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Grad School Entrance Exams: GRE vs. ACT

Graduate school entrance exams are an essential component of the application process for many graduate programs. These exams serve as a standardized measure of a student’s academic abilities and potential for success in a graduate program. Two of the most commonly used entrance exams for graduate school are the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and the American College Testing (ACT) exam. While both exams assess a student’s knowledge and skills, they have distinct differences in terms of content, format, and purpose. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between the GRE and ACT exams, and discuss which exam may be more suitable for prospective graduate students.

The GRE Exam

The GRE exam is a standardized test that is widely accepted by graduate schools in various disciplines, including business, social sciences, humanities, and natural sciences. The exam consists of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. Each section assesses different skills and abilities.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE exam measures a student’s ability to understand and analyze written material, evaluate arguments, and apply critical thinking skills. This section includes questions on reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. It assesses a student’s vocabulary, reading comprehension, and ability to reason logically.

For example, a sample question from the Verbal Reasoning section might ask the test-taker to identify the main idea of a passage or to determine the meaning of a word based on its context. This section requires strong reading and analytical skills.

Quantitative Reasoning

The Quantitative Reasoning section of the GRE exam evaluates a student’s mathematical skills and ability to solve problems using quantitative methods. This section includes questions on arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis. It assesses a student’s ability to interpret and analyze quantitative information, solve mathematical problems, and apply mathematical concepts to real-world scenarios.

For example, a sample question from the Quantitative Reasoning section might ask the test-taker to solve a word problem involving percentages or to analyze data presented in a graph or table. This section requires strong mathematical skills and the ability to apply mathematical concepts to solve problems.

Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing section of the GRE exam assesses a student’s ability to articulate complex ideas, support arguments with evidence, and communicate effectively in writing. This section includes two essay tasks: an “Issue” task and an “Argument” task. The “Issue” task requires the test-taker to present a position on a given topic and support it with reasons and examples. The “Argument” task requires the test-taker to critique an argument by identifying its flaws and providing alternative explanations or evidence.

For example, in the “Issue” task, the test-taker might be asked to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of technology in education and provide examples to support their position. In the “Argument” task, the test-taker might be asked to evaluate an argument made in a passage and identify logical fallacies or weaknesses in the argument. This section requires strong analytical and writing skills.

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The ACT Exam

The ACT exam is a standardized test that is primarily used for undergraduate college admissions in the United States. However, some graduate programs may also accept ACT scores as part of their application requirements. The exam consists of four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. Each section assesses different skills and knowledge.

English

The English section of the ACT exam measures a student’s knowledge of grammar, usage, and rhetoric. This section includes questions on punctuation, sentence structure, and rhetorical skills. It assesses a student’s ability to identify and correct errors in written passages, improve sentence structure and organization, and analyze the effectiveness of written communication.

For example, a sample question from the English section might ask the test-taker to identify the error in a sentence or to choose the most appropriate word or phrase to complete a sentence. This section requires strong language and grammar skills.

Mathematics

The Mathematics section of the ACT exam evaluates a student’s mathematical skills and ability to solve problems using mathematical concepts and procedures. This section includes questions on algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and statistics. It assesses a student’s ability to apply mathematical concepts and procedures to solve problems, analyze data, and interpret graphs and charts.

For example, a sample question from the Mathematics section might ask the test-taker to solve an equation, calculate the area of a geometric shape, or analyze data presented in a graph. This section requires strong mathematical skills and the ability to apply mathematical concepts to solve problems.

Reading

The Reading section of the ACT exam measures a student’s ability to understand and analyze written passages from various subject areas, including social sciences, natural sciences, humanities, and literary fiction. This section includes questions on reading comprehension, vocabulary, and critical thinking. It assesses a student’s ability to identify main ideas, make inferences, and analyze the structure and purpose of written passages.

For example, a sample question from the Reading section might ask the test-taker to identify the author’s tone or to determine the meaning of a word based on its context. This section requires strong reading comprehension and critical thinking skills.

Science

The Science section of the ACT exam evaluates a student’s ability to interpret and analyze scientific data and information. This section includes questions on biology, chemistry, physics, and earth/space sciences. It assesses a student’s ability to understand scientific concepts, analyze experimental data, and apply scientific reasoning to solve problems.

