Category Archives: Test Prep Advice

The Pros, Cons of Retaking the GMAT or GRE

This guest post is provided by our friends at LA Tutors 123 After working through a grueling standardized admissions test, the moment of judgement arrives when you get your scores. If you got the score you …

GMAT test prepThis guest post is provided by our friends at LA Tutors 123

After working through a grueling standardized admissions test, the moment of judgement arrives when you get your scores. If you got the score you were hoping for, congratulations! You can now focus your time and energy on the rest of the MBA admissions process. If your score is much lower than you’d hoped, however, you have to decide about whether or not to retake the test.

My biggest advice is: Don’t retake the test if you haven’t done any additional preparation!

As a tutor, I’ve encountered student after student who has taken the test two or more times before seeking a tutor or doing additional practice, hoping to somehow “get lucky” on the retake. This rarely works because these tests are not lottery tickets; the only way to substantially raise your score is to master the skills and test taking strategies they require.

A well-planned retake, however, can give you the boost you need to improve your application and clear the path to the business school of your dreams.

It’s a good idea to retake the test if:

You’re willing to put in the time and effort necessary to prepare for the retake.

Use the score report from your first test to map out how much time you’ll need to improve your skills. For low-scoring students, this might require several months, or an intense effort if you have limited time. You might consider finding a tutor (or purchasing additional hours, if you had one before) to help. Then, take at least one more practice test, preferably more, before the next real test to make sure you’re making progress.

You had extenuating circumstances on your test day.

One of the only exceptions to the additional preparation rule would be extreme circumstances, such as if you became violently ill halfway through the test, accidentally deleted your entire essay ten seconds before your time was up, or your test center was invaded by aliens.

In these cases, you might score substantially higher without additional preparation. Hopefully you’ve already cancelled your scores, because it’s better to not to have a score show up on your score report if it doesn’t reflect your true abilities. Most of the time, however, the biggest factor in how you score is preparation.

You scored substantially higher on your practice tests than the real test.

If your official test performance was much lower than your practice tests, test anxiety may have been a factor, as practice can’t fully mimic the stress of the real test. There’s a chance that once you’ve had the real test-taking experience, you’ll be calmer and more clear-minded the second time around.

That said, you should still to evaluate the reason your real test scores were lower and try to address the problem. For example, did you only complete the practice test in sections instead of all at once? If that’s the case, you should complete a few full-length practice tests in one sitting before your retake. Did the questions on the test seem harder than those on the practice tests? If so, you should seek out a different brand of practice tests and work through those.

Your score is just shy of a posted requirement.

If the school to which you’re applying has posted minimum or expected scores and you are just short of those requirements, a retake might get you over the top. You should still do additional preparation, however, otherwise you’re just as likely to score lower the second time around.

You probably shouldn’t retake the test if:

You haven’t done enough additional preparation and aren’t scoring better on practice tests.

The best way to tell if you’ve improved is to take at least one more practice test and see if your score has gone up. If it hasn’t, the retake might be a waste of time and money.

You scored higher than you did on any of your practice tests and don’t have more time to prepare.

In this case, there’s a good chance you’ll score lower if you take the test again, so don’t tempt fate.

You’ve already retaken the test several times.

While one or two retakes is common, retaking the test over and over again can weaken your application, especially if your scores don’t go up. A single retake with substantial gains, however, can show the admissions committee that you worked hard to improve, or that maybe the first test didn’t reflect your true abilities.

If you do choose to retake your admissions test, make it your goal to retake it only once and get the score you need. If you didn’t seek professional help in preparing the first time around, a class or tutor might be what you need to get you over the top. A private tutor can help you evaluate your weaknesses, keep your studying on-track, and come up with the best plan to make sure you do the retake right.

Image credit: Flickr user Steven S. (CC BY 2.0)

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Mapping Out Your MBA Application Timeline

Once you’ve decided to pursue an MBA, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Applicants need to fit studying for the GMAT, visiting schools, and developing essays in with other personal and professional commitments. …

MBA timelineOnce you’ve decided to pursue an MBA, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Applicants need to fit studying for the GMAT, visiting schools, and developing essays in with other personal and professional commitments.

If you’re planning to apply to business school in the fall, come up with a game plan for completing the admissions components within a schedule that doesn’t necessitate sleepless nights and a jumbo bottle of Maalox. The best way to do this is to put together your MBA application timeline several months before your target deadlines.

