I am a pretty creative person. However, my creativity reaches superhuman levels when it comes to avoiding my dissertation. I’m too cold; I’m too hot. Neither of my desks in my apartment feel right today, nor does my kitchen table or couch. I need more light; I need less light. Whatever comes up, I know I can justify skipping out on writing because of it.
In order to ensure I actually get writing done on a regular basis, I carefully plan my work schedule in advance, block out time and utilize work timers, set up workspaces in my home that I want to be in—all things that make working on my dissertation easier to do. Sometimes this means leaving my apartment completely and working for a while out in the world, like at the library, a coffee shop, or outside somewhere. Nevertheless, my propensity to avoid writing follows me.
That is why I keep my Dissertation Go Bag by the door. Like its namesake, the emergency go bag, this backpack is ready to go at a moment’s notice and has everything in it (except my computer) I need to survive a writing session at the library or coffee shop. This means that I am always prepared to get to work, which minimizes any excuses I might create to avoid writing.
Here is a list of items that I keep in my Dissertation Go Bag, items that make it easier for me to write:
Scratch Paper: Although I do most of my writing on the computer, sometimes I need to map out an idea, create a checklist, or scratch some sentences out by hand. Keeping an inexpensive spiral notebook in my bag means I am ready for any sort of form my writing will take. Also, I keep a stack of blank 3×5 index cards. Sometimes, when I am stuck, jotting ideas on the cards and physically moving them around the table helps me visualize a difficult section.
Pencil Pouch and All the Pens: In a similar vein, I store a stationary store’s worth of pens, pencils, highlighters, and erasers in my bag. A few weeks ago, I actually left the library because I didn’t have enough highlighters to, in my mind, properly color code my notes. Having a variety of options easily accessible means I have fewer excuses like this. Plus it justifies having a cute pencil pouch, which definitely helps me be more productive.
Extra Power Cords: Let’s say you’re in the library or have just settled into a coffee shop, you’ve set up your computer, stacked some books up, and gotten your favorite pen out—you’re ready to work! Until, that is, you realize your computer is about to die. There is nothing worse! After forgetting to bring my computer cord a couple of times, I bought a new one specifically to keep in my Go Bag. Also, I added a phone charger, too. This way I’ve always got power when I’m ready to write.
Sticky Notes in Every Size: Do I need to remember to pick up something at the grocery store on my way home from working? I have a sticky note for that. Do I need to mark a passage in a book? I have a sticky note for that, too. Do I need to add something to a cramped page of notes? Yup, I have a sticky note for that. Keeping a load of different style sticky notes in my bag means that I can be 3-dimensional in my writing, making life easier and minimizing work-curbing distractions.
Earplugs/Earphones: Despite your best intentions, writing in public requires, well, a public. From noisy children to weirdly humming lights, there is a whole array of distractions out there that you can use as an excuse to not get any work done. In my Go Bag, I have anticipated this! I have several sets of earplugs, my preferred method for tuning out the word, and a pair of earphones (that I use with my favorite white-noise app). Like the computer cord, these are extras, meaning they always stay in my bag so they are always there when I need them.
Snack, Preferably Something Chocolate: Hunger (or the illusion of hunger) is an easy excuse to end a writing session early. That’s why I make sure to keep a couple of nut-heavy granola bars, preferably ones dipped in chocolate (duh!), in my bag. They give me a hit of protein and sugar to keep my energy up, a dose of chocolate to up my endorphins, and are easy to eat quickly in the library stairwell.
Empty Water Bottle: Like with the snack, you can’t let thirst put you off working. So keeping a water bottle in your bag insures you stay productive and hydrated. Plus refilling my water bottle is one of my favorite study breaks, because it only takes five minutes and reminds me to stretch and move around a bit.
$10 Cash: Coffee doesn’t buy itself, so I keep a little bit of cash tucked into my Go Bag for caffeine-related emergencies.
A Scholarly Sweater and Typing Gloves: Sitting in one place for a few hours, especially one as cold as a library, can be profoundly uncomfortable. To protect myself, I keep a sweater in my Go Bag. But it isn’t just any sweater. Oh, no! It is the perfect writing sweater: cozy and loose fitting with extra-long sleeves. If you are prone to getting cold, I would also recommend keeping a pair of fingerless gloves in your bag. That way you can keep your hands warm and type at the same time.
Allow yourself time to adjust—and try to relax
Set priorities and stick to them
Don’t try to do everything at once
Know what to do when things get frustrating
- If something happens that you believe is wrong (abuse, harassment, unfair treatment), report it. Document your experiences in writing whenever possible. Refer to your student handbook for policies governing appropriate conduct, abuse, and harassment. Follow the procedures set forth in these policies, and remember that your confidentiality will be maintained.
- You have observed poor customer service somewhere on campus, or you are personally affected by a policy or procedure that does not seem to make sense. This may be the time to share your experience with school administrators. They welcome feedback from students when it is honest, sincere, respectful, and carries with it a realistic suggestion for improvement. They want to know when things are not working and usually will take steps to correct the situation.
