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When to Take the GMAT: How to Get Into Your Dream MBA Program

Updated on August 30, 2012
Cambridge University in England - one of the most prestigious and well known universities around the world.
Cambridge University in England - one of the most prestigious and well known universities around the world. | Source

About 25% of all masters degrees given are in the field of business. With the MBA being the most prestigious masters degree, it is certainly a valuable diploma to add to your wall. And because it can be acquired in as little as a year sometimes, it provides a great step up when the job market is struggling.

As with most degrees, the university providing the degree can be as important as the degree itself in setting a student up for a successful future. While MBA graduates from an online campus may receive starting salaries under $50,000, someone who receives a degree from an Ivy League university can expect a starting salary well over $100,000. This is important to consider because one's starting salary and position can play a huge role in the graduates entire career.

When it comes to getting into a good MBA program, there are three aspects of the potential student that graduate schools examine:

  1. Past GPA
  2. Work and life experiences
  3. GMAT Score

By the time someone is getting ready to study the MBA, it is likely to late to make any big changes to the first two categories. Being done, or nearly done with college means that ones GPA is already set. Additionally, unless the decision is made to take a few more years to gain work experience or pull a ridiculous publicity stunt as a life experience, there is little one can do here.

The one aspect of someones chances for entrance into an MBA that still has the potential to give that extra push needed to get into the desired school is the GMAT. Taking the GMAT at the write time is essential for achieving the best possible results and gaining acceptance into the desired universities.

GMAT To-Do List

  1. Look up application deadlines for MBA programs that interest you.
  2. Set up a test date at least 3 weeks before the application deadline (preferably more) on mba.com. Hopefully you can do this several months before you need to take it.
  3. Purchase a review book (I recommend books by the Princeton Review - and remember that the test has a new section as of 2012, so buy a newer book for best results).
  4. Consider signing up for a review class in your area or online.
  5. Download the free review software on mba.com and do the full-length practice tests that come with it (strive to do the entire 4 hour test in one sitting to gain an accurate impression of how the real test works).

Before Taking the GMAT

The sooner that a future student makes up his mind to take the GMAT, the better. Just as with many admissions tests, you can never prepare too much. Because the test covers very broad concepts, it is impossible to "cram" for the GMAT. The key to success is to continually improve ones quantitative, verbal, and vocabulary skills.

Three things that can greatly improve ones score on the graduate exam are:

  1. Purchase or borrow a review book: these books provide insights into the types of questions shown on the test AND reveal secrets to overcome little "tricks" that are sometimes present in the exam.
  2. Sign up for a review class: Committing to spending a couple of hours a week studying, doing assignments to assist in reviewing, and being able to ask questions about confusing sections, can help someone score significantly higher.
  3. Take practice tests: By visiting MBA.com, one can download free practice software that includes 2 full length tests. Taking these tests will give a good understanding of ones strengths and weaknesses - providing a good base point to start studying from.

While it is possible to simply take the examine without any studying, the more that one prepares ahead of time, the better score she will receive. If a student is interested in gaining acceptance into a prestigious university, it is a good idea to spend a significant amount of time preparing.

When to Take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)

Because the test must be taken at an official testing center, it is necessary to schedule it ahead of time. One cannot simply walk in and take the examine. Therefore, it is very important to plan ahead.

There are two things to consider when deciding the best time to take the GMAT.

  1. Make sure that you have enough time to study: Will you be able to review enough in order to score high enough? The test costs $250 so you do not want to have to take it many times. Spend enough time preparing the first time so that you can successfully receive a score that you are satisfied with.
  2. Finish it in time to apply to the universities you are interested in: While a student will receive the score immediately after finishing the test, it will take about 20 days for the graduate school to receive the official test scores. Many graduate schools have cutoff dates in December of January for entrance into the following years program. Therefore, make sure that the school will receive your test scores before the deadline.

How to Sign-Up for the GMAT

Go to mba.com and search for a testing center in your location. Centers are usually located in larger cities - so if you live in a rural community, you may have to drive an hour or two. And the early you can sign up for the test, the better - most testing centers fill up pretty fast - especially around Christmas time when everyone is finished with finals and graduate school applications are done.

Remember, the test takes 4 hours and often starts at 8 am or 1 pm, so plan accordingly.

If you plan ahead, sign up for the exam, and start studying and reviewing like crazy, you will have the opportunity to score much higher on the test than you otherwise would.

Things to Consider About the GMAT

There are several important considerations to make when deciding if/when to take the Graduate Management Admission Test. These include:

  • The GMAT is only good for business school: Do not confuse it with the GRE - which is the entrance exam for most PhD and masters programs outside of the world of business. In addition, there is the MCAT for medical students and the LSAT for law students (which hopefully you are already aware of if you are planning on going into one of those fields.
  • A GMAT test score is only good for 5 years: You want to make sure that you are planning on apply to universities soon if you take the GMAT. It would be a bummer to have to retake it because you waited too long.
  • You can retake the test, but your original score remains: While it is possible, and recommended, to take the test again if you do poorly, remember that graduate schools will still see your original score. Some universities accept people based on the most recent score, others on the highest score, and still others based on an average. Consider this when looking at taking or retaking the GMAT.

What is a Good Score on the GMAT?

The range for the GMAT is 200-800. That means that the lowest score you can receive is a 200, the highest is 800. Few people end up at either extreme. Here are the traditional scores that people receive when taking the GMAT:

  • 500 points = this is the average.
  • 600 points = this is considered good and may get you some scholarships and smaller universities.
  • 700 points = this is the score needed to gain acceptance into prestigious MBA programs and doctoral programs.

Ultimately, the score depends on what you are wanting to do. If simply getting an MBA is your goal, than a lower score is not as important (you may not even need to take the test). However, if desiring scholarships, acceptance into a prestigious school, or continuing on to get a PhD, then it is important to strive for a higher score around 600-700.

As you begin researching different schools, programs, and review material, I wish you the best of luck! Remember that the MBA can open doors that one may never have access to otherwise. If you remain committed, study hard, and plan ahead, entering the school of your dreams can be a reality.

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