Community Involvement: Now is a great time to deepen or establish your involvement with a community organization. If you have been involved with outside activities over the last couple of years, consider stepping your activities up a notch. Consider roles that will allow you to take a leadership position and create real impact before September. Offering to organize an event is a great discrete activity that will allow you to work in a team, have an impact, and show results.

Allot time for essays and the GMAT: The amount of time MBA aspirants will spend on their applications will vary, depending on writing abilities and general work efficiency. That said, plan to spend between 40 and 60 hours preparing four to eight applications. Non-native English speakers will also likely need to allot more time on their applications, particularly on writing, revising, editing, proofing, formatting, and inputting essays.

The other piece of this puzzle is, of course, the GMAT. Have you completed the GMAT and are you satisfied with your score? If you still need to take the GMAT, you have a lot of work ahead of you, as applicants typically devote at least 100 hours to test preparation. Depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once. The good news is, Round One is still nine months out so you have time if you get serious soon.

Bolster your quant profile: An undergrad GPA hovering around 3.5 is generally considered fine. If your GPA is a 3.2 or below, or you majored in liberal arts, you may want to consider taking quantitative classes to enhance your academic profile. The MBA canon generally consists of Calculus, Statistics and Microeconomics.

If you took any of those classes in undergrad and scored a C or below you should certainly re-take the classes now. Where you take the class is much less important than the course material and grade (aim for A’s!!). The local community college is a great option.

Structure your work sessions: Some people work most efficiently when they can break up tasks into smaller, more manageable pieces, while others prefer to devote several hours to their writing in one sitting. MBA applicants should be aware of the way they work most effectively and structure their writing and editing sessions accordingly.

I typically recommend that candidates allocate two to three hours each time they sit down to work on their essays, particularly for the first few drafts. Essays should be approached holistically; you won’t have a compelling final product if you’ve only snatched 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there.

Conversely, most applicants should also avoid the “marathon session.” Few people are still sharp or creative eight hours into a writing and editing session. If you need to make up for lost time, try breaking it up with a session in the morning and another in the evening.

Allow some distance: Applicants should also build several weeks for reflection and feedback into their MBA timeline. If you can come back to your essays days later with fresh eyes, you’ll often think of a better example or more inspired language to illustrate a certain point. This won’t happen if you’re forced to work at warp speed.

Distributing your writing and editing over a reasonable period also makes it easier for friends, family, or colleagues to provide feedback. It’s unfair to ask someone to turn around comments in a 24-hour period, so provide them with a few days to give you their critiques. Leave yourself adequate time to reflect upon and incorporate their feedback.

The b-school application process is stressful, but careful planning will make the experience manageable and help you channel your energies into continually improving your candidacy until the moment you submit your applications.

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New Ranking Shows Top Choice B-Schools for 2016 Applicants

Ready4, a Boston-area company that creates test prep apps, has unveiled its second annual rankings of the most desired business schools around the globe. Unlike traditional business school rankings that are based on complex methodology and, in …

business school rankingReady4, a Boston-area company that creates test prep apps, has unveiled its second annual rankings of the most desired business schools around the globe. Unlike traditional business school rankings that are based on complex methodology and, in many cases, information self reported by participating schools, Ready4’s rankings represent the voice of current and prospective students and provide unique insight into what schools students most want to attend.

This ranking represents the top schools chosen by 250,000 users of Ready4GMAT app using its “School Matcher” and “Top Picks” functions.

The Top 25 Most Desired Business Schools

1. Harvard
2. Stanford
3. University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)
4. MIT (Sloan)
5. Indian School of Business
6. Columbia
7. London Business School
8. New York University (Stern)
9. INSEAD
10. University of California Berkeley (Haas)
11. University of Chicago (Booth)
12. Northwestern (Kellogg)
13. Indian Institute of Management
14. Yale
15. Duke (Fuqua)
16. University of Oxford
17. London School of Economics
18. HEC Paris
19. Cornell
20. University of Cambridge
21. National University of Singapore
22. UCLA
23. SP Jain Institute of Management
24. University of Michigan Ann Arbor (Ross)
25. Dartmouth (Tuck)

Notable observations from this year’s ranking include:

  • Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business are the top two most desired schools for the second year in a row, while the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School moved up two positions into the third spot, displacing MIT Sloan School of Management, which is now fourth
  • University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business made the biggest leap in the Top 10 category, moving up 5 positions (15 in 2015 to 10 in 2016)
  • Four schools are new to the list this year: London School of Economics (17), Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management (19), University of Michigan Ross School of Business (24) and Dartmouth Tuck School of Business (25)
  • Five schools fell off the list of the Most Desired Schools in this year’s ranking: Carnegie Mellon Tepper School of Business, University of Cambridge Judge Business School, Boston College, Imperial College London, USC Marshall School of Business

Statistics represent the time period between September 2015 and September 2016, and users were allowed to pick more than one school.

top choice business schools

“With more than a million downloads of our test prep apps, Ready4 sits in a unique position to not only understand where students want to pursue their MBA or other business degree, but also to guide them on their journey to find and get into the right program,” says Elad Shoushan, Ready4’s founder and CEO.

