Archive for test

Top 10 Tips for 2012 Application – #1 Test Score Reporting

We just finished one top 10 list and now we are on to another.  The first list dealt mostly with communication advice, this list will provide insight on the process of submitting your admission application to SIPA.

One of the ways we seek to make the application process fast and easy is to accept self reported test scores for admission application review. To repeat, 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.

At SIPA, we only require official test scores reports if an admitted applicant chooses to enroll. Here are a few common questions we receive and reminders of how the process works in our office.

Question: I sent my scores to SIPA some time ago, can you tell me if they have been received?

Answer: Applicants self report test scores as a part of the online application process. When assembling a file for admission we do not look for official reports. When you request that official test reports be sent to SIPA, they are downloaded into a centralized computer system. We will not match application records to this system until after admission decisions have been made.

Therefore, you should self report your scores when applying online. We print your application, do a manual check to make sure the necessary information has been included and then will update your record accordingly. We appreciate your patience as we work as quickly as possible to print and manually check each application after it has been submitted.

Question: I emailed my scores to your office or mailed a paper copy, do I still need to self report the scores when submitting my application?

Answer: Yes. Every applicant should self report the results of each test taken when filling in the online application. If the scores are not entered they do not appear when we print the application and this slows down the process.

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

Answer: As you can see in the screen shot below you can self report the total results for thee different exams for both the GRE/GMAT section and the English as a Second Language section. You should therefore report each test individually.

Let us say that you take the GRE three times. 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.

Screen Shot From Application Site Showing Multiple Entry Areas to Report Test Scores


Question: How late can I report my test scores?

Answer: The application deadline is January 5th at 11:59:59 PM EST. This means that all of your application and all of the associated information should be submitted by this time. Therefore, you can report your test scores up until this time. Because we do not need official test scores to consider an applicant for admission, you do not need to worry about how long it will take the testing agency to report the scores to us, only concern yourself with being able to self report your scores by the deadline.

Question: If I am admitted, when will my test scores need to be received by SIPA?

Answer: Applicants that are admitted and pay a deposit to enroll are required to have official test scores in our office by June 15th. We will provide guidance on this process after admission decisions go out. If you have listed our test code when taking the exam more than likely we will have an electronic record in our mainframe system.

Question: Is there a time limit on how long scores are acceptable?

Answer: TOEFL and IELTS scores up to two years old are acceptable. GRE and GMAT scores up to five years old are acceptable.  The year periods relate to the admission deadline – January 5th.  The tests must have been taken within 2 or 5 years of this date respectively.

Question: When I am taking the exam and it asks for your school code, what number should I enter?

Answer: See below – we highly encourage you to list our code so that if you are admitted, we can work through the process faster.

GRE Code: 2161 (do not list a department code)

GMAT Code for MIA: QF8-64-56

GMAT Code for MPA: QF8-64-99

TOEFL Code: 2161

The GRE Revised General Test

As interested applicants are likely aware, the Education Testing Service (ETS) is making changes to the GRE.  The test in its current format will be offered until July 31st and starting August 1st only the revised test will be offered.

The good news is that the new test will not negatively impact applicants to SIPA in any way.  As a matter of fact the test should be more friendly to test takers and to the SIPA Admissions Committee.  Here are a few questions people have been asking along with some general notes regarding the new test.  Do note that some of the text below is taken directly from a handout given out by ETS at a recent seminar.

Question:  If I took the GRE previously are my scores still valid?

Answer: GRE scores, no matter the version of the test, are valid for 5 years.  SIPA will accept any GRE test scores that are no more than 5 years old by the date of application.  If you are applying for fall 2012 admission and you took the GRE on January 5, 2007 or after, your scores are valid for fall 2012 admission consideration.

Question:  When reporting my scores to SIPA should I convert old scores to the new scores?

Answer: No, do not convert your scores.  Applicants to SIPA self report test scores on the admission application.  You should report the scores and the associated percentages exactly as they appear on your GRE test report.  If you took the older version of the test and the newer version, report the scores exactly as given to you by ETS.

Question:  Should I report my individual scores from each time I have taken the test, or should I only report my highest scores?

Answer: Applicants should report individual scores from each time the test has been taken.  In other words, if you have taken the test more than once, do not simply take the highest scores achieved and report the scores as one test.  List your full score report history.  If you took the test on January 15th, 2009 and on April 29, 2010 you will be asked to report the full results of each test by date on the admissions application.  Do not attempt to average your scores or take the highest score from each individual test.  When the Committee reviews applications we take the highest scores achieved, we do not average the scores.

