Tag Archives | tests


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

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.


Get Your Quant Skills MBA-Ready

Not every student applying to business school has her math foundation in order. I surely didn’t.  But fortunately, I was so unfamiliar with basic number crunching that I forced myself to take undergraduate courses even before applying for an MBA program.  Sitting in class and absorbing material is surprisingly uplifting. It also helps prepare  you for the business school experience.  And getting A’s was new to me.

You can also study on your own, and I’ve listed some options below.

Get Yourself a Good Grade

If you are in the United States, check your local state school extension program. For example, when I was applying, I decided to make up for my lack of prerequisites by taking seven courses from the University of Virginia’s extension program in the DC area. I have candidates who have done well at other extension programs, such as the University of California Berkeley program.

If you are overseas or traveling a lot, an accredited online course from a real school may work for you.  Don’t fall for unaccredited schools that advertise all over the Internet. Try schools that are real, such as major state schools or known names such as Boston UniversityJohns Hopkins University, Indiana University or the University of North Carolina. Also, take the course for credit—you want an official transcript – you’d be surprised what an extra document from a real school with lots of A’s can do.

If You Just Want to Be Serious

If you already have a pretty good GPA (3.4 or above) from a strong undergraduate program, you might want to supplement your academic experience with some quantitative or business stats courses that do not give you a college-level grade.  You can learn the fundamentals to be able to sit in an MBA classroom and keep up. One brand-name option is  Tuck’s Online Bridge Program, designed, as they say on their website, “for recent liberal arts graduates, PhDs, and other high-potential employees with little or no business education or experience.”   The program offers modules in accounting, finance, managerial economics (decision science) and more.

For those who might think they are bad in quantitative courses, the MBAMath program might be for you.  MBAMath is an online course that is also recommended by a number of MBA programs for students who are already admitted. It is self-paced and allows you to make lots of mistakes. The program’s philosophy is “getting it right eventually, rather than getting it right the first time.”  You do get a form of a transcript, which might counterbalance poor grades.

If you have no business experience at all, and want to challenge yourself, you might want to look at the Certified Associate Business Manager Designation. This designation is offered to those who complete a full pre-MBA curriculum. This program is a big commitment, and if you want to re-invent yourself as an educated, focused, directed business school candidate, this option is definitely worth considering.

These are but a few of the choices available — if you do your research, you’ll probably find a whole lot more than I’ve been able to dig up here.   But the important point is to make the effort.  Show your initiative, show your ability to learn from your mistakes, and go forward.

Remember, you can’t learn less.

Betsy Massar is Founder of Master Admissions, a graduate admissions consulting firm. Her recent article on women and leadership was published in Forbes.



GMAT, GRE, LSAT and Your Brain

Starting to think about taking the GMAT, GRE or LSAT?  This is actually the time to start looking into courses, figuring out whether you want to take a class or get a private tutor, or whether doing the online/whiteboard route works for you. You can find variations that suit your timeframe, learning style, and temperament.

Test Anxiety is Normal
Taking tests is a subject that is near and dear to my heart.  I want you all to know that I was a TERRIBLE test taker. My SAT scores were so low that I was laughed out my top choice undergraduate schools. (I eventually had to transfer into Vassar from a state school).  So when I was thinking about applying to graduate school, the hold-it-all back side of my brain flipped out. Eventually, I ended up teaching that emotional bundle of neurons to shut up and let me be the test taker I thought I ought to be. And it worked: I scored in the 93rd percentile, with roughly equal math and verbal scores. Oh, and I got into HBS, Stanford Business School, Chicago, Wharton, and Darden.  Cool, huh?

I’ve been thinking about this experience because I’ve been reading an old classic of leadership training, Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman.  He describes a situation a lot of us know only too well: test anxiety. He describes, in scientific detail, an emotional hijacking.  This is where the limbic system, (the part of the brain that tells the body to breathe, pump blood, and run away from predators) disrupts the “working memory.”  So if you’ve ever been in a situation where you sit down at a computer screen in a noisy and unpleasant test center, here’s what’s probably going on.