- You have an idea that you believe would help make things better at your institution. Share it with appropriate individuals, perhaps with several of your fellow graduate students. If there is a consensus that this idea would help, send a letter to the president or chief academic, financial, student affairs, marketing, admissions, alumni, etc. officer. Volunteer to help put the idea into action if at all possible.
- You receive a grade you do not believe is fair. Again, remember that faculty members are not perfect. They may make a mistake or simply overlook something. If you feel you know the faculty member well enough, speak with them directly about your concerns. If not, you can consult with an academic advisor or someone on campus who is identified as a student advocate (sometimes called the student ombudsman). They will keep your conversation completely in confidence and provide helpful input.
- You have a class that you believe is poorly taught or managed, and/or in which the professor exhibits arrogance, weak interpersonal skills, lack of knowledge, etc. You believe the class is a poor investment of your time and money. Low-hanging fruit: if there is survey at the end of the class, be sure to respond. Your comments will be kept in strict confidence. If you know other students share your views, encourage them to complete the survey too. If you believe the issues deserve more time and attention, go to the academic or students services office and ask what options you have in reporting the matter to the chief academic officer.
If you need help, ask for it
Get comfortable “adulting”
Believe in yourself
Continue to look for financial assistance
Take advantage of the career placement office
Resist the temptation to *ahem* cut corners
Do not stop having fun
Do not forget important relationships outside the classroom
Do not obsess about grades or the ranking of your institution
Change things up if you need to
If grad school isn’t working out…
Always remember: this too shall pass.
You can do it; I did
“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” — Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States, 1872-1933
Welcome to Tennessee Tech University!
For those of you who are going to be graduate students here at Tech, this post is full of resources to help guide you along the path of graduate school.
First of all, make sure to come to the New Graduate Student Orientation on August 19th in Derryberry Hall Auditorium (Second Floor) from 4pm to 6:30pm. If you haven’t already, please RSVP for orientation HERE.
During orientation, you will not only be able to meet fellow grad students in the program, but you will also meet the faculty and staff who will help support you on your journey. The orientation is designed to help familiarize you to campus and student resources as well as Cookeville as a whole. Come and learn about the resources available to you as grad students, ask questions, pick up your parking passes, meet your classmates, and eat great food. If you’re new to Tennessee Tech or not, you will be glad you came!
The following information covers all of the important links and reminders for new graduate students.
Checklist and Reminders for New Students
Things to Do
- Financial Aid: Make sure all paperwork is in order.
- Graduate Assistantship: Applications can be found at https://www.tntech.edu/graduatestudies/stipend.php
- Student Email Account: Sign in, it’s the main method of contact by the university.
- Advisement: Contact the person listed on your Certificate of Admission.
- Register: Login to Eagle online and register for courses.
- Parking permit: Get a permit if you will be parking on campus. (You can pick these up at orientation.)
- Complete Admission Requirements: If you lack any requirements for admission, it will be indicated on your Certificate of Admission. All admission requirements must be meet by the end of the first semester or a registration hold will be placed on your account.
- Advisory Committee: Start thinking about which faculty members you want.
- Forms & Calendar: Go to the Graduate Studies website and click on the Online Forms link and Graduate Student Calendar link to familiarize yourself with important forms and dates.
- International students: Check in with the International Education office.
Things to Be Aware of
- Permissible Loads: There are limits in some situations.
- Grades: Know what grades are required to avoid dismissal or probation.
- Program of Study and Admission to Candidacy forms: You’ll need to file one by the end of the semester in which you will earn 15 credit hours of graduate level courses. Failure to turn in your program of study by this time will result in a registration hold.
- Admission to Candidacy: Find out what the process is for your degree.
- Changes: Learn how to make changes and the proper forms to use.
- Degree Completion Time Limits: Six consecutive years to complete a master’s or specialist in education; eight consecutive years to complete a doctorate.
- Comprehensive Exam: Learn about your department and degree’s comprehensive exam (when, where, and how).
- Thesis/Dissertation: TTU has a specific format for theses and dissertations. Attend a workshop before you begin writing.
- Graduation: You must apply for graduation in the semester you plan to complete your degree. All applications are due by the published deadline posted on our Graduate Student Calendar by semester.
Other Academic Links:
A guide for entering graduate students written by Wanda Pratt, University of Washington
Getting the most out of the relationship with your research advisor or boss
Meet regularly. You should insist on meeting once a week or at least every other week because it gives you motivation to make regular progress and it keeps your advisor aware of your work.
Prepare for your meetings. Come to each meeting with:
- List of topics to discuss
- Plan for what you hope to get out of the meeting
- Summary of what you have done since your last meeting
- List of any upcoming deadlines
- Notes from your previous meeting
E-mail him/her a brief summary of EVERY meeting. This helps avoid misunderstandings and provides a great record of your research progress. Include (where applicable):
- Time and plan for next meeting
- New summary of what you think you are doing
- To-do list for yourself
- To-do list for your advisor
- List of related work to read
- List of major topics discussed
- List of what you agreed on
- List of advice that you may not follow
Show your advisor the results of your work as soon as possible. This will help your advisor understand your research and identify potential points of conflict early in the process.
