Graduate entry tests are an important part of the admissions process for some PhD programmes. They help universities and graduate schools confirm that you have the advanced subject knowledge and / or critical thinking skills to tackle a doctorate. Common examples include the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) but a range of other tests are used internationally.
If you're studying your PhD abroad, you may also need to pass a language test. This confirms you have the necessary proficiency to carry out research in a second language, write up your results and (eventually!) discuss them at your viva.
Select from the guides below, or jump to general information about admissions tests for PhD study.
The Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) is used to assess applicants for PhD and DBA study at some business schools.
The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) tests general reasoning and analytical skills. A subject-specific version is also available.
Will I need to take an entry test for my PhD?
Graduate entry tests tend to be used by universities whose PhD programmes have a limited number of places (and receive more applicants than they can accept). This is common for selective graduate schools in the USA and Canada.
Universities in the UK and some other countries tend not to require a GRE or GMAT. Instead, your eligibility for a PhD is determined based on how relevant your existing degree(s) are and – crucially – how good your research proposals is.
Language tests are much more common: if you're planning to do a PhD abroad in a second language, you'll usually need to prove your proficiency when you apply.
Our guides to PhD study abroad are a quick way to check the admissions requirements for different countries. If in doubt, check with the university you're applying to.
What test score do I need for a PhD?
There is no standard minimum GRE or GMAT score for a PhD. The university you apply to will consider your test score alongside your existing qualifications and experience.
Some universities publish the average score for successful applicants to their doctoral programmes. This is usually a guide, not a minimum.
Is my GPA part of my test score for a PhD?
Universities in the USA and some other countries may look at your GPA as well as your final degree result. The highest GPA you can gain is usually 4.0. Scores of 3.5 or above are considered good.
However, your GPA is separate to your score for a GRE, GMAT or other entry test: they are different parts of your application. Having a good test score might help you if you have a lower GPA (or vice versa) but the two do not influence each other.
What other entry tests are there for PhDs?
The GRE and GMAT are the most commonly used graduate entry tests for PhD study, but they aren't the only ones. Specific exams are used for PhD applications in certain subjects. Some countries also use their own tests, in place of the GRE and GMAT.
Here are some of the other graduate entry tests that may be used for PhD applications:
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT) – As its name suggests, the LSAT is used for applications to law schools, including some doctoral programmes in the USA and Canada. The test is taken digitally at centres around the world. It uses five 35-minute multiple choice sections to assesses key comprehension and reasoning skills, followed by a writing task that challenges you to argue in defence of a stated position (this sample will be sent to your university).
- Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) – The MCAT is used for some MD and MD-PhD programmes (specialised medical doctorates) in North America. This is a lengthy test with four different multiple choice sections that test key medical knowledge as well as critical analysis and reasoning abilities. The MCAT is administered by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) and is available at test centres around the world on selected dates each year.
- Research Eligibility Test (RET) – The RET is a general test used for PhD applications in India. The content of the RET is specific to each university and its doctoral programmes, with questions designed to check your existing knowledge and expertise.
- Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE) – The GATE is a more specific Indian test used for doctoral programmes in Science and Engineering. It is most common in India, but other Asian countries such as Malaysia and Singapore also the test. The exam is digital and is offered across major Indian cities as well as in some international testing centres. Unlike most other graduate entry tests, the GATE is partly cohort-based: your score will be compared to other students for that year to guage your relative performance and suitability for a PhD place.
- Graduate Pharmacy Admissions Test (GPAT) – The GPAT is another subject-specific Indian test used for some postgraduate admissions to Pharmacy and Pharmacology programmes.
- Postgraduate Admissions Test (PAT) – The PAT is required for admission to Masters and doctoral programmes at Chinese universities. It tests skills in numeracy, languages and political theory. International applicants to English-language PhD programmes may be asked for a GRE or GMAT instead.
Some other countries use their own specific tests – make sure you check our guides to PhD study abroad for detailed information.