Regarding the format of the test, the revised General test should be more friendly to test takers.  For one, the test will allow you to move back and forth between questions, edit or change answers, and skip and return to previous questions.  The questions asked on the test will also more closely reflect the kind of thinking needed to succeed in a graduate program.

For example, in the past antonyms and analogies were part of the test, but this is not really the type of thinking you will utilize at SIPA.  The learning at SIPA is contextual and vocabulary on the old exam was often tested out of context. In the quantitative section more emphasis is going to be placed on real-life scenarios and there will be an on-screen calculator.

In regard to the scoring scale, it is changing from 10 point increments to 1 point increments.  This will make it easier for the Admissions Committee to compare scores.  The new scale makes a small difference in scoring look like small differences, while bigger differences will continue to stand out.

Those that plan on taking the test in the future also have the opportunity to take advantage of free test preparation materials on the ETS web site.  Free software that simulates the test taking experience can be downloaded here. You can also sign up for free alerts regarding the GRE by visiting

And as a general note, SIPA does not use GRE scores as a sole indicator of the ability to succeed in our programs.  We do not have an absolute GRE cutoff nor do we use a mathematical matrix to make admission decisions.  Every applicant, no matter the GRE score, will have their file reviewed by the Committee.  For a full blog entry on this topic please click here.

SIPA will also take the GMAT in place of the GRE.  Just as with the GRE, GMAT scores are to be self reported on the admission application when applying.  We do encourage applicants to list our test code when taking the GRE or GMAT, however we will not look for official test reports until after admission offers are made an enrollment deposit has been paid.  Here are our test codes:

  • GRE Code: 2161 (do not list a department code)
  • GMAT for MIA: QF8-64-56
  • GMAT for MPA: QF8-64-99

It’s About the Story

One of the most common questions we receive centers around the question of what could be called “eligibility” for our program. I completely understand where applicants are coming from regarding such questions, but I do want to emphasize that the Admissions Committee at SIPA does not use any sort of formula to admit students. The process of evaluating applicants for admission is very holistic and we look at each part of the application.

Besides possessing a college degree, there are no specific criteria for admission. There are surely things applicants can do to strengthen their candidacy for our program but we do not require a specific GPA, certain test scores, a particular major, or a certain number of years of work experience. We get questions such as the following all of the time:

  • I studied a major unrelated to what I wish to study at SIPA. Does this disqualify me from admission?
  • I have not taken an economics class, does this mean I have no chance of being admitted?
  • I have only worked for one year, does this mean I will not be admitted?
  • I did not score well on the GRE/GMAT – does this jeopardize my candidacy?
  • The work experience of I have does not really relate to my proposed field of study, is this a problem?
  • Is it worth my time to apply based on my background?
  • There certainly are generalizations that can be made about the majority of those who are admitted to SIPA. The average age of an admitted SIPA applicant is approximately 27. However we have had students as young as 21 join us. The majority of applicants that apply to SIPA have completed a microeconomics and macroeconomics class. Is it a requirement that all applicants have completed such a sequence prior to being admitted? No.

    I do not want to sound like a politician who is dancing around the question and I understand the desire applicants have for “concrete” answers, but admission decisions really come down to an applicant’s story – a story the encompasses each and every part of the application.

    In the past I worked for a school with a strong focus on arts, entertainment, music, and media. One faculty member left an impression upon me because he constantly stated something along the lines of the following:

    “The success of a movie has everything to do with the story. You can have the best actors, the best special effects, the best soundtrack . . . but without a good story such resources just go to waste.”

    Something similar can be said about applicants.  Some applicants possess very relevant experience but are unable to bring everything together in their application.  This may result in a scattered application with no real discernible theme or story.

    On the other hand, there may be an applicant with seemingly unrelated experience and a major that was far afield from what they wish to study at SIPA, however s/he does a superb job of making sense of all of the parts by weaving all of the parts of their application together into a compelling story.  This might be accomplished through the choice of recommendation writers, compelling volunteer work, and a focused personal statement.

    The personal statement really is the “glue” that holds the entire application together.  We would love to interview each candidate for admission but are unable to do so.  Thus your personal statement is where we get to know you.  It is divided into three questions and in question #1 you really should focus on your passion, future goals, what you hope to gain from SIPA, and what you will contribute to SIPA.  Questions 2 and 3 are wide open, but you should write wisely and try to include information that contributes to the story you are trying to convey in your application.

    In sum, there are general characteristics that we look for in an applicant, but in the end a compelling story, mixed with evidence of academic and professional competence that will allow one to handle our curriculum, is really what helps an applicant to stand out.

