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3-2-WhichTest-GMATMost business schools now accept both the GMAT and the GRE, so which one should you take? I’ve written on the topic before but it’s been nearly a year and I’ve got some updates.

The conventional wisdom has been that the math is easier on the GRE. Though many schools do accept the GRE, rumors abound that students who take this test are at a bit of a disadvantage because they are expected to do better on the (easier) quant section. Anecdotally, we have heard a few admissions officers admit that they do think about this (strictly off the record, of course). Most admissions officers, though, have said this doesn’t matter to them at all, including several officers at the top 10 schools.

So we’ve come up with a series of decisions to help you make this choice. The first three questions are “deal-breakers”—that is, a certain answer will point you definitively to a specific test (the GMAT, as it happens). The fourth question is…murkier. We’ll address that in a little bit.

#1: Do all of “your” schools accept the GRE?

This one is obvious. All business schools (that ask for a standardized test score) accept the GMAT. Most—but not all—accept the GRE. If you want to apply to any schools that require the GMAT, such as London Business School MBA (at the time of this publication), then you’ll be taking the GMAT.

#2: Do any of “your” schools prefer the GMAT?

Most schools that accept both tests don’t express a preference between the two. Some schools, though, do say that the prefer the test. They publish this preference right on their web site, so go look up all of your schools and see what they say about the GMAT / GRE requirement for admissions.

As of the date of this article, Columbia, Haas (Berkeley) and Anderson (UCLA) all state that they prefer the GMAT, even though they do accept the GRE. If you want to apply to one of these schools, I recommend that you take the GMAT. (Note: these aren’t the only three schools that prefer the GMAT; I just picked out the three most well-known ones that do. You still need to research your schools!)

#3: Do you want to go into banking or management consulting after b-school?

The major banks and consulting firms ask for GMAT scores when you apply. (Some of them even ask for undergraduate GPA and SAT scores. I think that data is irrelevant after someone has a b-school GPA and GMAT scores but I’m not the one making the hiring decisions!)

The round three deadlines for business schools are right around the corner! Are you still working to hit your target GMAT score? Use the chart below to check the deadlines for the top 25 business schools, and evaluate whether you have enough time to prep and retake the official exam.

Looking for some guidance to maximize your study time? Our upcoming February GMAT Boot Camps are designed to prep you in just two weeks. Be prepared for intensive in-class work paired with hours of one-on-one coaching that will get you ready for the exam quickly, without sacrificing content knowledge.

We’re running a special promotion for our February Boot Camps only. Get $500 off with code CAMP500—but hurry, this promotion is only valid this month! There are still a few spots left in our upcoming boot camps (New York City and Live Online). Check out the full schedule and see all that’s included!

School Round 3 Deadline
Harvard University April 6, 2015
Stanford University April 1, 2015
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) March 26, 2015
University of Chicago (Booth) April 7, 2015
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) N/A
Northwestern University (Kellogg) April 1, 2015
University of California–Berkeley (Haas) March 11, 2015
Columbia University April 15, 2015
Dartmouth College (Tuck) April 1, 2015
New York University (Stern) March 15, 2015
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross) March 23, 2015
University of Virginia (Darden) April 1, 2015
Yale University April 23, 2015
Duke University (Fuqua) March 19, 2015
University of Texas–Austin (McCombs) March 24, 2015
University of California–Los Angeles (Anderson) April 15, 2015
Cornell University (Johnson) March 11, 2015
Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) March 15, 2015
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flager) March 13, 2015
Emory University (Goizueta) March 13, 2015
Indiana University–Bloomington (Kelley) March 01, 2015
Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) February 15, 2015 (Next: April 1)
Georgetown University (McDonough) April 1, 2015
University of Notre Dame (Mendoza) February 23, 2015
University of Washington (Foster) March 15, 2015

The Graduate Management Admission Test, better known as the GMAT®, is a standardized test used in the admissions process for business school and other specialized Master’s programs. The exam measures certain skills that the business schools care about, most notably Executive Reasoning skills. It does not test any specific business knowledge.

When is the GMAT given?

