Tag Archives | GRE

The Growth Mindset and the MBA Leadership Essays

MBA leadershipI am not a very good athlete, so you can imagine everyone’s surprise when I decided to pick up a new sport. I decided to learn to row – not in a traditional rowboat, but in a long skinny shell with two 10-foot oars. It isn’t that hard, except you’ve got to do a few things right or you end up in the water.

But to really enjoy it, at least for me, I had to accept the fact that I was a novice.  And that meant not expecting myself to get it perfect from the very beginning.  As I found myself cursing my inability to square my blades, I realized that my mind was not allowing me to enjoy what should be a serene, zen-like experience.

I was guilty of what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls the “fixed” mindset instead of the more constructive “growth” mindset.  Dweck is an authority on things like brain science and learning. In her book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” she describes the growth mindset as a far superior method for transforming effort into success.  The growth mindset allows you to focus on self-development, self-motivation, and responsibility for results.  A growth mindset keeps you from saying, “I’m a natural-born loser,” and instead saying, “I need to work harder at this.”  In a growth mindset, people are not afraid to make an error, look silly, or show a deficiency.

The growth mindset represents a key leadership characteristic.  It’s no surprise that since 2015, Kellogg’s MBA program has this preface to one of the application questions: Pursuing an MBA is a catalyst for personal and professional growth. How have you grown in the past? How do you intend to grow at Kellogg? 

Dweck’s decades of research are particularly relevant for people aiming for business school.  The growth mindset resonates on a strategic level, considering the personal leadership attributes sought by admissions officers of most business schools. It also resonates on a tactical level, in studying for the GMAT or GRE.


The Strategic: Leading
Business schools seek out people with attributes that will make them leaders who will change the world for the better. They are looking for people who don’t give up and see hurdles as a challenge. They want people who can learn from others to improve themselves and their environment.  I worked with one student, now on his way to Wharton, who appeared on the surface to be an all-or-nothing high achiever. At first, he looked like the “typical MBA,” never a good sign. But later, in his application and interview, he mentioned something both disarming and revealing: he never learned to swim. So as an adult, he decided to jump in.  When discussing his recent lessons in swimming, he said “It is never too late for a fervent beginner.” That’s the growth mindset.

The Tactical: Testing
Standardized tests demand a growth mindset. The computer-adapted tests, which give you harder questions if you answer right and easier questions if you score wrong, can send the fixed-mindset student into a failure spiral that will ruin any chances of a decent score.  The growth mindset, however, allows the student to work toward mastery. To put the time and the effort into learning the material and the process.   The growth mindset allows the student to embrace the possibility that skills can be learned (they can), and that sustained effort (and a good coach) leads to accomplishment.  The person with a growth mindset loves to conquer a challenge, while the person with the fixed mindset demands perfection right away.

There may have been a time when business schools were looking only for people with natural-born talent.  But as the world has changed and management science has evolved, MBA  programs want growth-mindset types in their classes. They want people who are willing to try new things, and are prepared to not be perfect the first time out.  They want people who think of themselves as works in progress.

And that’s why learning a new sport (or skill, or technique, or trick) isn’t so bad. I know I was clumsy and got it all wrong with my first attempt at rowing. But no harm done.  I’ll just keep trying until I get it right.

Whenever that may be.

GRE & GMAT Percentiles, Timing, Details

GMAT test successAnswers technical questions about GMAT and GRE percentiles, the opportunity to retake, cancelling the score,  and other puzzling mysteries.

These days, more and more students are taking the GRE, and that’s great. It is a slightly different style test from the GMAT, it is administered by a different organization, and it is likely to be more useful for those embarking on joint degrees in schools like environmental science, education, and international policy.

It’s been about four years since business schools started taking the GRE in force, and that means that the data set is now large enough to have some predictive ability (to the extent that any standardized test has predictive ability). We’re still seeing some confusion about what is known as the GRE-to-GMAT conversion tool.

Subscores more important than overall score

I’ve linked to it, but schools have their own ways of looking at scores.  The first thing to remember, GMAT or GRE, is that it is about the subscore. That is, the quant and verbal breakdown.  Don’t believe me? Here’s Dee Leopold in her HBS Blog “From the Admissions Director

We care less about the overall score than we do about the components.

There’s an old rule, but one that seems to be changing, that the top schools hoped you would get at least an 80% on each of the components.  If you look at the GMAT (as of the the Sept. 17, 2015 webpage on the MBA.com website), you’d have to get a raw score of 49 for the quant (78%) and 36 for the verbal (80%). That would work out to a 690 or 700. More on that below.