- Summaries of related work
- Anything you write about your research
- Experimental results
Communicate clearly. If you disagree with your advisor, state your objections or concerns clearly and calmly. If you feel something about your relationship is not working well, discuss it with him or her. Whenever possible, suggest steps they could take to address your concerns.
Take the initiative. You do not need to clear every activity with your advisor. He/she has a lot of work to do too. You must be responsible for your own research ideas and progress.
Getting the most out of what you read
- Keep an electronic bibliography with notes and pointers to the paper files.
- Keep and file all the papers you have read or skimmed.
Be efficient. Only read what you need to
- Start by reading only the conclusion, scanning figures and tables, and looking at their references.
- Read the other sections only if the paper seems relevant or you think it may help you get a different perspective.
- Skip the sections that you already understand (often the background and motivation sections).
Take notes on every paper you find worth reading.
- What problem are they trying to solve?
- What is their approach?
- How is it different from other approaches?
Summarize what you have read on each topic. After you have read several papers covering some topic, note the:
- Key problems
- Various formulations of the problem they are addressing
- Relationship among the various approaches
- Alternative approaches
Read PhD theses. Even though they are long they can be very helpful in quickly learning about what has been done in some fields. Especially focus on:
- Background sections
- Method sections
- Your advisor’s thesis
This will give you an idea for what he/she expects from you.
Making continual progress on your research
Keep a journal of your ideas. Write down everything you are thinking about even if you think it is stupid. It will help you keep track of your progress and keep you from going in circles. Do not plan to share it with anyone, so you can write freely.
Set some reasonable goals with deadlines
- Identify key tasks that need to be completed.
- Set a reasonable date for completing them (on the order of weeks or months).
- Share this with your advisor or enlist your advisor’s help in creating the goals and deadlines.
- Set some deadlines that you must keep (e.g., volunteer to give a student seminar on your research, work toward a conference paper submission deadline, etc.).
Keep a to-do list. Checking off things on a to-do list can feel very rewarding when you are working on a long-term project.
- List the small tasks that can be done in about an hour.
- Pick at least one that has to be completed each day.
Continually update your:
- Problem statement
- Approach (or a list of possible approaches)
- One-minute version of your research (aka the elevator ride summary)
- Five-minute version of your research
Discuss your research with anyone who will listen. Use your fellow students, friends, family, etc., to practice discussing your research on various levels. They may have useful insights, or you may find that verbalizing your ideas clarifies them for yourself.
Write about your work.
- Early stage: Write short idea papers and share them with your advisor and colleagues.
- Intermediate stage: Find workshops and conferences for submitting preliminary results. This can also help you set deadlines.
- Advanced stage: Target relevant journals.
Avoid distractions. It is easy to ignore your research in favor of more structured tasks such as taking classes, teaching classes, organizing student activities, etc. Minimize these kinds of activities or commitments.
Confront your fears and weaknesses.
- If you are afraid of public speaking, volunteer to give lots of talks.
- If you are afraid your ideas are stupid, discuss them with someone.
- If you are afraid of writing, write something about your research every day.
Balance reading, writing, and hacking. Often research needs to be an iterative process across all of those tasks.
Finding a thesis topic or formulating a research plan
Pick something you find interesting. If you work on something solely because your advisor wants you to, it will be difficult to stay motivated.
Pick something your advisor finds interesting. If your advisor doesn’t find it interesting he/she is unlikely to devote much time to your research. He/she will be even more motivated to help you if your project is on their critical path.
Pick something the research community will find interesting if you want to make yourself marketable.
Make sure it addresses a real problem.
Remember that your topic will evolve as you work on it.
Pick something that is narrow enough that it can be done in a reasonable time frame.
Have realistic expectations.
Don’t worry that you will be stuck in this area for the rest of your career. It is very likely that you will be doing very different research after you graduate.
Characteristics to look for in a good advisor, mentor, boss, or committee member
It is unreasonable to expect one person to have all of the qualities you desire. You should choose thesis committee
UCLA Graduate Student Orientation Handbook 21 members who are strong in the areas where your advisor is weak.
- Willing to meet with you regularly
- You can trust him/her to:
- Give you credit for the work you do
- Defend your work when you are not around
- Speak well of you and your capabilities
- Tell you when your work is or is not good enough
- Help you graduate in a reasonable time frame
- Look out for you professionally and personally
- Is interested in your topic
- Has good personal and communication skills
- Lets you talk freely and easily about research ideas
- Tells you when you are doing something stupid
- Is patient
- Never feels threatened by your capabilities
- Helps motivate you and keep you unstuck
- Has good technical skills
- Can provide constructive criticism of papers you write or talks you give
- Knows if what you are doing is good enough for a good thesis
- Can help you figure out what you are not doing well
- Can help you improve your skills
- Can suggest related articles to read or people to talk to
- Can tell you or help you discover if what you are doing has already been done
- Can help you set and obtain reasonable goals
- Will be around until you finish
- Is well respected in his/her field
- Has good connections for the type of job you would want when you graduate
- Willing and able to provide financial and computing support
Avoiding the research blues
When you meet your goals, reward yourself.