You can take the GMAT year-round, nearly any day of the week (though they limit you to 5 sittings in a 12-month period and require a wait of 31 days between tests). The exam is given on a computer and is known as a “CAT.”

What is a CAT?

A CAT is a computer-adaptive test: the test actually adapts itself to you while you’re taking it! Two of the four sections on the GMAT, the Quantitative and Verbal sections, are adaptive. Each of these two sections begins with a random, approximately medium-level question. The computer chooses each subsequent question based upon your collective performance to that point in the section.

The practical implications are important. First, every test taker will take a different exam with a different mix of questions, but the test feels hard for everyone, since the test will just keep getting harder until it finds a particular person’s limit. Second, the scoring is pretty peculiar; it’s important to understand how the scoring works.

Want to try your hand at a practice test? Take our free, full-length practice exam here.

How is the GMAT Scored?

Tests you took in school were generally based on the percentage of questions answered correctly: the more you got right, the higher the score you received. As a result, you have been trained to take your time and try to get everything right when you take a test. This general strategy does not work on computer-adaptive sections of the GMAT because, strangely enough, the quant and verbal scores are not based on the percentage of questions answered correctly. On the GMAT, most people answer similar percentages of questions correctly, typically in the 50% to 70% range (even at higher scoring levels!).

How is that possible? The first thing to know: the GMAT is not a school test. The quant section is not really a math test, and the verbal section is not really a grammar test. Of course, you do need to know how to handle those topics. The test writers are really interested, however, in knowing how good you are at making decisions and managing scarce resources. (That’s the second time we’ve linked to that same article. Go read it!)

We’ve invited our friends at mbaMission to share their 2016 MBA Class Profile Infographic! Check out their findings below and visit to sign up for a free consultation.  

Choosing the right MBA program for your needs can be challenging. How do you identify the best one for your specific personal, educational, and professional goals?

An important element of your business school experience will be your fellow students—the other aspiring MBAs with whom you will be living and studying every day. Using Class of 2016 profile statistics from the top ten U.S. programs (according to U.S. News & World Report 2015), we at mbaMission have created this infographic to help show how the different programs compare. Enjoy!


mbaMission 2016 MBA Class Profile Infographic


Round 2The round two deadlines for business schools are right around the corner, which means that we start hearing from students who are planning to apply during round two but are worried because they haven’t quite hit their target GMAT score. Sound like you? Use the chart below to check the deadlines for the top 25 business schools, and evaluate whether you have enough time to prep and retake the official exam.

Looking for some guidance to maximize your study time? Our upcoming December GMAT Boot Camps are designed to prep you in just two weeks. Be prepared for intensive in-class work paired with hours of one-on-one coaching that will get you ready for the exam quickly, without sacrificing content knowledge. There are still a few spots open in our December Boot Camps (New York City and Live Online). Check out the full schedule and see all that’s included!

School Round 2 Deadline
Harvard University Monday, January 05, 2015
Stanford University Wednesday, January 07, 2015
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) Sunday, January 05, 2014
University of Chicago (Booth) Tuesday, January 06, 2015
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan) Thursday, January 08, 2015
Northwestern University (Kellogg) Wednesday, January 07, 2015
University of California–Berkeley (Haas) Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Columbia University Final Application Deadline: April 09, 2015
Dartmouth College (Tuck) Tuesday, January 06, 2015
New York University (Stern) Saturday, November 15, 2014
University of Michigan–Ann Arbor (Ross) Saturday, March 14, 2014
University of Virginia (Darden) Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Yale University Thursday, January 08, 2015
Duke University (Fuqua) Monday, January 05, 2015
University of Texas–Austin (McCombs) Tuesday, January 06, 2015
University of California–Los Angeles (Anderson) Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Cornell University (Johnson) Wednesday, January 07, 2015
Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper) Sunday, January 04, 2015
University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (Kenan-Flager) Friday, December 12, 2014
Emory University (Goizueta) Friday, November 14, 2014
Indiana University–Bloomington (Kelley) Sunday, March 01, 2015
Washington University in St. Louis (Olin) Saturday, November 15, 2014
Georgetown University (McDonough) Monday, January 05, 2015
University of Notre Dame (Mendoza) Monday, January 12, 2015
University of Washington (Foster) Saturday, November 15, 2014


Last week, I attended the annual GMAT Summit, held by the fine folks at GMAC (who own / make the GMAT), and I have some interesting tidbits to share with you.

