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Students prepare for graduate school exams

Megan Doyle | Thursday, February 17, 2011

Midterm exams are rapidly approaching, but many upperclassmen are focusing their attention on post-graduate exams.

To prepare for these exams, many juniors and seniors reach out to organizations such as Kaplan Test Prep.

Liza Weale, executive director of pre-business and pre-graduate programs for Kaplan, said Kaplan Test Prep provided courses to more than 638,000 students worldwide over a single year. Kaplan offers preparation for the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT), Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).

Admissions tests are one of the only quantitative and objective measures on applications for graduate school.

“In Kaplan Test Prep’s 2010 surveys of graduate school, business school and law school admissions officers, the GRE, GMAT and LSAT, respectively, ranked as the most important admissions factors,” Weale said. “According to our medical school admissions officers’ survey, a low MCAT score is the biggest application killer.”

However, students can improve their scores dramatically before they send applications to graduate programs by preparing correctly, Weale said.

Kaplan offers a range of programs in the classroom and online as well as private tutoring to help students prepare for these tests.

Junior Tony Dang is among the many pre-med students preparing for the MCAT in May. Dang said he began slowly preparing for the exam over summer break.

“The resources that I have been using so far have been the Kaplan MCAT test books for each individual subject (Physics, General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Biology and the verbal portion of the test),” he said. “I also have 10 practice tests that a friend that sent me for extra practice once I’m done with studying the subjects. All of the studying is individualized, meaning that I am not taking any classes in preparation for this test.”

Dang said he would like to see different organizations, such as the Princeton Review, on campus in addition to more traditional companies.

“I think the [University] offers adequate options to help with test preparation,” he said. “But I would like to see other organizations other than Kaplan on campus.”

Senior John Anders prepared for the LSAT with a Kaplan Live Online class during summer 2010 before he took the exam in October. The instructor for the course broadcasted the lesson over a video to students across the country.

“Because I took this class, I took five practice exams prior to my actual test day,” he said. “They gave me a feel for where I was before taking the actual exam.”

Anders said he utilized the online LSAT tools provided by Kaplan to monitor his studying.

“They have this thing called Smart Reports that analyzes your performance on practice tests and diagnoses where you could use more practice and tracks your progress,” Anders said. “I found this to be one of the most helpful tools in my preparation.”

Because of the ample resources offered through Kaplan, Anders said he did not seek out resources through Notre Dame other than quiet study space in campus libraries.

Anders said he was confident of the test format and types of questions on the exam, and he said he was very happy with his score.

“I think knowing exactly what I was going to get on the exam was a huge confidence boost for me, and my scores represented this,” Anders said. “I have the class I took to thank for this.”

Saint Mary’s senior Kristen Metzger will take the GRE at the end of the summer and was accepted to the Teach for America program after graduation. Metzger will receive her master’s degree in education at the University of North Carolina while she completes that program.

Metzger said she used Kaplan resources to study for past exams and turned to their GRE preparation book because she was familiar with their format.

“They also offer practice tests online that I’m sure I will take advantage of,” she said.

The “Classroom Anywhere” online option is the most popular among students preparing for exams through Kaplan, Weale said.

“Classroom Anywhere courses take the dynamic interaction of a live instructor — who brings all the enthusiasm and inspiration of our Kaplan classrooms — and combines it with state-of-the-art online classroom tools to translate the combination into an online environment that’s designed to enhance the learning experience,” she said.

Fees for Kaplan programs vary depending on the program. Weale said thousands of free practice tests and admissions seminars are available across the country.

Students unhappy with their preparation or exam score can study with Kaplan for free for the next test date or for three more months for computer-based tests.

“Students in our programs see great results, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of students who come to us each year,” Weale said. “Much of Kaplan’s growth comes from reputation and word-of-mouth, so we have a vested interest in helping our students succeed.”