Don’t compare yourself to senior researchers who have many more years of work and publications.
Don’t be afraid to leave part of your research problem for future work.
Use the student counseling services.
Occasionally, do something fun without feeling guilty!
Getting What You Came For by Robert L. Peters. This book contains a lot of helpful advice on getting the most out of the Ph.D. process. The sections on writing and giving presentations are particularly helpful.
The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neil Fiore. Since one of the biggest problems in finishing a PhD is procrastination, this book should be helpful to those of you who actually get around to reading it.
How to Succeed in Graduate School, by Marie desJardins; the best source of advice! www.cs.umbc.edu/~mariedj/papers/advice-summary.html
Graduate Student Resources on the Web, pointers to lots of other good web pages related to graduate life in general. www-personal.umich.edu/~danhorn/graduate.html
Many students fret over their classes and professors, but forget one very important variable: if you’re unhappy at home, you’ll be unhappy in the classroom. This part of the higher education equation was easier during undergrad because the school did much of the thinking for you: they chose your tiny room and roommate in the campus dormitory. In graduate school, you are encouraged to think about which living situation would be best for you: a house or apartment with roommates, living alone, or living with family.
Calculate your budget early so you know what your living expenses will be. This number may dictate whether you have roommates and where you can live.
If the cost is too great and your family is located near your college or university, you may opt to live with them during your graduate schools studies (especially if you cannot work while going to school). This is a good option for those who have a solid relationship with their family, where there is mutual respect of space and time. You will need a place to complete assignments without distractions, so if your younger brother drops down from the top bunk onto your bed while you’re working, you may want to find an alternative.
It’s important to really understand yourself and your preferred lifestyle. At this point in your life, you have likely lived alone and with others. Which did you find more fulfilling? Some students crave the interaction with other students, so they choose to find roommates within their program. Others prefer to live with someone who isn’t even a student, so when they return home from classes they will not hear any school talk. Others know that they will not be tolerant of roommates, so they choose to live alone.
Consider living solo. Graduate students keep erratic schedules, sometimes working before sunrise or long after a reasonable bedtime. Teaching assistantships require patience and flexible schedules for students who need extra instruction. You may be called on to complete some kind of research in a short amount of time, meaning you’ll be working non-stop until it is finished. When you live alone, you don’t have to worry about inconveniencing others with your schedule. If you do choose to live with others, keep your workload in mind as you look for roommates. If and when you are finding people to live with, make sure they understand your schedule and work out a way to live and study that everyone, including you, can tolerate.
If you’re choosing to live in an apartment while you study, start the hunt for your place early. Be diligent about checking online for new listings and reply immediately when you find a possible fit. Ask your campus housing office about the on-campus possibilities, whether the school lists available off-campus apartments, and if there’s a roommate finder service.
In the end, your housing should work well with your lifestyle and complement your studies. Create a situation that will help you ace your classes.
In some disciplines, having a graduate degree is a necessity for getting a “career” job. That does not mean you should dive right in immediately after completing your undergrad degree. Just make sure you have a good reason for going. Some of the reasons below are more valid than others, but they are all common reasons for which people attend grad schools.
1. Greater earning power. This is a popular reason why people go to grad school. However, it should not be the only reason, since getting a grad degree is a very serious commitment.
2. Advance your career. A grad degree can open up a wider array of career opportunities: in psychology, social work, healthcare, for example.
3. Career change. Many people are finding their current careers unrewarding. An advanced degree can help transition to another career—whether out of desire or necessity.
4. Enhance your education. Graduate schools can provide opportunities to explore theories you may have about a topic.
5. Get community recognition. If you explore your theories and discover something new, you will get recognition for it.
6. Get international recognition. Carry that recognition further. If your discovery is truly groundbreaking, you may receive international recognition, not to mention awards. Who knows? Maybe you have a Nobel prize within you.
7. Get research opportunities. Even if you do not get to explore your own theories, there are other opportunities to participate in funded research.
8. Upgrade your education. Your knowledge of your field is outdated and you find it difficult to keep up with advancements without following up and getting an advanced degree.
9. Enjoy travel opportunities. Some programs, such as archaeology, require studying abroad for research purposes. For those who like to travel, this is a bonus.
10. Find teaching opportunities. Not everyone is suited to teaching, but for those who are, getting a PhD can lead to a tenured position at a university or college, with a nice salary, a teaching or research assistant to help with workload, consulting opportunities (partly shared with your department), and a nice pension upon retirement.
11. Work on advanced projects. For example, the computer scientists who delved early into computer graphics set the standards for much of the CGI technology used in movies today.
12. Access to advanced equipment and tools. In a similar vein, entering a grad program could mean having access to advanced equipment on campus—such as the astronomy lab, supercomputers, rare books, and even great minds.
13. Higher potential for future promotion. While obtaining a graduate degree does not necessarily always lead to a high-paying job right away, it can open up opportunities for future promotions.