It really is a myth

You know what I’m going to say already, don’t you? The first 7 (or 10, or 5) questions are not worth more than the questions later in the exam. I’ve written about this topic before but I’m going to mention it once again because of something that happened at the conference.

Fanmin Guo, Ph. D., Vice President of Psychometric Research at GMAC, was answering questions after a presentation on the test algorithm. A couple of people were peppering him with questions about this myth and apparently just didn’t seem to believe that it could possibly be true that the early questions aren’t worth more. One of the questioners also made a pretty significant faulty assumption in his arguments—and now I’m worried that an article is going to pop up trying to revive this debate. I don’t want any of my students led astray on this topic.

First, to understand why the early questions actually aren’t worth any more than the later ones, see the article I linked a couple of paragraphs back.

Second: here was the faulty assumption that I heard:

“You said that the earlier questions aren’t worth any more than the later ones. So you’re telling us that students should spend the same amount of time on every question.”

Dr. Guo was saying the first part: that the location of a question on the test doesn’t impact its weighting in the overall score. He and the other GMAC folks weren’t saying anything, though, about how you should take the test.

In fact, it would be silly to spend exactly the same amount of time on every question. Some questions are harder than others. In addition, you have various strengths and weaknesses in terms of both accuracy and speed. There are, in fact, very good reasons not to spend the same amount of time on each question. All Dr. Guo was saying was that the location of the problem in the section is not one of those reasons.

So, if you read something that says that you should spend more time on the earlier questions, roll your eyes and click away. Alternatively, if you read something that concludes that you should spend the same amount of time on every question, drop that source as well. Take a look at the data in my other article to see that GMAC actually does know what it’s doing and the GMAT is not just a test of how you perform on the first 7 or 10 questions.

GMATPrep offers more data

GMAC has been building more score reporting functionality into GMATPrep to give us a better idea of how we do when we take the official practice CATs. In fact, this capability has already launched! I need to go download the newest version of GMATPrep to see exactly what’s offered (and I’ll report back to you once I’ve done so), but they’ve started to offer data for sub-categories such as question type and content area.

harvard gmat score help

It’s October again. People are starting to panic because they want to apply second round (early January!) and they don’t yet have the score they want on the GMAT. Let’s talk about what to do.

What’s your goal?

First of all, you need to set a realistic goal for yourself. What is your current score? How far are you from your goal?

We’re only about 2.5 months from most 2nd-round deadlines. In that timeframe, it might be reasonable to make the jump from 550 to 650, from 600 to 670, or from 650 to 700. (The higher you go, the harder it is to go even higher.) Those ranges are just rough benchmarks; some people will be able to make larger jumps, while others unfortunately won’t hit even those rough benchmarks.

If you are currently at a 550 and want to get to 720, it’s likely that you’ll need more time (especially considering that you also have to complete applications in the same 2.5 month timeframe!). You may need to choose between lowering your goal score and delaying your application—to the third round or to next year.

You might also need to reduce the number of applications you’re planning to submit. It would be challenging to apply to 6 schools and commit to a full GMAT study schedule at the same time.

How have you been studying?

Have you already taken the real test? Perhaps you have been studying for months using a comprehensive set of materials but, though you have improved your score, you haven’t reached the level that you want. If this is the case, then you may need specialized help in the form of a class or tutor to help you break through the plateau that you have reached. (Note: this isn’t true in every case, of course, but when you have only a couple of months left and you have to do applications simultaneously, then you need a new approach to help you break the logjam quickly.)

Or maybe you have been studying a bit and know what you need to do, but you haven’t found the time to do a comprehensive review. If that’s the case, it’s time to commit 100%, get your study plan together, and start a daily study regimen.

