Taking GMAT or GRE?

Five Things You Need to Know About Taking the GMAT/GRE
Congratulations on making the decision to attend an MBA program! As you begin researching the programs that are right for you, you should also spend some time considering the particulars of the application process, namely, the standardized testing requirements of the programs that interest you. As MBA applicants know, standardized test scores are a vital part of the business school application process, and their importance cannot be overstated. For you, the candidate, it is imperative to understand the testing process, timelines, as well as similarities and differences between the GMAT and the GRE. Here are five things you should know to help you plan ahead and perform to your highest potential, including which test to take, how to cancel scores, and which scores are the most meaningful.

1. GMAT or GRE?
The first decision you should make once you know you wish to attend business school is which test you are going to take—the GMAT or the GRE. The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is administered via computer and requires 3 hours and 7 minutes to complete. The GMAT can be taken online at home or at a testing center, and you can retake this exam up to five times in a rolling 12-month period, although the test may only be taken twice online. This exam measures the critical thinking and reasoning skills needed to be successful in graduate business programs. The test assesses analytical, writing, quantitative, verbal, and reading skills, and scores range from 200 to 800. According to the Graduate Management Admission Council, the body responsible for reporting data gathered from graduate-level business programs, the GMAT is the only test developed by business schools specifically for business school admissions

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is an admission test for graduate, business, and legal programs worldwide. The GRE is administered via computer and requires 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete. The GRE can be taken online at home or at a testing center, and you can take the GRE General Test once every 21 days, or up to five times within any rolling 12-month period. This exam assesses the type of thinking necessary to succeed in graduate, business, and law programs, measuring verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing skills. Scores on the GRE range from 130-170 in the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections. The analytical writing section is scored on a scale of 0-6 with half-point increments, and the final score is converted to a percentile.

When deciding which test scores to submit to MBA programs, we suggest you complete a practice version of both tests and see which one you perform better on and feel more confident with. Since the tests are different, you may find you are stronger using one format than the other. On the GMAT, for example, you cannot skip questions and must provide an answer before progressing to the next question, even if your answer is no more than a wild guess. You also cannot go back to any questions or sections, and you are responsible for completing a section before time is up. On the GRE, you can return to a specific question within a section, but only within that particular section; once a section has ended, you can no longer return to or change answers in that section.

According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey of business school admissions officers, 73% of schools reported giving the GMAT and GRE equal consideration when reviewing a prospective student's application. Of those who cared one way or the other, 26% of business schools in the United States and Europe preferred the GMAT over the GRE. All MBA programs accept the GMAT or the GRE, so the decision of which test to take is completely up to you.

2. Canceling scores and scheduling re-takes.
For both the GMAT and the GRE, test takers receive their scores right after they have completed the exam. For the GMAT exam, if you are unhappy with your score, you can cancel it immediately, and if you change your mind later, scores can be reinstated within 30 days, although you will be charged a fee for this. You can take the GMAT exam once every 16 calendar days. Over the course of a 12-month year, you can take the GMAT up to 5 times, with the maximum, or lifetime, number of attempts being capped at 8.

For the GRE, you can also cancel your scores immediately after taking the exam. Scores can be instated within a 60-day period by paying a fee. You can take the GRE once every 21 days, but no more than 5 times in a 12-month period.

Regardless of which test you take, if you choose to cancel your scores, MBA programs will not see those scores, nor will they even know you took the test that day. Only you will know if the scores you received are the scores you hoped to achieve or the scores you need to be admitted into the MBA program of your choice. It can be helpful to consider what you will do if you do not like the scores you receive on your exam BEFORE taking the exam, as by the time you reach the end of the test, you will likely be quite tired and not in the best frame of mind to make important decisions.

3. Quantitative scores are the most important.
Another element to consider when deciding between the GMAT and the GRE is the importance MBA programs place on quantitative versus verbal scores. Regardless of the exam you take, MBA programs focus more on the quantitative score than the verbal score, since this score is seen as an indicator of preparedness for the quantitative rigor of the program's curriculum. If, for example, your overall GMAT score is 710 but you received a 49 raw score on the verbal section and a 36 raw score on the quantitative section, admission committees might be concerned that your quantitative skills are less than ideal and not sufficient for the demands for their particular program. While your overall score is important, do not underestimate the importance of quantitative skills, whether you demonstrate your knowledge in this area on the GMAT or the GRE.

4. What about the other sections?
Given the importance placed on the quantitative score in the GMAT or GRE, many prospective MBA applicants wonder about the importance of the relatively new Integrated Reasoning (IR) and Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) sections of the GMAT or the Analytical Writing (AW) section of the GRE. The short answer is these scores are not as important as the quantitative and verbal sections of the exams; however, it is important to note that more and more schools are starting to pay closer attention to these scores, particularly on the GMAT, which means a very strong IR or AWA score could make a significant difference in a candidate's application. While the AWA is still not a major contributing factor to MBA program admissions, a solid score is one way to convince admission committees your English skills are strong enough for you to make meaningful contributions to the program. Do NOT simply skip any section that is not quantitative or verbal, as this can result in a very low individual score, even if your overall score is above 700. Skipping a reasoning or writing section indicates you do not take all aspects of the exam or getting into an MBA program seriously, and it is never advisable to do anything less than your very best on each section of whichever exam you choose to take.

5. Your scores affect school selection.
Many applicants taking the GMAT or GRE already have a good idea of the MBA programs they plan to apply to, but it is important to remember that none of these options are set in stone. After you have taken the exam of your choice, we recommend looking through your top programs and finding those where your score falls within or above the 80% range. If the score you received on the GMAT or GRE does not fall within the 80% range of any programs on your list, consider either expanding your list by researching additional programs or taking the exam again, ideally after completing a prep course or tutoring. With proper planning, you will have a score you are pleased with by late spring so you can start focusing on your essays for Round 1, which typically begins in June. Deadlines will arrive before you know it, and it is important to plan ahead so that you can give each part of your MBA program application the attention it deserves, allowing you to present yourself and your accomplishments in the best possible light.

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