14. Not being stuck behind a desk. If you have the necessary education to qualify for a high-ranking position in your chosen industry, it means that you often have the option of not sitting behind a desk all day. You might go meet colleagues or clients, travel, or even play golf in the afternoon on a nice day.
15. Employer incentives. Some large corporations have funds set aside that will pay partial or full fees for qualified employees.
16. Be part of a chain of knowledge. This doesn’t tickle everyone’s fancy, but just imagine that the knowledge handed to you by your professor came from another professor who learned it from someone who learned it from a famous scientist or philosopher. You become part of a chain of knowledge.
17. Because you want to. To learn, to think critically, to accept the academic challenge.
18. To stand out. By attending grad school and completing a degree, you join an elite segment of the population.
19. Free tuition. In some cases, grad schools might not only waive your tuition, but also give you a stipend for living expenses in return for taking on the work of a teaching assistant or research assistant.
20. Realization of interest. Not everyone realizes during undergraduate studies that they are suited for grad studies. Some of your professors might recommend it to you and offer to supervise—with tuition waived and a research assistant position to cover expenses.
Ask yourself the right questions about your finances
- If you already have some debt, how comfortable are you taking on more? If you have no outstanding debt, how much are you comfortable borrowing?
- Should you spend another year or two paying down your debt and/or saving money for grad school—and giving yourself more time to prepare for grad school and really check out all of your graduate school options?
- Have you researched the potential ROI of your graduate degree, including the job prospects and estimated salaries for your intended post-grad career?
- Have you considered the financial consequences of going to grad school in their totality, including both the estimated costs of the program and potential loss of income if you need to take any time off from work?
Research your grad school’s financial aid options—ASAP
Check your credit score
Explore job opportunities at your grad school
Don’t stop after you enroll
You can’t cram for the GRE test. By and large, the exam is a test of patterns, not facts, so if you want to raise your GRE score, you will need sufficient time to practice. We suggest you devote between 4 and 12 weeks to GRE preparation.
1. Find your baseline
Your baseline score is the score you would receive if you took the GRE today. Before you make a study plan, take a full-length GRE practice test under the same testing environment as the real thing. The results will guide your prep by showing you which content areas you need to focus on the most.
2. Determine your target GRE score
You’ve probably started making a list of the graduate programs that interest you. Compare your practice test score against the average GRE scores of the most recent incoming class to each program (find this information on the school website or in our grad school profiles). Your target score is one that would put you at or above the average for the schools on your wishlist.
3. Make a plan to close the gap
Whether you choose a prep course, online program, or a test prep book, you need a smart prep plan that will hold you accountable and give you the results you need. With a little research you’ll find the right environment for you.
4. Practice for technique
Focus on how you approach each question while taking practice tests and drills. If you focus on just the results, you do nothing more than reinforce the way you are taking the test right now. The techniques you use and the way you solve a problem are what help you get better at taking the GRE.
5. Mimic real GRE conditions
Paper-and-pencil tests can help you practice concepts and test-taking strategies, but they do not adapt to your performance like the real GRE. Make sure you budget online practice into your study schedule to help prepare you for the computer-based test experience.
6. Review your results
Always review your performance after taking GRE practice exams. What kinds of questions do you consistently miss? What question types do you tend to ace, and which ones slow you down?
This is where access to a GRE tutor can really give you a leg up. Test prep is only partly about mastering content—it’s also about your pacing and test-taking skills. To be completely prepared, sit down with a coach to review your performance on practice exams and make a smart plan to meet your GRE score goal.
7. Build up your GRE vocabulary
Vocab is still an important part of the GRE Verbal sections. You can absorb many of the words that will show up on the GRE by reading respected publications such as academic journals or some of the more highbrow newspapers and magazines. When you come across new words on practice tests or practice problems, add them to your list. They have been used before on the GRE and they may very well be used again. Check out our GRE Power Vocab book for lists and drills.
8. Practice with and without a calculator
A calculator is provided for you on the GRE as part of the on-screen display, and can be a huge advantage if used correctly! But the calculator can also be a liability. Figure out when using a calculator makes you more accurate, and when you’re better off learning the rules of a key math concept.
The GRE and MAT are both exams taken by people who plan on attending grad school, but the GRE is significantly better known. If you’ve heard of the MAT, you may know that it’s a shorter and cheaper grad school admissions test that includes only one type of question you need to study for. Is the MAT your solution to a less stressful and cheaper test-taking experience? Don’t get too excited just yet — there’s more to know about the MAT.
In this guide, I’ll give an overview of what the MAT is and what its questions are like then compare and contrast that information with the GRE. I’ll then explain which exam is considered easier and walk you through the MAT vs. GRE decision so you can be certain you’re making the best choice for grad school.
What Is the MAT?
There are multiple exams with the acronym “MAT” so before we go any further, let’s first be clear on which test we’re talking about. In this guide, “MAT” refers to the Miller Analogies Test. The Miller Analogies Test is the exam most closely related to the GRE, and it’s the exam likely being discussed in any article with a title like “MAT vs. GRE” or “GRE or MAT.”