“We are in business to ensure that a generation is ready, willing and able to take on the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century economy, and in many cases, that starts with helping match students to their preferred schools and preparing them to get the scores they need to be considered in the admissions process.”

Image credit: ebayink (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Survey Reveals the Study Habits of Top Standardized Test Takers

What does it take to get a top score on a standardized exam? The test prep experts at Magoosh surveyed more than 400 students who scored in the top 10% for the GRE, GMAT, SAT …

GMAT test prep

What does it take to get a top score on a standardized exam? The test prep experts at Magoosh surveyed more than 400 students who scored in the top 10% for the GRE, GMAT, SAT and ACT, and have shared those results with us so that our readers and clients put their best foot forward when it comes to preparing for this important component of the MBA application.

Here are the biggest takeaways from what they learned about the way top scorers prepare for test day:

  • Top scorers prefer to study alone. 98% of students said they chose to study alone instead of with friends or a group.
  • They don’t break the bank. 88% of respondents said they spent only $300 or less on their test prep. A majority also reported that they performed better on the exam than they thought they would.
  • They study for at least a month. 84% of respondents studied for a month or longer.
  • They don’t cram. 71% of respondents said they gave themselves a break the day before the exam instead of studying to the last minute.
  • They don’t listen to music while studying. 63% of students said they chose to study in complete silence, while only a few chose to listen to classical music or white noise.
  • They have a regular workout routine. 68% of respondents said they hit the gym or exercised at least 1-2 times a week while studying.
  • They aim to take the test once. 68% nailed their top scores the first time they took the exam.

Most Common Advice From Top Scorers:

Develop a routine and stick it to it. Many students from the survey said you should work a strict study schedule into your daily routine. Give yourself 3-6 months to study so you can spread out your prep time. Studying more than that might wear you out, while studying less might inadequately prepare you for test day. You can keep yourself from burning out by limiting yourself to no more than four hours of study in a single day.

It’s not the number of questions you practice, but how much you learn from each question that counts. Top scorers from the survey said that while studying, you should be mindful of the mistakes you make. Take time to learn from every question, and don’t rush through them. Several top scorers from the survey also mentioned that they kept a log of their errors to help them learn and move on from each mistake.

Focus on your weak spots. Do a diagnostic test, review your answers and determine the types of questions you struggle with. Make it a point during your studies to focus on those weaknesses, then practice those question types until approaching and solving them feels automatic.

And finally…

Pay attention to timing. It’s not enough to just know how to approach a question; you need to be able to complete it accurately under time constraints. At the beginning of your studies, you should work through questions slowly and develop your technique, but as you near the end you should start timing yourself to prepare for the realities of test day.

You may also be interested in:

5 Test Prep Steps from UM Ross Admissions Director

Exam Lifehacks for a Higher Test Score

Image credit: Flickr user Steven S. (CC BY 2.0)

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Which Test Should I Take – GRE or GMAT?

Guest post by LA Tutors 123 Decisions, decisions. Now that most business schools accept either the GMAT or the GRE as part of your application, which standardized exam would be better for you to submit? …

Guest post by LA Tutors 123

GRE or GMAT

Decisions, decisions. Now that most business schools accept either the GMAT or the GRE as part of your application, which standardized exam would be better for you to submit? Is the GRE easier? Do admissions committees like the GMAT more?

First, let’s take a look at each of the exams. There are ways that the GRE and the GMAT are alike and ways that they are different. For example, in the United States, both tests are taken on a computer and adapt to your skill level. They both have writing, quantitative, and verbal sections. Also, sitting for either the GRE or the GMAT can consume your entire morning or afternoon: the total time is almost four hours for each test, plus breaks.

However, there are differences between the exams. The GRE currently costs $195, while the GMAT fee is $250. Furthermore, the quantitative and verbal sections aren’t the same on each test, and neither is the scoring. On the GRE, in addition to a Writing score from 0 to 6, the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are each scored from 130 to 170. On the GMAT, there is also a Writing score from 0 to 6, but there is also an Integrated Reasoning score of 1 to 8, and a Total score from 200 to 800, which combines the Quantitative and Verbal results.