For the GRE, the 80th percentile is a 161 for quant, and a 159 for verbal.  The GRE folks also offer a conversion-to-GMAT tool, but my sense is that it is flawed and that admissions committees are getting familiar enough with the data to just look at the GRE numbers. A very interesting article in Poets & Quants, which is about one year old, lists some of the top schools’ average GRE scores. The article claims that by using the comparative tool, the GRE scores are lower.  Maybe. But it all goes back to the subscore.  Look at Yale SOM, possibly the highest-ranked school on the list. That school’s average quant GRE was 160 Verbal/162 Quant, which works out to be about 85% verbal and 83% quant.

In that same Poets & Quants article, one of my colleagues in the admissions business, Linda Abraham, wrote something in the comments that made a lot of sense, and I often pass her comment along to students.  Linda is very experienced, and has a lot of friends in the industry.  She wrote,

Many admissions offices pay more attention to the percentile score than the raw GRE score. In fact several years ago, but after they were already accepting the GRE, I attended a panel with admissions officers from top programs and they hadn’t even heard of the comparative tool mentioned in this article. They were relying on percentiles to evaluate applicants and compare GRE vs GMAT.

My suggestion for test takers is to go with which ever one makes you feel more comfortable. You will not be penalized for taking the GRE. My guess is that the 80% guideline applies for the GRE, so make that your target if you are aiming for the top schools.

For the GMAT, things are a little skewed these days. The 80% guideline doesn’t really work, because a 49 is just really high. I advise students to aim for a 48 (76%) or above. I’ve seen plenty of great students get in with 47 (70%) scores as well. As for verbal, I actually think that native speakers of English should aim for an 85% or above. Most people I speak with actually do much better than that.

Retaking the test, and how often

As for timing, the GMAT folks now allow you to take the test once every 16 calendar days. That means that you could theoretically take the test up to the maximum five times before 2016!  You probably don’t want to take it that often, but as we get closer to deadlines, you will be thankful that you can take within roughly two weeks of your last test. The GRE offers a 21-day retake cycle.

Most admissions officers expect to see you retake the test if you don’t meet your target score. That’s natural.  You might even need to retake it more than once.  That’s fine too. Five times in three months might look a little desperate, so I don’t recommend going that route.

I’ve also had questions about switching over from GMAT to GRE.  That’s fine. Schools will take the highest score you self-report. Except Columbia — which may have changed their policy of using your GMAT score even if you self-reported the GRE.

Note:  Much of what I’ve written above is my opinion. Except where I have quoted an admissions officer, or linked to a GMAT/GRE website, the rest is hearsay.  So please, caveat emptor.



GMAT test successFor those who are applying to business school,  the question arises: should I take the GMAT or GRE?

Or if you’ve already taken one or the other,  you may be wondering if you should have taken a different test.

In all honesty, I think the answer is either, but it’s not entirely black and white.  These days, just about every top US business school accepts the GRE.  But read the fine print. Not all schools value it equally (UCLA for example) and some even have quirks (Columbia).

You’ll see a list at the end of this article that indicates, at least of this writing, which do and which do not. I’ve also put links to the school websites for further explanation. Things change all the time. The most recent data shows about 10% of students are using the GRE, and the numbers are growing.

Why do schools even take the GRE? Because they are casting a wider net to get more interesting students, and because they realize that lots of students think about joint degree programs.

Harvard Business School was one of the first schools to accept the GRE, because, as Dee Leopold said in 2009

HBS: Since many HBS applicants are also considering graduate programs besides the MBA, there is now no need for them to take the GMAT if they have already taken the GRE. We believe that the GMAT and the GRE meet our expectations of what a standardized test can tell us about a candidate’s ability to thrive in our MBA Program.

The Rumor Mill
Face it, both tests are standardized, and both are computer adaptive.  They are both annoying and require more studying than you want. Most, but not all schools are perfectly happy to take either. For example, this line is from Michigan Ross’s application instructions:

ROSS:Your performance on either exam will be used as part of our assessment of your academic ability, and you are at no advantage or disadvantage by taking one exam instead of the other.

But other schools, such as UCLA Anderson, strongly prefer the GMAT

ANDERSON: We prefer GMAT scores as the common denominator by which we have historically compared candidates, but we accept the GRE now as well.

That means you have to check carefully and rely on what you read and hear from admissions officers, beyond what is on chat boards, and even blogs like mine.

