What’s More Important, GPA or Test Scores?

What’s More Important, GPA or Test Scores?

Catherine on May 27, 2016

Students often ask whether their GPA or test score counts more in the admissions process. Many believe that GPA matters more, simply because so much more work and time goes into maintaining a four-year cumulative GPA than studying for an entrance exam.

Because it’s true that maintaining a good GPA requires a lot of work, the schools that you’re applying to will evaluate it carefully. They’ll consider the rigor of your classes and look for upward trends in your academic record. Your GPA is a good indicator of your commitment and sustained motivation, since it reflects many semesters’ worth of work.

But at the end of the day, many schools will still view the test score as more important.

That seems counterintuitive, right? Do schools really believe that a single test that you can study for (or even cram for) in just a matter of months or weeks is a better reflection of your academic abilities than your GPA?

The thing to keep in mind is that schools don’t just use test scores to assess your academic abilities. (Schools are well aware that test scores aren’t perfect predictors of either your current knowledge or future academic success.) One key purpose of standardized admission tests is to allow admissions officers to differentiate candidates with varying academic backgrounds.

Let’s think about what “varying academic backgrounds” means. There are thousands of high schools and colleges across the country. There’s really no standardization across these schools in terms of grading scales or rigor. And let’s not forget that every student’s course work looks different, too.

For example, a student majoring in harp performance at a music conservatory might have a stellar 4.0 GPA. Another student studying political science at a liberal arts college might have earned a 3.3 GPA. At first glance, the political science major might look like the “worse” student, compared to the harpist.

But let’s say the political science major’s college is known for grade deflation. To complicate things even more, let’s say the political science major’s professor emphatically states in a letter of recommendation that the student consistently earns the highest grade in every class. Can admissions officers truly say that the harpist with the perfect 4.0 GPA is the better student, in this case? They can’t, really. Now multiply that dilemma by the thousands of students applying for schools each year. You get the picture why GPA can’t be the ultimate measure that schools use to evaluate students.

That’s where standardized admission tests come in. Their role in admissions is to – for lack of a better word – standardize academic aptitude. While they’re not faultless, they do give admissions officers a sense of where students stand relative to others in the applicant pool. College and grad school admissions are competitive, and test scores give admissions officers an easy way to quickly assess who to consider further and who to reject.

The system isn’t necessarily fair, but it’s the unfortunate reality of competitive admissions. Since you now know how important your test score is, make sure you do everything in your power to prepare well in advance! Check out our favorite score-boosting strategies here.


About the Author:

Catherine Blogger PhotoCatherine supports Magoosh’s future grad school students by unlocking tricks of the test prep and application trade. Catherine spends her free time checking out local farmer’s markets, reading food and lifestyle blogs, and watching Bravo. She is forever in search of the best Mexican and Italian food in any given city.

Photo attribution:

1 – Photo at top courtesy of Flickr user Osair Manassan under the Creative Commons 2.0 license.


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