Confusing, isn’t it? To simplify this issue, you should take a diagnostic test or practice exam for the GRE and for the GMAT to see which one you feel more comfortable with and which you think you can perform better on.

Second, ask your schools which exams they take and which exam they prefer. Talking with the admissions officers at your business school is a good idea anyway, to let them know who you are and why you’re interested in their particular MBA programs. It will also give you insight on how they view the GRE and the GMAT, especially in regards to your application.

Which leads us to our third issue: how your exam choice and score will fit into your overall package. If you didn’t take many math classes in college, or you don’t do much quantitative analysis in your career, getting a good score on the GMAT could enhance that area of your application. On the other hand, if you think you can do considerable better on the GRE than on the GMAT, then the GRE might be your best course of action.

The truth is, your test score is only one part of your application. Plus, if you’re making a conscious decision to study for either the GMAT or the GRE, then you’re already ahead of the game. The key to success on either exam is advanced preparation. Start crafting a plan today; you’ll have more confidence about whatever choice you make, and more confidence on test day.

Ultimately, it’s up to you. Do your research, and then decide. And if you need assistance, either with making a choice or getting prepared to take your exam, LA Tutors can help. For more information, click here, or call 866.60.TUTOR to be matched with your own personal instructor.

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Fit the GMAT Into Overall MBA Application Strategy

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not …

timing your MBA

This post originally appeared on Stacy’s “Strictly Business” MBA Blog on U.S.News.com

Just about every MBA candidate needs to submit a GMAT or GRE score as part of their business school admission package, but not everyone has a clear grasp on when and how the exam fits within the context of the whole application process.

In an ideal world, you would take the test just coming out of college, while you’re still in study and test mode as a recent student. Since both GMAT and GRE scores are valid for five years, getting the exams out of the way years in advance would free you to focus on all of the other elements of the application.

If, like most applicants, you didn’t have the foresight to take the exam right after college, the next best step is to plan your application strategy so that the GMAT is finished before you finalize your list of schools. Your score isn’t everything, but it is an important part of the admissions equation.

If you bomb the exam and can’t improve your score, you may need to reassess your target schools to include less-competitive options. Conversely, you may be able to add one more reach school if the score was higher than expected.

Round one of business school admissions is about four months away at many schools, and if you still need to take the GMAT, you have a lot of work ahead of you. Unless you’re a natural at taking standardized tests, you’ll need to train your brain to get it back into test-taking form.

Most applicants devote at least 100 hours to test preparation, and depending on where you are in the process, you may have to take a prep class and perhaps take the test more than once. If this is the case, the first round may not be a realistic option unless you’re able and prepared to completely immerse yourself in the process.

One client, Tasha, came to us just five weeks before the round she was targeting with some idea of her school choices and a GMAT score she wanted to improve. With her limited time she needed to schedule the GMAT for two weeks before her application deadlines. That meant she did not have the luxury of focused studying for the GMAT in all of her free time.

To help Tasha manage her time, we wrote down all of her tasks, including the number of essay iterations we expected her to go through, and then we worked backward from her deadlines to see how many days she had to work. Tasha then started alternating essay writing and GMAT study until the day she took the test.

This abbreviated yet methodical time management system worked for her, and Tasha was able to improve her GMAT by 30 points and submit a strong application to her three target schools. She ultimately gained admission to Stanford Graduate School of Business and Cornell’s Johnson Graduate School of Management.

Tasha’s strategy won’t work for everybody, but we see applicants pull off the impossible every season.

I typically advise clients to plan for two attempts at the GMAT, leaving a buffer for a retake if needed. There’s no harm in taking the test two or even three times, and unless you score really well right out of the gate, you often will do better the second time. This is because you’ll have fewer nerves, more familiarity with the process and no big surprises. There is no such thing as a bad test, just opportunities to build on and learn from.

Average scores are creeping higher every year at the top MBA programs, making it hard to offset a bad GMAT score. It truly is a level playing field, and I often cringe when I read essays where people try to rationalize a low score.

What you can do, however, is acknowledge the score and say you don’t find it truly reflective of your abilities. Then show why you are actually strong in quant or going to excel academically by pointing to your college GPA, work experience or by encouraging your recommenders to focus heavily on your intellect.

Timing and planning are key to reducing the stress of the application process. I generally encourage applicants to not cram everything into too short of a timeline, but everyone has their own style and you need to figure out what makes the most sense for you, your goals and your schedule.

Image by Moyan Brenn on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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