For nuts and bolts questions about the GMAT or GRE, like …
How many sections are there?
- What is the timing for each section?
- What is the highest possible score?
- How do I register?
… I’ll refer you the GMAT and GRE official websites:
Should I take the GMAT or the GRE?
Most graduate programs require a GRE score. Business schools generally will accept a GMAT or a GRE score. Law schools generally require a LSAT score (although some now accept the GRE) and if you’re applying to med school, I’m afraid you’ll have to take the MCAT.
The general take on the GMAT vs. GRE is that the GMAT quant is harder and more conceptual, and the GRE quant is more straightforward. The GRE has a lot of vocabulary questions — most students need to memorize 500-700 words. Both tests have reading comp and critical reasoning questions.
If you’re applying to business school, most schools now accept either the GMAT or the GRE (check with your target schools to make sure). If you’re unsure which test is the right fit for you, I would advise taking a practice test of each and see which one you like better. If you have a non-quantitative background, you might consider taking the GMAT to show the schools you’re up to the quantitative challenges you’ll encounter in business school.
If you are not applying to business school (or law school or med school), then the GRE is the way to go. Again, check with your target schools and the program you want to apply to.
What material is covered on the GMAT and GRE?
The math and English skills covered on the GMAT and GRE generally don’t go beyond what most of us learned by freshman or sophomore year in high school. (We know … it makes us feel stupid every single day!)
The math is primarily Algebra I and Basic Geometry. Nobody will ask you to solve differential equations or even use trigonometry.
The English is also pretty basic. On harder questions, you will encounter advance or technical vocabulary and complicated sentence structures. And the GRE will definitely test you on esoteric vocabulary. But nobody is going to expect you to analyze Moby Dick or decipher a single sentence of Virginia Woolf (which, of course, is impossible).
If the GMAT and GRE only cover basic English and math, why are they so friggin’ hard?!
That is a very important question and gets right to the heart of how the GMAT and GRE work.
The GMAT and GRE are only sort of tests of your English and math skills. You can have excellent quantitative and language skill and still bomb the tests. In fact, that’s quite common.
The GMAT and the GRE expect you (on both the quant and verbal sides of the tests) to take the information you’re given and make certain inferences or logical leaps. What really drives your score is your ability to decode the questions, spot the inferences and know what to do.
For a fuller explanation of how all this works, please see “How We Raise Your Score.”
What is a good score on the GMAT or GRE?
The best score you can possibly post on either test is the score that gets you into the right school for you. The GMAT and GRE do NOT accurately measure your intelligence, how well you will do in grad school or how well you did in college.
The GMAT and GRE measure one thing and one thing only: How well you did on the GMAT or GRE.
That means your scores are good for one thing only — getting you into grad school (and lying about your scores later at cocktail parties!). So find out what the median score is for your school (the schools usually post that information on their website) and target that score. If you are targeting elite scores, generally a GMAT score of 700+ and a GRE score of 322+ will get your application read seriously.
How many times should I take the test?
First, let’s be clear that the goal is to take the test as few times as possible — get the testing in the rearview mirror where it belongs. Most things in your life (almost everything, in fact) are more important than a test score.
That said, you generally want to take the test until you are close to the median score for your target schools. If you are targeting elite programs, you generally want a GMAT score of 700+ and/or a GRE of 322+. Those scores will generally get you by the admissions filter and get your application read seriously.
Students who I coach sometimes take the test just one time. It can be hard to nail it on your first attempt. On average, it’s not unusual for students to take the test two times and sometimes three times. Four times is less usual but not unheard of, especially for the GMAT which has an adaptive algorithm that can make getting your score seem elusive.
Both the GMAT and the GRE limit you to five attempts during the calendar year. The GMAT makes you wait about two weeks between attempts and the GRE makes you wait about three weeks between attempts.
How important are test scores for my application?
Generally speaking, test scores alone won’t get you into any school or program. What they really do is get you past a quantitative filter in the application process. The goal is to get your application put into the pile that gets read and evaluated seriously by the admissions team. Your test scores are one quantitative element (along with GPA, school ranking, class rank, etc.) that many admissions departments use as an early application filter. After that, the schools will look at your scores in the overall context of your application.
How much will I have to study to get the score I want?
The predictable but unsatisfying answer to that question is … it depends. It depends on what score you are capable of posting now and how far away that is from your target score. It also depends on how quickly you adjust to the very particular (and very peculiar) way the tests want you to absorb and evaluate information.
I can offer you some context and share with you some averages I’ve observed over the years I’ve coached these tests. If you are targeting an elite score (over 700 on the GMAT and over 322 on the GRE), I can tell you that your competition is probably studying about 15–20 hours per week. (We know!) That doesn’t mean you necessarily need to study that much, but based on my experience, that’s what your peers are doing.
Regardless of your target score, the single biggest driver of score increase that I’ve observed is time spent practicing. There is nothing so special or precious about these tests that they don’t work just like everything else in life: The more you practice, the better you get. After you understand how the tests work, simply practice as much as you can.
Should I take the quant test prep and the verbal test prep at the same time?
It depends on your timing and how much time you have to study. If you take both together, you will finish after about 12 weeks. But remember, you are doubling up on homework. If you take them separately, it will take longer to complete the course, but the pace will be much easier to maintain — especially important for those of you who have pretty stressful jobs. Also, some lucky people are already pretty good at either the verbal or quant sides of the test and only need to focus on one side.