Finally, perhaps you’ve been procrastinating altogether—life is busy and nobody really wants to study for the GMAT. If this describes you, my best advice is to get yourself into a class immediately. You likely don’t have the time to evaluate the various resources available, put together a full self-study plan, and then execute. At this stage, it’s better to dive into a complete program and get cracking.

The one exception to that is someone who has done very well on standardized tests in the past. If you self-studied for the SAT (or a similar test) and did a great job in a relatively short period of time, then self-study may be the way to go for the GMAT.

What do I need to do to lift my GMAT score?

Finally, we get down to the important question. J

First, the single most important mistake that people make on the GMAT is to treat it as an academic test, especially on the math section, where every question has a right answer (vs. a “best” answer on verbal). The GMAT is not an academic test! I know it feels like one, but it’s not.

This is what the GMAT really tests.

In the past month, I have told multiple of my students to read that article every day for two weeks and to email me on days 1, 7, and 14 to tell me why I gave them this assignment. If you would like to participate in this exercise, come and visit me on the Manhattan GMAT Forums. (I answer the questions in the General GMAT Strategy Questions folder of the Ask An Instructor section.)

If you want to hit your maximum potential, you have to wrap your head and heart around the mindset described in that article. You can’t just know it intellectually; you actually have to believe it, or you are likely to revert to the old “school test” mentality under the stress of the real test.

Next, you of course need to know the content—the facts, rules, and concepts tested on the exam—as well as how to handle the various question types. That’s all the 1st level of GMAT study; if you’ve been studying for a while, you likely have a decent handle on a lot of that material.

Beyond that, you need to learn how to think your way through GMAT-type questions, what we call the 2nd level of GMAT study. If you have hit a plateau in your scoring level, then it may be because you haven’t made the leap to the 2nd level.

I’m going to go back to the “set a realistic goal” idea for a moment. The higher you want to score on this test, the more you will need to master that 2nd level. If you haven’t really begun to study yet, and you want a 700+, then you are setting yourself the task of getting through both levels in 2.5 months (or sooner). That is a very ambitious goal—too ambitious for most people.

So you’re saying there’s not enough time? I should just give up?

No, of course not. You’ve got to try! Just be realistic and, as with anything important in life, have a back-up plan. If you just can’t make it happen this year, you can always apply next year.

(I know that you’ve probably already told people in your life that you’re going to apply this year. You’re allowed to change your mind, and you don’t have to tell people why. Just say that you decided it was better for your career to wait another year—after all, if you can get a substantially better score by giving yourself more time and applying next year, that may very well change your admissions prospects, and that could change your career!)

I’m actually within 50 points of my goal score. I just need a little boost…

If you’ve been studying and are decently close to your goal already, then there are some additional things you can do to try to secure a final boost to your score.

You need to figure out exactly what’s pulling you down. Most people have timing problems on this test. (If your current thought is that you don’t have timing problems, you’re likely wrong. More than 95% of people have timing problems on this test! Many, if not most, are just unaware of it.)

The good news is this: it’s reasonable to pick up 20 to 30 points (sometimes more, if your timing issues are severe) in about 2 months by fixing timing issues alone. Analyze your most recent one or two Manhattan GMAT CATs to determine what your particular timing issues are. Then learn how to manage your time on the GMAT, starting with developing your 1-minute time sense (section 4 of the article).

Next, focus on the low-hanging fruit. Don’t try to turn your biggest weaknesses into strengths—that will take forever. Instead, minimize careless errors. You already know how to get those questions right, so make sure you earn those points! The article in the previous paragraph that details how to analyze your CATs will help you to place your strengths and weaknesses in one of several “buckets.” Focus on bucket 2.

If you want to enlist a tutor to help you over that final hump, the best thing you can do is take a practice CAT (not GMATPrep, but one that actually provides good data to analyze) and have your tutor analyze it. Use that to set up a study plan, making sure to focus on timing as well as low-hanging fruit. When you feel you’ve made good progress on the issues identified in that first CAT (approximately 2 to 3 weeks, if you’re studying regularly), take another CAT, have the tutor analyze it, and start all over again. Repeat until you’re ready to take the real thing.

