Debunking Three Myths About the GMAT/GRE

As an MBA admissions consultant, I find that clients and prospective clients, especially those early in their MBA journeys, are often fraught with anxiety and indecision about standardized testing. Which test should they take? When should they prepare and sit for the exam? Is their score ‘good enough’ or should they retake the test?

These are the right questions to ask but, as with nearly everything in the MBA application process, the answers aren’t cut and dry. In an effort to clarify things as much as possible, below are three commonly held beliefs about the GMAT / GRE that aren’t as straightforward as they seem.  

1. I come from a non-quant background, so I should take the GRE as opposed to the GMAT.

According to GMAT/GRE experts in our network, the GMAT is a more rigorous exam, plain and simple, especially from a quantitative standpoint. So, some may reason that if they have never viewed themselves as a ‘quant person’, they will fare better on the GRE.

Unfortunately, the logic isn’t that straightforward. Particularly for those with non-quant work experience, a liberal arts undergrad, or a low GPA, the biggest question in the adcom’s mind might be whether you can ‘hack it’ in an MBA-level curriculum. What better way to prove that you can and differentiate yourself in the process than by attaining a competitive GMAT score?

To build on that logic, if you can attain a solid GMAT quant score and also have strong verbal capabilities, leaning into the latter strength and excelling on the verbal portion of the test will actually be a better ‘bang for your buck’, as each incremental point on your verbal score translates to a larger jump in percentile and overall score. On the flip side, if you already have a strong verbal score but your quant score is less than stellar (say, 48 or 67th percentile), drilling into opportunity areas on the quant portion of the test can make a big difference

2. I can wait to take the GMAT / GRE until the summer before I want to apply to business school.

Sure, you can, but should you? I would argue not. Schools typically release their applications (i.e. essay questions) in the summer. Ideally, you want to have the GMAT out of the way at this point as there is A LOT to do once you get into the thick of things. Here is a little more detail on our recommended timeline.

GMAT/GRE experts recommend beginning your test prep 10-12 weeks before you plan to take your first test. And, while this may not be pleasant to hear, you should leave time for two or three attempts (each spaced a minimum of 16 calendar days apart, as required). Working backwards, this indicates that you should begin studying at the beginning of May, at the latest.

Honestly, it’s almost never too early to get your testing out of the way. Scores are good for five years and many of our clients achieved their best results while still in college or shortly after graduating since they were still in ‘study mode’.  

If you didn’t have this much foresight (I know I didn’t!) and particularly if you work long hours, it is essential to start early as well as to work with intensity, momentum, and efficiency. Investing in a top prep course or even private tutoring can help immensely in this regard; we would be happy to share the resources that have been most helpful to our clients.  

3. I scored a 730 on the GMAT (hooray!), so I am ‘done’.

While 730 is an awesome score (top 4% to be exact) and is right around average for the top programs, the decision on when to set your test prep materials aside is a little more nuanced. As you may have guessed, if your undergrad GPA is lower than your target schools’ averages and/or you come from an overrepresented applicant pool (bankers and consultants, I’m looking at you), you should think long and hard about whether you have more to give in the test department.

How do you know whether you are short-changing yourself? First, consider how many times you’ve taken the test. If you’re on your third or fourth attempt and your previous scores did not demonstrate measurable improvement, it might be time to move on. Before you do, think about whether you really gave it your all. Did you create a study plan and follow it religiously? Also, look at your official practice tests, particularly your third through sixth ones. If your scores were materially higher than your results on test day, perhaps something fluky happened (nerves got the best of you, etc.) and another attempt would be worthwhile.

At the end of the day, of course schools care about more than just your GMAT / GRE score. Even the strongest test score won’t guarantee you admittance into your dream program. However, as you’re well aware, the MBA application process is a major undertaking if done right and you want to make sure you give each component your all. So, start your test prep early, strategically plan your approach, and follow your plan. Once you do those things and hopefully attain a score you are proud of, move on to crafting a stellar application!

If you would like assistance, sign up for a Free Consultation with an experienced admissions expert who can provide a helpful evaluation of your profile. We look forward to hearing from you!

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