The MAT is a standardized test that measures your ability to solve analogies, and it’s used mainly for graduate school admissions. The MAT was created about 50 years ago as an IQ test to measure the test taker’s analytical thinking skills. It’s administered by Pearson Assessments. In the following sections, we’ll dive more in-depth into the format and content of the MAT, as well as the GRE.
An Overview of the MAT
The MAT contains 120 questions and is 60 minutes long. The MAT is designed to test higher-level thinking skills, analytical thinking, and general academic knowledge accumulated over years of schooling. All of the questions on the MAT are partial analogies that you must complete.Below is a set of five sample questions so that you can get a sense of what to expect from this exam.
There are no separate sections on the MAT, and you’ll take the entire exam in one sitting, without breaks. Twenty of the questions (you won’t know which ones) are unscored questions used only for research, so you’ll only be graded on 100 questions. Like many other standardized tests, the MAT is computer-based, so you won’t take it with pencil and paper.
An Overview of the GRE
Like the MAT, people take the GRE as part of grad school admissions. The GRE has three major sections: Analytical Writing, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning.
- Analytical Writing consists of two essays, each of which you’ll be given 30 minutes to write.
- Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Reasoning each have two 20-question sections, for a total of 80 multiple-choice questions.
- The GRE will also include one 20-question research section which won’t be included as part of your score. This will be either a Verbal or Quantitative section, but you won’t know which section is the research section.
You can learn more about the GRE, its format, and what it tests by checking out our complete guide to the GRE.
MAT vs. GRE: 12 Key Differences
Even though they are both used for grad school applications, there are numerous differences between the MAT and GRE. Below are 12 of the main ways in which they differ, and at the end of this section is a chart showing key differences between the GRE and MAT.
The MAT is significantly shorter than the GRE. The GRE lasts 3 hours and 45 minutes and includes six sections for a total of two essays and 100 multiple-choice questions. The MAT, in comparison, lasts 60 minutes and includes 120 questions.
The MAT also has fewer sections compared to the GRE. The GRE includes six sections covering three main topic areas. You’ll begin by writing two essays, then alternate between Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections for the rest of the exam. All the Verbal and Quant questions will be multiple choice. The MAT has only one section with questions on different subjects ordered randomly within it.
Both the MAT and GRE contain multiple types of questions, although only the GRE separates these questions into multiple sections. There are three types of sections on the GRE: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning.
- Analytical Writing tests writing and critical reasoning skills.
- Verbal Reasoning measures your skills in analyzing and drawing conclusions from written excerpts, identifying main points in texts, summarizing passages, and understanding the meaning of words, sentences, and complete passages.
- Quantitative Reasoning tests skills in algebra, arithmetic, data analysis, and geometry.
As mentioned above, all the questions on the MAT are analogies that you need to complete; however, the analogies test your knowledge of a variety of topics such as humanities, natural sciences, social sciences, and mathematics. There are four main analogy types.
- Semantic: Focus mainly on word definitions.
- Classification: Focus on the hierarchy of words and concepts.
- Association: Deals with relationships between two distinct ideas.
- Logical/Mathematical: Include equations or other math-related problems to solve.
#4: Time Per Question
The MAT is shorter and has fewer questions, but you’ll have to move through those questions faster. You’ll have an average of 30 seconds for each MAT question. GRE questions, on the other hand, are usually more involved and can involve solving complicated math problems or reading passages that are several paragraphs long. You’ll have an average of about 1 minute and 40 seconds to answer each multiple choice question.
#5: Emphasis on Verbal vs Math
The MAT is more heavily weighted towards verbal questions, so you’ll have fewer math questions to answer compared to the GRE. Of the four MAT question categories only one, Logical/Mathematical, asks math questions, so over half the exam will focus on Verbal questions. The GRE, on the other hand, has two sections each of both Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning questions, and scores from the two areas are weighted the same, so the GRE has more of an emphasis on math compared to the MAT.
#6: Verbal Passages
The verbal questions of the two exams test some similar skills, but on the GRE you’ll need to read and interpret multiple short passages, while on the MAT you will only have the analogy questions with no additional reading.
This means that verbal questions on the GRE focus more on critical reading skills, and your ability to analyze and summarize written passages, while verbal questions on the MAT focus more on “smaller picture” topics like word definitions and analyzing phrases compared to long passages.
You won’t need to write any essays on the MAT, although you will be asked questions that relate to parts of speech and forming clear sentences. On the GRE you’ll need to write two complete essays: Analyze an Issue and Analyze an Argument. You’ll have 30 minutes to plan and write each essay.
#8: Calculator vs No Calculator
On the MAT, you won’t be able to use a calculator, but you can use one on parts of the GRE.On the GRE, you’ll have access to an on-screen computer during the Quantitative Reasoning sections. To learn more about how to use the GRE calculator, check out our in-depth guide. You won’t have access to a computer during the MAT, and all questions can be solved without one.
Because the GRE is much more popular, it has many more test centers and dates available than the MAT does. To register for the GRE, you’ll first need to create an account on the ETS website. Once you do that, you can find the test centers closest to you and choose a location, date and time to take the exam. The GRE is offered year-round at numerous test centers in the US and around the world.
