Should I take the GMAT or GRE for business school?

Most top programs now accept either the GMAT or the GRE, with no preference for one over the other. So the first consideration should be whether you think you want to apply to other types of graduate programs. If an MBA is just one of the graduate degrees you are considering, or you want to leave options open without taking an additional test, then it might be smart to take the GRE, which is required for the majority of graduate programs outside of law, business, and medicine.

If you’re only looking at business school, then the best way to decide is by taking the free online tests provided by GMAC and ETS, the companies that administer the GMAT and the GRE, respectively. Some people are more inclined toward one test or the other. After taking the free tests, you can compare your scores to see on which you perform the best. 

How do I compare my scores from the GRE with the GMAT?

ETS provides a handy online tool where you can input your GRE scores to find your estimated GMAT equivalency.

When should I take my test?

Tests are good for five years, so don’t take them while you’re still in high school. However, do take them well before you plan to apply, preferably a year or two in advance. Test prep and test taking are time consuming and stressful, and it will help you immensely with the rest of the application process if you get this out of the way well ahead of starting your apps. You may also want to have time to retake if you don’t initially do as well as you had anticipated. As a general rule of thumb, to feel confident in your score, it should fall at or above the average GMAT of the programs you are interested in.

Is it bad to take the GMAT or GRE multiple times?

When schools get your score reports, they can see how many times you have tested and how you did each time. If you took the test two or three times and were able to improve on the second or third attempt, that’s not going to look bad; you’ve demonstrated that you are able and willing to tackle a challenge and improve your skills. However, if you’ve taken the test upward of five times with no improvement, that may not reflect as well on you.

Generally, it’s not worth retaking the test unless you have time to implement an effective test prep strategy before taking the test again. You can’t expect much to change if you don’t revamp or intensify your study approach. Unless, of course, you were sick or had some other strange occurrence the night before or morning of your test.

Should I take a test prep course?

This is a decision best left to the individual. Personally, I like classroom interaction, the ability to ask questions, and the structure and accountability of having to show up to class at regular intervals and set times. For me, the price of a classroom course was extremely worthwhile.

If you are a great test taker, or the type who can pick up a test review book, read it, and memorize the whole thing, front to back, then a test prep course is probably not a good use of your time or money.

If you are somewhere in the middle, try taking a look at a test prep book, take some free online tests, and see where you stand. If you want to improve your score a lot, either before you take it the first time or before you retake, and aren’t sure if you can do it on your own, look into a test prep class, online or in person. There is also some strategy for the computer adapted test and test prep companies make a point of helping you with this. Prices can seem high, but classes tend to yield decent returns. Good test prep companies will offer you your money back if your score doesn’t improve through their services.

I recommend thinking about these options before you test for the first time. Again, if you think you will do reasonably well, it probably doesn’t make sense to take a test prep course at the outset. However, the GMAT costs $250 each time you sit for it, so you may want to be thoughtful about it before charging ahead and charging up a big bill on exams.

I can’t get my test score up. Will it help my application to take some non-degree quant courses and include the grades in my app?

No. I would very much encourage you to spend the money you would use to pay for a course on more intensive test prep and then retaking your GMAT or GRE. A slightly higher test score will go much further than an A grade in a non-degree quant course. Of course, if you want to take a finance or accounting course before business school so that you feel more comfortable with the material, then by all means, go for it.

Sarah DeGraaf
Having earned her MBA from NYU Stern, Sarah served as an MBA admissions officer for nearly a decade at NYU. She has a deep knowledge of top-ranked MBA programs and what's required of applicants who hope to earn admission.