Thursday, 4 October 2012

Taking the GRE or the GMAT

Applicants who are not U.S. citizens do not have to take either the GRE or the GMAT to apply to SAIS Bologna. But we strongly recommend that candidates take one or the other.


Because these tests can provide important signals to both the candidate and to our Admissions Committee. A relatively strong score can help a candidate; a relatively weak score can send up a warning flag -- again, to both the applicant and Admissions.

What is relatively strong or relatively weak? Here are the ranges of scores attained by the middle 50% of SAIS MA candidates who enrolled this year:

GRE                                                                      GMAT
Verbal: 158-165                                                    Verbal: 34-42
Quantitative: 154-161                                            Quantitative: 38-49

Keep in mind that 25% of this year's entering students scored above those ranges and 25% scored below.

A few points to emphasize:
  • A GRE or GMAT score will generally not make or break an application. We look at the entire application -- undergraduate transcript, CV, statement of purpose, analytical essay, letters of recommendation -- and we interview all candidates. We recognize that these standardized tests do not paint a complete picture.
  • Like the English proficiency exams, the GRE and GMAT can give candidates an idea of whether they are ready to tackle the SAIS challenge. Graduate school is a major investment of time, energy and money, and it's important that a candidate be confident that it will be worth the effort.
  • The earlier you sign up for one of these exams, the better. That way you leave yourself the possibility of taking it a second time to improve your score.
  • Also, be sure to have your scores sent directly to SAIS. The GRE code for SAIS is 5610-0000; the GMAT code is KGB-GX-99.
We asked two of this year's SAIS Bologna students, Antonio Skarica and Markus Wilthaner, to discuss their experiences taking these tests.

Antonio Skarica (Croatia)

The best advice I can give to students who are thinking about taking the GRE is to start studying early and to take a few practice exams. The material on the GRE exam is not very difficult, and most college students are familiar with the topics they are going to be tested on.

People with different academic backgrounds can find some of the sections a bit more challenging. However, by starting studying early and using some of the GRE preparation books, you can help yourself.

Antonio Skarica
Before doing any studying, I would recommend taking a practice exam to see what your strengths and weaknesses are. Once you do that, you can make an outline of all the topics that you need to familiarize yourself with and spend a few weeks doing some of the practice questions.

Make sure to take the whole exam in one sitting. While most of you are great at writing essays, doing reading exercises and solving math problems, doing all of these tasks in less than five hours can be extremely challenging. Imagine writing an English essay after taking a two-hour math exam. Sound difficult? Well, that is essentially what you will be expected to do on the GRE. Taking the whole exam at once is the real challenge.

Be sure to start early. Most non-native English speakers find the verbal section somewhat challenging. That is because many of the vocabulary words are not necessarily part of colloquial English.

While it is nearly impossible to learn 2,000 vocabulary words in just a few weeks before the exam, getting a set of vocabulary flash cards and learning a few new words every day is quite feasible. You won’t necessarily remember every single word, but your vocabulary will definitely improve and you are more likely to do better on the exam.

Also, give yourself enough time to “figure out” the exam. I personally think the most challenging aspect of preparation is figuring out how to approach different types of questions. The only way to do this is to answer as many practice questions as possible. It will help you get used to the format of the exam and test your knowledge of the material.

Markus Wilthaner (Austria)

The GMAT can be helpful in applying to graduate schools. While SAIS Bologna does not require non-U.S. candidates to take the GMAT, it can complement your application nicely. The GMAT tests your logic, some fundamental math and your English skills. If you are good at these, you should have no problem achieving a high score -- but be aware that you need to prepare for the test, no matter how good you are.

Markus Wilthaner
I prepared with the “The Official Guide for GMAT Review”, which provides the background you need for the test, a diagnosis test as well as plenty of examples.

When you work through these exercises, make sure you don’t tackle only the first few and then move on to the next chapter because the questions tend to become more difficult the further you are into the section.

If there is an area that is particularly challenging, there are numerous additional resources out there -- more books from GMAC, websites, forums, etc. These resources are great, but make sure the ones you use refer to the current version of the test. The test has changed significantly over time, and some websites and books still have questions from old sections that are no longer on the test. Also recently a completely new section called “integrated reasoning” has been added.

All in all, the GMAT is nothing to worry about too much. If you spend two to three hours a day for two to three weeks, you should be well prepared.

You can check available test times and how far ahead you should book them on the official website by simply starting to register and then cancelling the transaction. The tests are not cheap and moving the date after registration costs extra.

You can also take the test multiple times, but in that case you would obviously have to pay multiple times. Different schools have different policies for multiple GMAT scores, so that’s something to be aware of.

Last but not least, you can save a few dollars by designating schools that should receive your scores before the test. If you do that afterwards, you again have to pay for each score report.

All the best for the tests and don’t stress out. If you look at the tests as an intellectual game it can be actually quite fun.