For example, a sample question from the Science section might ask the test-taker to interpret a graph showing the relationship between temperature and enzyme activity or to analyze data from an experiment to determine the effect of a variable on plant growth. This section requires strong scientific knowledge and the ability to apply scientific concepts to solve problems.

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Comparing the GRE and ACT Exams

While both the GRE and ACT exams assess a student’s knowledge and skills, there are several key differences between the two exams that prospective graduate students should consider when deciding which exam to take.

Purpose

The GRE exam is specifically designed for graduate school admissions and is widely accepted by graduate programs in various disciplines. It assesses a student’s readiness for graduate-level coursework and their potential for success in a graduate program. On the other hand, the ACT exam is primarily used for undergraduate college admissions, although some graduate programs may accept ACT scores as part of their application requirements.

Content

The content of the GRE and ACT exams differs significantly. The GRE exam includes sections on Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing, which assess a student’s verbal, mathematical, and analytical skills. The ACT exam, on the other hand, includes sections on English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, which assess a student’s language, mathematical, reading comprehension, and scientific reasoning skills.

Format

The format of the GRE and ACT exams also differs. The GRE exam is a computer-based test, while the ACT exam is a paper-based test. The GRE exam allows test-takers to move back and forth between questions within a section and change their answers, while the ACT exam does not allow this flexibility. Additionally, the GRE exam includes both multiple-choice and essay questions, while the ACT exam consists entirely of multiple-choice questions.

Scoring

The scoring systems for the GRE and ACT exams are also different. The GRE exam uses a scoring scale of 130-170 for the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections, and a scoring scale of 0-6 for the Analytical Writing section. The scores for each section are reported separately. The ACT exam uses a composite score ranging from 1-36, which is an average of the scores from the four sections. The ACT exam also provides subscores for each section.

Preparation

Both the GRE and ACT exams require thorough preparation to achieve a high score. There are various resources available to help students prepare for these exams, including study guides, practice tests, and online courses. It is important for prospective graduate students to allocate sufficient time and effort to prepare for the exam that is most relevant to their graduate program of interest.

Which Exam Should You Take?

Deciding whether to take the GRE or ACT exam depends on several factors, including the requirements of the graduate programs you are applying to and your own strengths and preferences. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

  • Graduate Program Requirements: Check the admission requirements of the graduate programs you are interested in to determine which exam they accept. Some programs may accept both exams, while others may have a preference for one over the other.
  • Content and Skills: Consider your strengths and weaknesses in terms of the content and skills assessed by each exam. If you excel in verbal and analytical skills, the GRE exam may be a better fit for you. If you have strong mathematical and scientific reasoning skills, the ACT exam may be more suitable.
  • Format and Test-taking Preferences: Think about your preferences in terms of the exam format and test-taking experience. If you prefer a computer-based test and the flexibility to move back and forth between questions, the GRE exam may be a better choice. If you prefer a paper-based test and are comfortable with multiple-choice questions, the ACT exam may be more preferable.
  • Preparation: Consider the time and effort you are willing to invest in preparing for the exam. Both exams require thorough preparation, so it is important to allocate sufficient time and resources to study effectively.
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Ultimately, the decision of whether to take the GRE or ACT exam should be based on careful consideration of the requirements of the graduate programs you are applying to, your own strengths and preferences, and the amount of time and effort you are willing to invest in preparing for the exam.

Conclusion

Graduate school entrance exams play a crucial role in the application process for many graduate programs. The GRE and ACT exams are two commonly used entrance exams that assess a student’s knowledge and skills. While the GRE exam is specifically designed for graduate school admissions and is widely accepted by graduate programs in various disciplines, the ACT exam is primarily used for undergraduate college admissions, although some graduate programs may accept ACT scores. The GRE exam includes sections on Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing, while the ACT exam includes sections on English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science. The format, scoring, and preparation for the GRE and ACT exams also differ. When deciding which exam to take, it is important to consider the requirements of the graduate programs you are applying to, your own strengths and preferences, and the amount of time and effort you are willing to invest in preparing for the exam. By making an informed decision, you can increase your chances of success in the graduate school application process.

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