Archive for standardized tests

Niara’s advice on preparing for the GRE

A great piece of advice I received when I was first applying to graduate school was to book a date for the GRE as early as possible — this helps you plan ahead and outline what you need to study. But I also wanted to share some tips for the GRE from my own personal experience given that I took the GRE not that long ago.

Focus on your mistakes and what you don’t know

One of the best ways to improve your score on the GRE is to focus on the things you don’t know. This might sound obvious but there is a bit more to it, you have to really understand what you don’t know, meaning, it is very likely that you are making the same kinds of mistakes over and over again but not noticing a pattern. Effective GRE studying requires you to understand mistakes/errors, and your goal should be to not make the same mistake twice. I would even go as far as keeping an “error log” that tracks your mistakes based on content.  This should be your primary focus, studying from your error log and understanding why and how you are making those mistakes and then aiming to not make them again.

All practice should be timed

If you are one of the lucky people for who timing is never an issue then feel free to skip right ahead to the next section (what are you like, a genius, or something?). However, if you are a mere mortal, like me, then this piece of advice should come in handy: everything you are doing that is GRE-related should always be timed, always. If you are not timing yourself while you practice questions, it is basically like learning to fly an airplane by driving a car, which makes absolutely no sense! You want to recreate test-taking conditions as much as possible. The reality is you only have a limited amount of time to complete the test, so you need to get accustomed to answering questions in a timed setting.

No, you will not just “get it right” next time

That was way harsh Tai! But I have a point, I swear. If you are routinely making careless errors but disregarding them as silly mistakes, stop! Cease and desist! Basta! Para! These mistakes are communicating something, even if it’s a calculation error, it is something you need to be aware of. If you are making these mistakes now, studying in the comfort of your own home, you are very likely to make the same mistake on the actual test, because it’s timed and you’re under pressure and oh my god what were the Pythagorean Triplets?! The test itself can be nerve inducing, so you want to make sure you are as prepared as possible and reducing the number of careless errors when you practice.

Finally, and this might sound odd given what I’ve just said above, the GRE is just one aspect of your application. So yes, you should aim to do well, but it only tells a small part of the story.

Note from Admissions: SIPA requires either the GRE or the GMAT as an admissions requirement.

What’s with the GRE/GMAT and TOEFL/IELTS?

(Photo courtesy of Biblioteca Centro Lincoln-ICANA)

(Photo courtesy of Biblioteca Centro Lincoln-ICANA)

By now you’ve realized (we hope) that the GRE (or GMAT) and/or TOEFL (or IELTS) scores are required for admission into SIPA’s MIA/MPA program. Before you submit your scores, read the frequently asked questions about the standardized exams below.

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Ten GRE/GMAT Questions Answered… and one on TOEFL/IELTS

We get a lot of questions about the GRE so here you will find the answers to the most frequently asked ones… all in one post.

Does SIPA require that I submit GRE scores to be considered for admission?

Submission of GRE (or GMAT) scores is required for all SIPA applicants unless a waiver of this requirement has been granted.

Can I waive the GRE (GMAT)?

GRE (GMAT) waivers are typically only considered in extreme circumstances such as military service or travel restrictions. If your situation prohibits you from getting to a test center and you have significant previous academic and/or professional quantitative experience, you may submit a GRE/GMAT waiver request.  The Admissions Committee will not grant a waiver if it is unable to evaluate your quantitative aptitude without the submission of the GRE/GMAT.  Waiver requests must be submitted and approved before the application deadline.  Send us an email ( for a waiver request form to complete if your situation prohibits you from taking the exam and you have a quantitative-proven record.  But be aware that waivers are rarely granted.

Why do you require the GRE/GMAT?

We require the GRE (GMAT) because it is a useful indicator of academic ability.  However, we do not make a decision solely on the basis of standardize test scores.  But it is another way for us to better evaluate your quantitative and verbal proficiencies.

Can I submit LSAT scores instead of GRE or GMAT scores?

No.  We will not accept LSAT scores.

I will be taking the exam before the deadline but I’m afraid your office will not receive the official scores from ETS before the deadline.

To be considered for admission to SIPA we do not require that official test score reports be on file; this includes the GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, and IELTS.  Applicants may take the test any time prior to the deadline (January 6th) and self-report the scores. If an applicant is admitted, then official score reports will be requested.  Scores will be verified after admission to the program.

At the end of the exam, you will have the option to view your Verbal and Quantitative scores. Please make note of them to self-report them in your application. Your application is not complete without your GRE scores so please be sure to provide them by the application deadline.   If you self report your verbal and quantitative scores but do not have your writing scores, it is fine that ETS sends us your Writing score at a later date.

May I submit my application if I have not yet taken the GRE/GMAT?