I thought the next few lines were hearsay, but they were just confirmed, May 30, 2014, in person, by senior members of the admissions office at Columbia.

COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL: If we have a GMAT score, we are going to use that. We will disregard the GRE.

I had a student who took the GRE for Columbia, did well, but felt he wanted to take the GMAT to prove his quant mettle. He didn’t do well because he had an off day, but because he HAD taken the test, Columbia took his GMAT instead of the GRE. What would have happened if he didn’t report the GMAT? Who ever knows? (He went to Yale SOM anyway, his first choice).

Other schools are much more relaxed.  At a May 2014 conference, Isser Gallogly, Assistant Dean of Admissions at NYU Stern, suggested that students try the GRE if they are sub-par in the GMAT.

NYU STERN: If someone is struggling with one test, try the other, the GRE

Your Quant Score
Most admissions officers admit that they want to see a balanced score on both verbal and quant. The general buzz is that around 80% on both is about right, but there’s definitely some give on both sides. So don’t fear if you get a 47 on the quant, which is turning out to be a 78% these days. As for the GRE, the population on the quant side is a bit less numbers oriented, so if you get an 80% in that pool, it’s pretty well known that you are being measured against a different population, usually not as quant-oriented as GMAT test takers. So shoot for a higher percentage, say about 85% on quant.

If you are worried about how you look by taking one test vs. another, I say, don’t worry unless they really make a point of it (like UCLA). All you need to do is get it over the net, and they pretty much tell you what a normal distribution looks like. Get within one standard deviation of the average, and you are fine.

Having said all that, if test taking is not your forte, you really should take a GRE or GMAT course. You don’t know what you don’t know about your own study habits. It’s worth the investment.

Future Employer Preference on GMAT vs GRE

One more thing–and perhaps this deserves a blog post all to itself, employers will take any statistics you throw that them.  At least that’s what representatives of the Career Development Office at Yale SOM stated on May 27, 2014, “Employers love points of data wherever they can find it. So gre or gmat doesn’t matter. They do like the numbers!”

MBA Programs: GRE in addition to GMAT

School GRE? Link
Cambridge YES Cambridge Judge
Chicago YES Chicago Booth
Columbia YES Columbia Business School
Cornell YES Cornell Johnson
Darden YES UVA Darden
Duke YES Duke Fuqua
HBS YES Harvard Business School
Kellogg YES Kellogg MBA
Mich Ross YES University of Michigan Ross
MIT Sloan YES MIT Sloan
NYU Stern YES NYU Stern
Stanford YES Stanford GSB
Tepper YES Carnegie Mellon Tepper
Texas YES Texas McCombs
Tuck YES Dartmouth Tuck
UCLA YES UCLA Anderson (GMAT Preferred)
Wharton YES Wharton MBA
Yale YES Yale School of Management
Haas YES UC Berkeley Haas (Part-time YES)
LBS NO London Business School
Oxford NO Oxford Said

If you are looking for more schools the ETS link has a full list of MBA programs which accept the GRE.  Further, to confuse, or perhaps clarify you, ETS also has a GRE-to-GMAT converter.

UPDATED: June 5, 2014.

Interested in admissions consulting? Email me at betsy@masteradmissions.com

Just have a question? post it at my Wall Street Oasis forum

Benefits of Starting Your Business School Campaign Now

As I write this, it’s less than six months to the first round deadlines for business school application.  And there’s plenty you can do to get organized now. This means mapping out a strategy, juggling all the moving parts, executing, following up, and all while performing your day job.

Start Early

rooster square

Start Early!

Those who start early will be able to take the time to do the self-reflection for a successful application to business school. You’ll be able to clarify your purpose and challenge yourself to see if getting an MBA is right for you. You will need to use your powers of persuasion to secure help from friends, family, and potential recommenders.

You will also need to do a bunch of things at the same time, like study for your GMAT or GRE, meet current students and alumni, explore career paths, take extra courses, ask for transcripts, reflect on your own future, oh, and figure out how to pay for the privilege of attending an MBA program.

Visit Schools in the Spring
I’m also a huge fan of visiting schools during the spring term rather than waiting until the autumn.  You’ll be more relaxed – and so will the students whom you meet. First years will have already settled in or landed summer jobs. Second years will be all smiles.  You’ll be able to let the school and students sell themselves to you so you can differentiate between programs, and figure out the right fit for you.  Every school has a different personality, which becomes clear when you set foot in a classroom or participate in a social gathering.   Almost every student I’ve talked to wishes they could have researched more programs – a hard task when you are also working, trying to write essays and manage your recommendation process.