There are approximately 500 test centers (mostly in the United States) that offer the MAT, and you can see the full list of them on Pearson’s website. Each test center sets its own schedule for the MAT, and many only offer it a few times a year or less, so it can be more difficult to find a location and time that work for you if you take the MAT. You’ll need to contact test centers directly to learn when they are offering the MAT.
The MAT will typically be cheaper than the GRE, although you’ll have to do some research to figure out exactly what the MAT costs. It costs $205 to take the GRE, and this fee includes four free score reports to send to schools. Nearly all grad programs accept GRE scores. Each test center sets its own price for the MAT, so you would need to figure out where you’d want to take the test before you know when you can take it and how much it will cost. In order to register for the MAT, you’ll need to contact the specific test center directly (you can expect to pay around $100). The fee includes three free score reports.
After you take the GRE, you’ll receive three scores. The score range for Analytical Writing is 0-6, in half-point increments. Both of Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning are scored the same way. Their score range is 130-170, in one-point increments. The three section scores are generally reported separately and not combined into a single composite score. After you take the MAT, you’ll receive one score, between 200 and 600. The average score is 400.
#12: Schools That Accept Scores
The GRE is much more widely accepted than the MAT. The vast majority of grad school programs in the US and abroad accept GRE scores, so it’s likely that you can take the GRE and it’ll be accepted by all the schools you’re applying to. In comparison, the MAT is accepted by far fewer schools. These schools are mostly in the US and typically in humanities and social science programs. STEM grad programs usually don’t accept MAT scores.
MAT vs. GRE Comparison Table
|Length||60 minutes||3 hours and 45 minutes|
|Number of Essays||0||2|
|Number of Multiple-Choice Questions||100 + 20 unscored research questions||80 + 20 unscored research questions|
|Number of Sections||1||6 (Including an unscored research section)|
|Composite Scoring||200-600||Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning each have score ranges of 130-170 for a total score of 260-340|
|Cost||Varies by test center||$205|
|How Long Are Scores Valid?||5 years||5 years|
Is the GRE or MAT Easier?
If you’re trying to decide between the MAT and GRE, a key question you’re probably asking is, which exam is easier? In this section we discuss the difficulty of the two exams.
3 Ways the MAT Is Easier
In the GRE vs. MAT debate, the MAT can seem like the obviously easier test; here are three factors that support that viewpoint.
Most people find the format of the MAT to be easier than the GRE’s format. The MAT is a fraction of the length of the GRE, and there’s only one question type, analogies. The GRE lasts about four hours and includes multiple types of questions, even within individual sections. Many people find testing that long, as well as jumping between different question types through the test, difficult because it requires more concentration.
Easier Math Questions
The MAT places less of an emphasis on math, and its math questions are often easier to solve than most GRE Quantitative questions. You don’t need a calculator to solve any of them, and there are no complicated, multi-step math problems like there are on the GRE. Therefore, people who struggle with math will likely find the MAT’s math questions easier.
No Essays or Reading Passages
You don’t need to write essays or read long passages for the MAT, so people who have difficulties with that, such as non-native English speakers, may find the MAT easier.
3 Ways the GRE Is Easier
Despite its greater length and greater variety of question types, the GRE is easier for many test-takers. Here are three benefits of the GRE vs. MAT.
More Familiar Question Format
The way the MAT words its questions—as analogies—can be challenging for many people to understand, even if they know the material being tested, since many people are not super familiar with analogy questions and how to approach them.
GRE questions, on the other hand, are likely to be much closer to the questions you’ve had in school in terms of their format. This can make people feel more comfortable and confident answering them, even if they actually test more advanced skills, since it’s easier for test takers to understand what they’re asking and how to solve them.
Easier to Register For
Most people find the logistics of registering for the GRE faster and straightforward for the GRE compared to the MAT. The GRE has a very streamlined registration process, and it’s pretty much the same no matter where in the world you’re taking the exam. You can easily see where and when GREs are available and sign up quickly. Also, if you have questions, it’s easier to find the answer on ETS’s website or find the right place to contact.
The registration process for the MAT is much less centralized. Each test center has its own MAT policies so you’ll have to contact each center individually to find out when they are offering the MAT and how much they charge. This information is difficult to find online for most test centers, so you’ll likely need to find their contact information and call them. If there’s a problem with your registration or you have a question, you’ll again have to deal with the test center directly since Pearson doesn’t have a lot of troubleshooting help available for the MAT online.
More Schools Accept GRE Scores
Since the GRE is much more popular than the GRE, more grad programs accept GRE scores. The majority of grad programs don’t accept MAT scores, and there is no comprehensive list of the programs that do accept MAT scores available, so you’ll need to check with each program you’re interested in to see if they take MAT scores.
Also, while both tests allow you to choose a few schools to send scores to at the test center, it’s much easier to send additional score reports later on if you take the GRE since all you need to do is sign into your account online and follow a few steps. For the MAT, you’ll need to contact the test center where you took the test and follow their instructions for sending additional score reports.