You don’t have to use a tutor of course—you can analyze your tests yourself, using the article I linked above. Just go through slowly and carefully to give yourself the best shot of catching everything. Expect to take at least an hour for the analysis; if it takes less time than that, then you are probably missing some important clues that could help you in your studies.

Finally, pick your battles. Don’t try to learn everything. Your best strategy for your bucket 3 categories is just to get them wrong fast and use that time and mental energy elsewhere. Don’t bother trying to turn your biggest weakness into a strength. Don’t spend 10 hours studying combinatorics, when most people see 0 or 1 combinatorics question on the real test. Focus on the low-hanging fruit in bucket 2.

In sum…

If you’re within 100 points of your goal score, then you may be able to get there in the 2 to 2.5 months before second-round deadlines. If you’re more than 100 points away, you can (and should!) still go for it, of course, but be realistic and have a plan B. (In fact, I would have a plan B even if I were within 100 points of my goal.)

In general, make sure to:

(1) Cement the GMAT mindset. (It’s not a school test; it’s a business / decision-making test.)

(2) Fix your timing. Everyone has timing issues; figure out your own issues and make them better.

(3) Focus on the low-hanging fruit! Start with careless errors. Next, concentrate on improving moderate weaknesses. Guess quickly on your biggest weaknesses and use that time elsewhere on the test.

Manhattan GMAT

Studying for the GMAT? Take our free GMAT practice exam or sign up for a free GMAT trial class running all the time near you, or online. And, be sure to find us on Facebook and Google+, LinkedIn, and follow us on Twitter!

Breaking Down B-School Admissions


Are You Prepared for B-School Admissions?

Join Manhattan GMAT and three other leaders in the MBA admissions space—mbaMission, Poets & Quants, and MBA Career Coaches—for an invaluable series of free workshops to help you put together a successful MBA application—from your GMAT score to application essays to admissions interviews to post-acceptance internships.

We hope you’ll join us for as many events in this series as you can. Please sign up for each sessions separately via the links below—space is limited.


Session 1: Assessing Your MBA Profile,
GMAT 101: Sections, Question Types & Study Strategies
Monday, September 8 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Click here to watch the recording

Session 2: Mastering the MBA Admissions Interview,
Conquering Two 800-Level GMAT Problems
Wednesday, September 10 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Click here to watch the recording

Session 3: 9 Rules for Creating Standout B-School Essays,
Hitting 730: How to Get a Harvard-Level GMAT Score
Monday, September 15 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Click here to watch the recording

Session 4: 7 Pre-MBA Steps to Your Dream Internship,
Survival Guide: 14 Days to Study for the GMAT
Wednesday, September 17 (8:00 – 10:00 PM EDT)
Sign up here.

We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan).

The MIT Sloan School of Management bucks conventionality this admissions season and has added to the word count for its application essays—moving from a maximum of 1,000 words to 1,250. The school’s first essay question remains the same as last year’s, but its second essay prompt presents an interesting challenge in that the admissions committee asks you to do exactly what it does not want you to do in reality: write your own recommendation letter. At least in this case, the school is allowing you to do so in the light of day. Thankfully, perhaps, Sloan has dropped its befuddling optional essay, which had invited applicants to share any additional information in any format. Candidates will be content to see clearer directives in the program’s essay questions. As always, our analysis follows…

MIT SloanEssay 1:  The mission of the MIT Sloan School of Management is to develop principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice. Discuss how you will contribute toward advancing the mission based on examples from your past work and activities. (500 words or fewer)

We’ve invited mbaMission to share their Business School Essays Analyses as they’re released for the 2014-2015 application season. Here is their analysis for University of Michigan (Ross). 

The Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan has refashioned its essay questions, going “smaller” with its requirements, as have several other schools this application season. Ross’s broadly worded essay prompts give you ample breadth—if not an overabundance of words—in which to tell your story. As always, think carefully about what you want to say and the impression you want to make before you start writing, because more opportunity lurks here than you might realize at first.

Michigan RossEssay 1: What are you most proud of professionally and why? What did you learn from that experience? (400 words)