    One final note, some applicants have questions concerning our desire to see evidence of success with quantitative methods/economics at the undergraduate level.  Why is this important?  Well all SIPA students, regardless of degree or major, are required to take a full year of economics, a quantitative analysis class, and a financial management class.  As you might imagine, those with little to no previous experience in these areas would likely struggle greatly with our curriculum.   Also, second year fellowship consideration is tied to academic performance in the first year of study and a certain way to disqualify oneself from fellowship consideration is to do poorly in these classes, which are all first year requirements.  Thus, we do like to see evidence in an application of success in classes that relate to quantitative methods.

    English as a Second Language Tests and Admission

    First let me say from a personal standpoint that I admire anyone who is able to communicate at a high level in more than one language.  Mastering a second language is certainly a huge achievement.  My wife speaks three languages very well and each time she rapidly transitions from one language to another it makes my head spin.  And she types all three languages well even on an English keyboard with no foreign language characters.  She’s my hero.

    Half the time when I try to speak a bit of Korean I end up speaking broken Spanish, and when I try to speak Spanish broken Korean comes out.  I am convinced that my Latin American apartment neighbors think I am crazy because half the time when I try to say hello, Korean comes out instead of Spanish.

    Mastery of English is very important to the Admissions Committee at SIPA due to the rigorous and fast paced nature of our curriculum.  I thought I would provide a bit of insight into how the Admissions Committee views English test reports submitted by applicants that do not speak English as a native language.

    SIPA will accept three tests that measure the ability to communicate in English:  TOEFL, IELTS, and a test administered at Columbia University called the English Certification Test (this test must be taken on our campus).  Scores can be divided into three categories.

    • Category 1: We cannot offer admission based on the score regardless of how impressive the rest of an application may be.
    • Category 2: We can offer provisional admission (only for the fall cycle).  Candidates offered provisional admission must enroll in a mandatory, three week, intensive English course hosted at SIPA in the summer.
    • Category 3: We can offer unconditional admission.

    For categories 2 and 3, applicants must of course not only score at high level on the English exam, but must also put together a compelling application in all other regards.

    We do have minimum scores for admission and they are:

    • TOEFL iBT: 100
    • TOEFL Computer: 250
    • TOEFL Paper: 600
    • IELTS: 7
    • ECT: 7A

    We can offer admission to candidates that achieve these scores, the offer will be provisional however if the scores fall within the following range:

    • TOEFL iBT: 100 – 109
    • TOEFL Computer: 250 – 267
    • TOEFL Paper: 600 – 633
    • IELTS: 7 -7.5
    • ECT: 7A – 8A

    And finally, we can offer unconditional admission to candidates that achieve the following scores:

    • TOEFL iBT: 110 and above
    • TOEFL Computer: 270 and above
    • TOEFL Paper: 637 and above
    • IELTS: 8 and above
    • ECT: 8B or above

    In all cases scores must be less than two years old.  We do not require official test reports to consider candidates for admission.  Candidates can self report test scores on the application Web site all the way up to the Admission Deadline.  Therefore, if you take a test at a late date, as long as you can log in to the application site prior to the deadline to submit the scores achieved, the scores will be accepted for consideration.  Only candidates that are offered admission will then later be asked to submit official test scores for the permanent academic record.

    We do recommend that you list our code when taking the TOEFL.  Our TOEFL test code is 2161.

    Test-Score Submission

    We have been getting many questions recently about test score submission and I want to emphasize an important point: SIPA does not require official test reports (GRE / GMAT / TOEFL / IELTS) for admission consideration.  We accept self reported scores on the application for admission consideration.

    Thus applicants need not worry about SIPA receiving official test reports by the admission deadline.  Applicants simply need to enter the scores achieved on the application site.  These scores can be entered up to the deadline, even after submitting Part 2 of the admission application.

    So for example, let’s say you submit Part 2 of your application on December 15th after having taken the GRE one time.  If you take the GRE again on December 28th and ETS provides you with your scores within a few days, you log back into your application and report your scores up until January 5th.  We do not need the official score report by January 5th.

    SIPA will require official test scores only if an applicant is admitted and pays an enrollment deposit.  The enrollment deposit is due by May 1st and official test reports will need to be submitted to our office in June.  Details will follow once admission offers have been made.

    We still encourage applicants to list the appropriate SIPA code when taking these exams, but you need not worry about the official test reports reaching our office by January 5th.  Also note that we do not average test scores, so you can take test multiple times and we will always take the highest scores achieved.   See below for the appropriate SIPA test codes:

    • GRE Code: 2161 (do not list a department code)
    • GMAT for MIA: QF8-64-56
    • GMAT for MPA: QF8-64-99
    • TOEFL:  2161

    "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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