If you plan to take the GRE or GMAT after you submit your application, you may self-report these scores to us via email.   Scores must be submitted by the application deadline.  In the email, please indicate your full name, program you are applying to and the score results.  Please be aware that any score submitted after the application deadline will be considered at the discretion of the Admissions Committee.  An application is not considered complete if the GRE or GMAT score section has been left blank, so please update us as soon as your scores are available, at which point your application will be processed for review.

My scores have been sent to your office, do I still need to self report the scores when submitting my application?

Yes. Every applicant should self report the results of each test taken when filling in the online application. Scores not self reported in the application will need to be downloaded and matched to the applicant’s account.  This will delay admission review process.

I took the (GRE, GMAT, TOEFL, IELTS) several times. How should I report my scores? Should I only list my top scores?

You should report each test individually.  We DO NOT want you to take your top three scores achieved and enter them as one exam. You should report your scores from all three exams in the three separate sections that are available to you. If you have taken a test more than three times, report your most recent three scores.

Does SIPA have a minimum GRE/GMAT score?

We do not have a minimum GRE (GMAT) score.  SIPA is a competitive program so you are encouraged to put your best foot forward in your application. However, there is no cut off score which we will not consider your application.  This is because many of our students are several years out of undergrad and have had time to mature or hone skills they may not have had five or ten years ago.

GRE or GMAT scores are but one facet of your application.  Due to the diversity of the applicant pool, SIPA does not have a “minimum”[cut off] score to apply.  We employ a holistic application process and will consider applicants regardless of their GRE/GMAT scores   While our applicant pool is very competitive and we encourage you to do the best you can, if you have stellar work experience, solid undergraduate GPA, taken some quant courses, and supportive recommendations, you should not let test scores hold you back.  If you are concerned about your test scores or any other aspect of your application, you may address them in the optional essay.

What is SIPA’s GRE/GMAT school codes?

For information on the GRE visit Our ETS school code, 2161 (there is no department code).
For information on the GMAT visit Our GMAT codes are:  Master of International Affairs: QF8-64-56
Master of Public Administration: QF8-64-99

Do I have to submit TOEFL scores?

International students who did not earn a bachelor’s degree from an institution in which English was the primary language of instruction, must submit proof of competency in English by submitting TOEFL or IELTS scores in order for the application to be reviewed.

In order for the application to be considered for admission, applicants must successfully achieve a minimum score of 100 on the TOEFL ibt, 600 for the paper-based TOEFL, or 250 for the computer-based TOEFL.  Applicants who choose to submit IELTS scores must meet a minimum of 7.0.

The New GRE

A reader adroitly pointed out that in my original post I mentioned 2010 below, when in actuality the changes will be made in 2011.  This does not change our policy of accepting unofficial scores for admission consideration.


If you have not heard yet, the Educational Testing Service (ETS) is making some changes to the GRE test and to the scoring system in the near future.  The changes will  go into effect in August 1st, 2011.  For applicants to SIPA there are a few important pieces of information to consider.

First let me state that SIPA does allow applicants to submit unofficial scores achieved on the GRE on the admission application.  Let me repeat, we do not have to have an official score report on file by the admission deadline.  We are fine with applicants self reporting their GRE scores by the admission deadline.  If an applicant is admitted to SIPA, we then will ask that official scores be sent to us.  We do recommend that you include our score code when taking the GRE, it is 2161.  We need the official scores for your permanent academic record if you are admitted and decide to enroll.

Second, SIPA will take either the new or old GRE scores, as long as the scores are less than five years old.

Third, for an application to be complete, we need both the scores and percentages for each section of the test (verbal, quantitative, and analytical writing).   Each score and percentage must be entered in order to submit your application.  We do not require a GRE subject test.

Fourth, we also accept GMAT scores and the same applies.  We need both the scores and percentages achieved self reported on the admission application by the deadline and the scores can be no more than five years old.

So as long as you are able to receive your unofficial GRE or GMAT scores by the admission deadline you can meet our application requirements.

The following text appears on the ETS Web site in the FAQ section:


Can I view scores online?
Yes. You can now view your scores online free of charge. You will need to create or have a My GRE Account to use this service.

  • For computer-based General Test takers, the View Scores Online service is available approximately 15 days after your test date.
  • For paper-based General Test takers, the View Scores Online service is available approximately six weeks after your test date.


For applicants applying for spring admission the deadline is October 1st.  Therefore, if you have not taken the GRE and plan on doing so in the future, it is important that you give yourself enough time to get your scores and self report them on your admission application.  The fall 2011 admission deadline is January 5, 2011.

"The most global public policy school, where an international community of students and faculty address world challenges."

—Merit E. Janow, Dean, SIPA, Professor of Practice, International and Economic Law and International Affairs

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