If a postgraduate school offers a test waiver, should you take it? Some programmes require a minimum score on a particular standardised test for admission. Some examples of these standardised tests are the IELTS for non-native English speakers or the GMAT for students hoping to enter a postgraduate business programme.
So if a school allows you to apply for a waiver for that requirement, your instinct may be to jump at the opportunity. Before you do, however, take a minute to fully understand the specifics of test waivers as well as a few reasons you may decide to take the test anyway.
What is a test waiver?
Many postgraduate institutions require a minimum score on a standardised test as part of its programme’s application process. The type of test as well as the minimum accepted score for a particular postgraduate programme is up to the school or university to decide. If a university decides for some reason that it does not want to limit its pool of applicants to just those scoring well on a particular standardised test, they may allow a test waiver, which is an option for students to apply without submitting a test score.
Test waiver policies
Not all postgraduate programmes allow test waivers. Every institution is entitled to establishing its own policies regarding test waivers. Some allow them if specific conditions are met, and some may allow a waiver if a recent high score on a similar standardised test can demonstrate the knowledge that programme’s admissions officers deem necessary for success. To further complicate matters, you may even find one programme’s requirements different from another within the same university system.
Just because you don’t find information about test waivers on a school’s website or in its general information does not mean that a test waiver is not available. Some schools will wait for a candidate to request this information before providing it, hoping to reserve test waivers for only certain situations.
Under what conditions might a programme offer a test waiver?
Non-native English speakers – those students who come from a country in which English is not the primary language – are frequently required to demonstrate a mastery of the English language through a standardised test such as the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System). Since both of these tests measure a student’s ability to speak, read, write, and listen to the English language, a student might be able to demonstrate to the admissions committee his or her English proficiency in another way – such as by providing a history of completing undergraduate programmes taught only in English.
In another example, students applying to postgraduate programmes are often required to take standardised tests to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular field of study. For example, a GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) score is often required for business students in many different disciplines. Some universities may choose to waive the GMAT requirement if a student shows a high score on a similar standardised test, such as the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). Or an admissions office may allow a student to demonstrate their business proficiency through a successful history of related work experience.
Finally, a university or other institution may decide that a standardised test score is not the best measure by which to evaluate a candidate for its programmes. Since postgraduate programmes – especially at elite universities – are intensely competitive, a school may decide it would like to have a more well-rounded evaluation process, which might include looking at some combination of work history and education (such as other higher degrees) to reach a decision on acceptance. They might even look at a student’s undergraduate GPA to decide whether to accept a potential student.
Should I consider a test waiver?
Sure, consider a test waiver if one is offered. But before you accept one, also consider several other factors besides simply availability.
First, your request for a waiver may not be accepted. This decision is often made by an admissions committee. So if you are counting on a test waiver and do not get one, you may have lost a lot of valuable study and registration time.
Second, if other parts of your admissions application (scores on transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal essays) are weak, you may want to boost your chance of programme admission by adding a high standardised test score to your application package.
Finally, a high standardised test score may be beneficial to you in ways other than just impressing admissions officers. You may be eligible for certain scholarships, or you may want to demonstrate your academic success to a potential employer, now or in the future.
So if the idea of taking yet another standardised test such as IELTS or GMAT makes you uneasy, you may have a way out. Just be sure to understand the benefits of testing apart from admissions. A low test score might reveal that you are just not ready for that type of postgraduate study, and you can take more time to prepare in order to make the degree experience as beneficial as possible. On the contrary, a high test score might give you just the right amount of confidence you need to tackle a difficult postgraduate programme.