You’ve taken your share of standardized tests, so you know that preparation can make a difference. And when it comes to preparing for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE)—or, for business school, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)—you have lots of options.
How do you choose? Take an online practice test to get a sense of where you stand. Consider your schedule and learning style, and decide which option might work best for you. Here’s a step-by-step guide to help.
Step 1: Determine which exam (if any) your grad schools require. Test requirements vary, so check with each program you’re considering. Be sure to note which tests are required, the range of scores that’s expected and the deadline to submit them.
The most commonly required exam is the GRE General Test, which measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing skills. More selective programs may require—or recommend—that you provide scores from one or more of the six GRE Subject Tests in biology, chemistry, literature in English, mathematics, physics or psychology.
The GMAT tends to be the preferred test for MBA programs, although some will accept either the GMAT or GRE. Here again, for each program you’re considering, research whether one exam is preferred over the other. Take your future career goals into account, as well. Experts caution that management consulting firms typically require applicants to submit GMAT scores.
Some programs will waive GRE or GMAT requirements for applicants who meet specific criteria. Other programs don’t require the achievement tests at all. Even so, most experts recommend you take either the GRE or GMAT just in case. Many also suggest you take the test either during or soon after your undergraduate years, while the material is fresh in your mind.
Step 2: Draft a study schedule. Regardless of your studying style, a schedule can help you stay on track. Start with the application deadline and work backwards. Experts recommend that you allow three to six months of study time depending on how comfortable you are with the material and how many hours you can devote each day. Be sure to add 15 days to allow plenty of time for your test scores to be reported to your programs of choice.
Note: If you’re not sure when you’ll be enrolling, you can still take the test. Results are valid for five years.
Step 3: Register for the exam. Both the GRE and GMAT are offered at multiple locations, including Clarkson. Simply choose the date and location that’s most convenient and meets your schedule.
Step 4: If you haven’t taken that practice exam yet, do it now. Educational Testing Service (ETS), developer of the GRE, offers two free practice tests. For those taking the GMAT, the official GMAT site offers a free Official Starter Kit with two practice exams. After you’ve taken the practice tests, analyze the results and decide what you need to work on.
Step 5: Consider your options. There are many different ways to prepare for standardized tests. You can study on your own or with a group, hire a tutor for one-on-one help, take professional review courses—available at Clarkson—or rely on a combination of these approaches. There is no right or wrong way to prepare. It all boils down to personal preference and what is most likely to be successful for you.
Step 6: Put in the time. Stick with your study schedule and use the time strategically. Although it makes sense to focus on areas where you need improvement, it’s also important to take some practice tests from start to finish. This will help you get comfortable with the format and length of the test. For example, the GRE lets you skip questions and return to them later if time permits. This is not an option on the GMAT.
Step 7: Take the test. After the results come in, decide whether you’re happy with your scores or want to try again. Before scheduling a retake, make sure there’s enough time to get new results in time for your application deadlines. Also, consider the retake fee and the likelihood that your scores will improve enough to make the fee and additional study time worth your while.
Once you have the studying and the exams behind you, you can turn your attention to the rest of your grad school application.