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The Scarlet & Black

LSATs, GREs and MCATs — oh my!


By Seth Taylor

While some Grinnell students spent their spring break relaxing, travelling and maybe taking in a sunset on the beach, others used those two weeks to study for tests that could shape the rest of their lives.

Standardized admission tests, which many Grinnellians believed they left behind after the SAT or ACT, only intensify if students hope to further their education in graduate school. These include the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

Graduate school admission tests can be intensive. Some are entirely online, while others are taken with pen and paper. They range from three and a half hours to seven hours long. They come with a cost, too. Graduate school admission tests cost anywhere from $180 for the LSAT to $315 for the MCAT, not including any study materials students may need to prepare.

Katie Ackerman ’18 has taken both the MCAT and the GRE during her time at Grinnell. A biochemistry major, Ackerman will go on to medical school at Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences in Yakima, Washington after graduation.

Ackerman created her four-year plan with the MCAT in mind, knowing from the start she wanted to attend medical school after graduating from Grinnell. For the second semester of her third year she only registered for three classes, using her free time to study for the MCAT.

After completing the MCAT, she began studying for the GRE over the summer — while simultaneously taking a summer course on anatomy and physiology at Boise State University — which she took in August.

In preparation for the MCAT, Ackerman signed up for the Kaplan test preparation course. This course is one of many that have extensive programs with online materials, workbooks and even live virtual classes, but all for a price. The Kaplan program Ackerman used normally costs $2,499. Other programs for tests like the LSAT, GMAT and GRE cost anywhere from $699 to $1,499.

The large price tag for Kaplan programs is lower for Grinnell students because of a deal the College has with Kaplan Test Prep. Besides such deals, the CLS works with students to offset the costs to take and prepare for the test if the student has demonstrated financial need. Nonetheless, for many the sticker price is still a daunting obstacle.

For students without transportation or financial stability, taking these tests can seem out of reach — let alone doing well on them. This raises issues of accessibility, as the tests and consequently graduate school may be considered a less viable option by some students.

“There’s definitely accessibility issues,” Ackerman said. “I think we see it in graduate school and in medical school matriculates. We’re not seeing the same diversity even that we’re seeing in undergrad or that we’re seeing in our general population.”

Accessibility issues aside, Ackerman is happy with her performance on the MCAT.

“I’m not going to complain because I got into med school!” she laughed. Ackerman believes the classes at Grinnell broadly prepared her for the MCAT and GRE, sharpening her writing and critical thinking skills. While classes offered at the College are not designed to help students with any one test, Grinnell students still experience broad success.

For the MCAT specifically, the average score for Grinnell students from January 2015 to August 2017 was 506.3, compared to a national average of 500.6.

For all those students planning on taking the MCAT, the GRE or other tests like them, Ackerman said, “Remember it’s not the end of the world. … It’s not the end-all-be-all. You’re going to be stressed out — that’s okay. But you’ll get there. It all works out in the end.”

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