websites.

“There are many ways to prepare for standardized tests such as the LSAT and GRE. The Career Center provides information about the many options because the amount of preparation needed is dependent upon each students needs,” said Tom Lehker, Career Center graduate student director.

“Students need to prepare in meaningful and committed ways while taking advantage of services offered to help here on campus,” added Lehker.

Beyond the costs of preparation, the actual standardized tests and applications add on to costs. Registration fees are $175 for the MCAT, $105 for the GRE, and $90 for the LSAT. Many students choose to take the tests multiple times to improve their scores as well, which quickly makes the process expensive.

Once the testing is completed, students still face the task of completing the applications, which generally include personal statements and essays. Applying to multiple schools continues to increase costs with all of the application fees.

“I am in the process of applying and filling out my applications. In the end, my application fees will be over $500 added onto my $1,100 prep course,” said Rich.

Part of the application process for medical school requires in-person interviews for each applicant. Financial aid and assistance is commonly not granted to help in the application process, thus leaving the burden solely on the student.

“It is possible to get fee waives for the primary and secondary application if you fit into a certain economic bracket, but it is for a small group,” said Zambricki.

“Because you have to fly out to all of the schools for interviews, if you don’t have the money to do so, you are at a pretty severe disadvantage. Therefore, the application process still seems to be one for the rich kids only, and I think that should be changed,” added Zambricki.

With all the stressed importance on preparation for these tests, it is obviously one of the major factors in schools’ decisions. However, as Lehker said, “Scores are a large part of the decision making process for graduate schools admissions, but they are also looking at the total package.”

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