The prefrontal cortex is the brain region responsible for working memory. But circuits from the limbic [most primitive brain part] brain to the prefrontal lobes [the rational/working memory part] mean that signals of strong emotion – anxiety, anger, and the like—can create neural static, sabotaging the ability of the prefrontal lobe to maintain working memory.

This limbic system is the hotbed of emotions. The limbic system, which includes the amygdala, if you’ve ever heard of it, is screaming to you as you look at the test questions, “Run away, it’s too scary! You will fail!”

Well, guess what. That amygdala is useful sometimes, but it tends to overreact. And that’s where the thinking, reasoning brain comes in. The prefrontal cortex tells the panic-stricken limbic system that all is not out of control.

The problem is that the cortex sometimes takes awhile to figure out that it needs calm your hysterical primitive, running from-the-burning-house brain. You are sitting in a noisy and fear-inducing test taking center. You know you should be spending no more than two minutes per question. And you are not even conscious of all this stuff going on inside your grey matter!

You Can Get Over It

The task is to teach yourself how to speed up the “thinking brain’s” work and quell those fears.  It takes lots and lots of practice, and it can be done.

I’ve got lots of suggestions, and most of them can be found in a previous article I wrote called Train Your Brain for Test Success: Mastering Test Anxiety.” But if you want to cut to the psychological chase, pick up a copy of Dr. Ben Bernstein’s Workbook for Test Success. He’s an experienced psychologist who knows how to put that amygdala back in line.

If I figured out how to do it, anyone can. I personally know a few standardized testing (GMAT and GRE) tutors whom I like, and rather than shout out here, I am happy to take your calls and make recommendations.   Take a breath and good luck!

The GMAT (or GRE) and Tunnel Vision

It seems like I haven’t blogged in a while, and for that I apologize.  This past week I went back to the east coast and got to meet with admissions officers from some excellent schools: Georgetown, Cornell, and Wharton.  Each has its own strength – in Georgetown’s case, I would say the location is a very big plus, Cornell has a wonderful social enterprise program, and Wharton is, well, Wharton.

But while meeting schools’ admissions officers was important (and a great part of my trip), I learned something that I wanted to write about here about the GMAT, inspired from conversations with Doug Barg.  Doug is head of the GMAT faculty at Kaplan in Philadelphia, but he is so much more than that.  He is, on Twitter, “GeeMatters” and blogs and he really knows how to teach.

One thing that stood out in our conversation is a story this GMAT expert told me about focus.

The Key: Focus

Focus is critical for standardized tests. I’ve written about it a number of times, including a paper called “Train Your Brain for Test Success.”  Focus keeps you on track so that you pay attention to the question at hand, and not the worrying voices in your head. Focus  helps you answer the question quickly, and not second-guess.

When the stakes are really high, sometimes its hard to focus.  Doug told me about a student who taught himself to focus by thinking about his former colleague in the US Army whose job was to diffuse bombs.  How did he prevent IEDs or landmines from blowing up?  Focus.

Says Maj. Chris Hunter, a counter-terrorist bomb disposal specialist expert in the British Army:

“When you walk up to a bomb to neutralise it by hand, the adrenaline is flowing and you go into tunnel vision mode to try to dispel any fear you’ve got. Adrenaline helps,” he says. “You’ve got to steady your breathing and can feel the drum beat of your heart.”

Was the soldier born that way? Probably not.  He trained, over and over, practiced when where the stakes were much lower, to keep his focus.  It can be learned.

OK, not everyone has such nerves of steel, but we can be inspired by the soldier’s training.

When you study, practice on your focusing techniques.  Channel the Explosive Ordnance Disposal guy.  Practice that tunnel vision. You’ll waste a lot less energy, and maybe even feel like you’ve saved the world.