What to Do When the Application isn’t Ready
Most schools don’t issue their applications until mid-late summer, and it may feel a bit early to start writing essays. But you can do some introspection that will help you gain clarity for the MBA application process. I suggest students do some writing. You will have to answer a version of this question later, so why not start formulating it now?  Here’s the assignment:

Reflect on what earning an MBA would bring to your professional life and do for you personally. Jot down your thoughts envisioning the future.  

A little scary? Not as scary as the real essay questions, which range from “What is most important to you and why?” (Stanford GSB) to a cover letter to the director of admissions of MIT Sloan, to Harvard’s now classically simple, “Tell us about something you did well.”

Finally, make sure your GMAT is in order. If you are not happy with your score, (in particular, your quant sub-score, which is the only one that matters), take a course and try again. There is no harm in taking more than once, or even twice. You’ve got enough time to reasonably master the material at this stage, and you’ll be glad to get a solid result out of the way.

Use Your Summer Wisely
If you are in the northern hemisphere, you have all summer to get yourself ready. So use your summer wisely; go to MBA events, meet and great, ask questions, and get yourself ready. It’s a lot easier now than when deadlines loom.

Why You Should Take a Test Prep Course

I’m surprised that so many students who want to go to graduate school don’t feel the need to take a test-prep course. Most of them are well worth the investment.

I can’t stand standardized tests. They test only one thing: test-taking ability. But they are here to stay, and students who want to earn their MBA , or other top professional program from a top school, should get really high scores. Especially in quant.

Both the GMAT and the GRE, the former being the primary business school entry hurdle, are computer adaptive tests.  That means that more correct responses will lead to harder questions. So those who suffer even the slightest anxiety about the test are faced with another layer of uncertainty. First, there’s the voice that says, “I am afraid I don’t know the material.” Then there’s the voice that says, “I don’t have enough time to answer” and now there’s the voice that says, “this question is easier than I had expected…so I must be doing badly!” It’s exhausting.

This is Your Brain on Anxiety
The brain doesn’t like these conversations. Neuroscientific research has taught us that such anxiety hijacks our ability to think. In very simple terms, limbic system, (the part of the brain that tells the body to breathe, pump blood, and run away from predators) disrupts the “working memory.”

A test prep course, or, if you prefer, a one-on-one tutor, can help you reduce that anxiety, and at a minimum, improve your ability to recall information.

Let’s look at the benefits one-by-one.

1. You will learn the material – the test looks for analytic ability, especially in the quantitative section. You need to brush up on your math. Certainly you can do it from books on your own, but the test is designed to trip you up. Call it mean-spirited. The knowledge itself is important, but you want somebody to walk you through the way to think about the problem.

2. You’ll improve your timing – It’s a timed test, so you need to be very efficient in your responses. You cannot skip a question and you cannot go back. At a minimum, a course or tutor can help you become familiar enough with the material so you can use your precious minutes figuring out the answer rather than figuring out the question.

3. Focus – Standardized tests are about the process of taking the test as much as they are about the material. A good course and a good teacher will teach you how to approach your studying and your test taking. You should take advantage of the prep coach or company’s resources to learn how to master the process.

4. Discipline – You cannot cram for a test like the GMAT. According to Doug Barg, a former master GMAT teacher at Kaplan and a very smart guy, you should study for at least three months, preferably six. Check out his classic blogpost here. If nothing else, a course will help you break up the studying so that you will not only learn, but retain more. A course will also encourage you to take more practice tests than you will on your own. It just works that way.

5. Confidence – A course will help you be more confident. It will help you practice, which should help you feel more confident.  And the more genuinely confident you are, the better you’ll score.

It’s possible that you do not suffer from anxiety; not everyone is that high strung. In that case, a course can only help you improve even more dramatically by familiarizing yourself with material and test process. And you are being measured against all other test takers, many of whom will have taken a course.  You are competing; why wouldn’t do whatever you can to get the edge?

A formal training program with a teacher or coach is worth the investment. There are lots of classes, online courses, tutors, coaches, and more. I know trainers at Manhattan GMAT, Kaplan, Veritas, Test Prep NY (good for test anxiety), Knewton, and new players like Magoosh (interesting! worth checking out) I also know some awesome individual tutors. I can get you discounts on some of them, introduce you to others, or just talk it through. Just email me at betsy@masteradmissions.com for a chat.