Do I want to go school full-time or continue working? Is an MBA or a master’s degree a better fit? Should I take classes on campus or online? Which school would best position me for the next step?
These are obvious questions to confront before you start the application process. Increasingly, a new question is being added to the list: Should I take the GMAT or the GRE? Until recently, the answer would automatically be ‘Take the GMAT.’ As the GRE has gained greater acceptance in business programs, it pays to understand the advantages and drawbacks of taking each test.
Recently, U.S. News & World Report examined this very issue. And let’s get one worry out of the way: You don’t have to take both tests. Quite a relief, huh? Yes, you can send in one score or the other in most applications. For the most part, both tests are considered equal. That said, there are a few factors that you, as an applicant, should weigh before deciding which test to take.
For starters, U.S. News points out that the GRE provides greater flexibility. The GMAT is designed almost exclusively for business school, whereas GRE scores are accepted across most graduate programs. And that’s particularly helpful if you’re seeking a dual degree. In other words, the GRE offers more options if you’re rejected or change your mind. However, taking the GRE may also signal to adcoms that you’re uncertain about your direction. “The GMAT is the test that shows that they’re serious about going to business school,” JoAnne Goldberg, a consultant at InGenius Prep, tells U.S. News. Chris Murphy, a former adcom at Kellogg who now consults MBAs for Signet Education, puts the issue in more stark terms. For Murphy, a GRE is a red flag. “I would immediately question how focused are they on what they want to do, post graduate school,” he tells U.S. News.
However, there are two other points to consider. First, some scholarships factor in GMAT scores, notes Joanna Fowler, who serves as the associate director of MBA programs at the Jindal School of Management at University of Texas-Dallas. Even more, some schools may only accept GMAT scores. Or, more to the point, they often use GMAT scores to rank students against each other. And that could work to the GMAT’s test-takers’ advantage. Those candidates are taking the test that adcoms are more familiar (and comfortable) with evaluating. That means they could get the benefit of the doubt.
But the GRE could work to your advantage if you struggle with quant subjects like accounting and statistics. In fact, Mary Pat Jacobs, the founder of Apply Point Admissions Consulting, concedes to U.S. News that the math section is more difficult in the GMAT. “If someone has a weakness in the quantitative section, then I recommend the GRE,” she says. However, she adds that there are other variables, such as essays, that will also make-or-break a candidacy as much as which test was taken.
Still, scores matter. They are the baseline for measuring if you have the intellectual horsepower to compete with your peers. When it comes to the GMAT, sometimes practice makes perfect.
That’s the theme behind a U.S. News & World Report column from Stacy Blackman, the founder and managing director of Stacy Blackman Consulting. Here, Blackman outlines what to consider if your GMAT score falls short.
First, if you score 700 or above, there’s really no reason to re-take the test, Blackman counsels. If you fall below that benchmark, Blackman has a different prescription. “I urge test-challenged clients to focus instead on aligning their scores within the 80 percent range, which schools usually list within their admitted class profile.”
Blackman is also wary of applicants re-taking the test if they score in a gray area like 680. In those cases, you’re better off focusing on your essays, resume, and letters of recommendation. However, Blackman reminds applicants to pay special attention to their quant score. “…top schools want to see scores in the 80th percentile in the quantitative section,” she writes. “So if you score 100 percent in verbal and low in quantitative, you would want to retake the exam.”
According to Blackman, re-taking the test shouldn’t be construed as a badge of shame. “…the admissions committee doesn’t have an issue with students taking the exam more than once,” she writes. “In fact, committees may look positively on the dedication you’ve shown to improve upon your prior performance.” However, she adds a caveat. “After your first test, it’s time to go over your entire GMAT performance to determine your weaknesses and double-down in those areas as you resume your studies. Don’t completely ignore the sections you did well on, however. You wouldn’t want to improve in one area but do worse in another the next time.”
For additional advice on the GMAT, click on Blackman’s link below.