1 Major Toss-Up
Despite the tests many differences, it’s not especially easier to prep for either the MAT or GRE.
How much you should (or even can) prepare for the two exams varies quite a bit. Preparation time for the MAT is often shorter than for the GRE, simply because it’s harder to study for the MAT. The MAT is an IQ test designed to test knowledge you’ve accumulated over years of schooling. Some studying can help, especially if you aren’t familiar with analogies, but it likely won’t make a massive difference in your score. The MAT is designed to test what you already know, and cramming for it won’t help a lot.
The GRE, on the other hand, is easier to study for, and a smart and targeted study plan can really raise your score from where it was initially. There are also far more GRE study materials available than MAT study materials.
So which is easier? Well, it depends. Test takers happy with their initial MAT score and/or those who don’t have the time or desire to study a lot will likely find the lack of preparation needed for the MAT easier, while those who want to raise their score and have the time to do so will find this easier with the GRE.
Should You Take the GRE or MAT?
Now it’s down to the big question: GRE or MAT? For nearly everyone, it’s best to take the GRE instead of the MAT. The GRE is much better known, it’s easier to find a test date and location that work for you, and it’s accepted by far more schools. In fact, most people applying to grad school probably won’t even have a choice between taking the GRE and the MAT since the majority of grad programs don’t accept MAT scores. This is especially true if you’re applying to STEM programs. However, there are a few situations where it may be better to take the MAT, which we discuss below.
Before You Go Any Further: Do the Programs You’re Applying to Accept MAT Scores?
Before you sign up for the MAT, you need to make sure that every grad program you’re applying to or thinking about applying to accepts MAT scores. If even one of them does not (which is likely), you should just take the GRE in order to avoid taking two completely different exams to apply to grad school. It’s accepted and understood by far more schools than the MAT is, so you’re not putting yourself at a potential disadvantage by taking a lesser-known test, which can be the case if you take the MAT.
As mentioned above, there is no master list of programs that accept MAT scores, so you’ll need to search the admission page for each program you’re interested in individually. Look under “Test Scores” or “Application Requirements.” If the program doesn’t mention MAT scores, that probably means it doesn’t accept them, but you can always contact someone in admissions to confirm it.
Potential Reasons to Take the MAT Over the GRE
Below are two reasons that may make you consider taking the MAT vs. GRE.
Reason 1: You’re Really Good at Analogies
Analogies are a tricky question type that some people understand right away and others never really feel comfortable with. If you’re one of the people who excel at analogies, you may score higher on the MAT than the GRE. You should check this by taking practice tests for each exam. There are free practice GREs available and Pearson offers practice MATs for $30 each.
Because the two exams use different scoring scales, you’ll need to compare them using percentiles (which tell you what percentage of other test-takers you scored above). Your practice MAT will give you percentile data, and you can check your GRE percentile here. Only if your MAT percentile is significantly higher than your GRE percentile (10 points or more) should you consider this a good reason to take the MAT.
Also remember that most people who take the GRE study beforehand to improve their score, so you’ll likely be able to raise an initially low GRE score.
Reason 2: You Strongly Prefer Shorter Tests
The MAT is both significantly shorter than the GRE and only has one question type. If you really struggle to focus for four hours and/or jump from writing an essay to solving a math problem to reading a passage of classic literature, you may score poorly on the GRE even if you know the information you’re being tested on. Like the first scenario, you should first confirm this through multiple practice tests before assuming that you can’t handle the GRE’s format.
One Last Thing to Consider
Even if every program you’re applying to does accept MAT scores, and you fit one or both of the situations described aboveyou should still think hard before taking the MAT over the GRE. There isn’t any data on how many people take the MAT each year, but in any case it’s only a tiny fraction of the number who take the GRE. Grad programs simply know and understand the GRE, what it tests, and what a particular score means much better than they understand the MAT.
If you submit MAT scores instead of GRE scores, admissions officers will likely have a much weaker understanding of what that score means about your skills and knowledge compared to if you’d submitted GRE scores. This can put you at a disadvantage, even if you scored well on the MAT. Your final step, before you decide to take the MAT, should be to contact someone from the admissions office of each of the grad programs you’re interested in and ask them if sending MAT scores instead of GRE scores will put you at a disadvantage. Only after you’ve gone through all the steps above and understood any potential drawbacks from individual programs should you decide to take the MAT over the GRE.
Summary: GRE vs. MAT
The MAT and GRE are both exams taken by people applying to grad schools, but there are a lot of differences between the two tests. The MAT is an IQ test that only includes analogy questions, and it’s much shorter than the GRE.
Many people may find the MAT easier since it’s shorter than the GRE and only contains one question type, but the GRE is easier to register for and includes questions more similar to those you were tested on in school. Additionally, the GRE is much more popular than the MAT and is accepted by many more grad programs.
In the MAT vs. GRE decision, the GRE is the best choice for almost everyone. You should only take the MAT if it’s accepted by all the programs you’re applying to and practice tests have shown you’ll score significantly higher on it.