GMAT as a Key to Successful MBA Application

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in MBA Admission

helpful mba_tipsWhat distinguishes successful applicants, those who are admitted to business schools, from those who fail? There are multiple answers, of course: poor preparation for GMAT or TOEFL, inferior essays or recommendations, lack of self-confidence and other factors can contribute to failure.

A more interesting and perhaps more relevant explanation paraphrases the opening of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Rephrased to fit the business school application scenario, , "Successful applications are all alike; every rejected application failed in its own way." Accurately defining what is important, and then timing and planning it right, accounts for the greatest input into most successful MBA applications...and that's exactly what makes them alike.

The MBA application experience

The application process is all about confusion. If you look closely at all the things prospective students have to go through, you will surely agree.

The typical MBA applicant has a to-do list similar to this one:

  • Decide when to apply, and plan the whole process;
  • Choose your target business schools;
  • Prepare for and take the TOEFL or IELTS and the GMAT;
  • Write several essays for each school;
  • Find contacts who are willing to write recommendations and will do it well;
  • Get undergraduate transcripts and collect other important forms and documents;
  • Mail completed application packages to selected schools;
  • Wait for an invitation to interview.

How demanding! Not everybody is ready to undertake this challenge. First, you must figure out how to tackle the process effectively.

Let's examine the most important elements of the application process. Obviously, a few major tasks from the to-do list can get you into trouble, and they deserve your focus.

All in all, there are four critical tasks: (1) TOEFL or IELTS, (2) GMAT, (3) essays, and (4) recommendations. Many candidates who want to hit the ground running see the language test as their first challenge (assuming they don't have a waiver). Putting language first, however, may be one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

It's all about the GMAT

Even a quick scan of the four critical tasks shows how similar they are. Look first at the TOEFL. This test is used to measure applicants' English proficiency. It consists of four sections: Reading, Listening, Speaking, and Writing. All four sections are administered on the same day, and the entire test takes about 4 hours. Now compare that to the GMAT format. It has three sections—Analytical Writing Assessment, Quantitative (Math) Section, and Verbal Section; it's also about 4 hours long; and, surprise!—it's in English. Nearly all successful applicants will likely admit that the GMAT is much more difficult than the TOEFL. After you prepare and pass the verbal (reading and writing) section of the GMAT, therefore, the equivalent portions of the TOEFL will appear to you as child's play.

TOEFL's speaking and listening sections have no GMAT equivalent, but your GMAT preparation will boost your active vocabulary and your ability to put your thoughts into words more accurately and logically. This means that after passing GMAT, you'll need very little time to prepare for the TOEFL. All that's left is to learn test logic.

Are you wondering, "What about the essays and recommendations? Will GMAT preparation also contribute to these tasks?" The answer is yes. After cracking the tough writing assessments in the GMAT, you'll find yourself much more ready to write a dozen or so essays. Clearly, mastering writing skills also will play its part in the quality of your recommendations. Your recommenders may not know how or what to write in their letters; first-rate guidance will be useful to them and helpful to you.

The bottom line is this. You need much less total preparation time if you start your preparation with the GMAT and proceed to the TOEFL. Prepare yourself for the GMAT, and then attack the differences between it and other elements of your application package. Allocating enough time for GMAT preparation is key to achieving a high score on the TOEFL.

Timing your GMAT

The other question, which follows from the discussion above, is how much time you should allocate to be well prepared for the GMAT. Some might say three months, others only two. It depends on circumstances, of course, but if possible, condense your preparation time to few weeks of intensive study and practice.

Here's your roadmap.

1. Find out where closest test center is and register for the GMAT, choosing the best available time and date for you. Doing this first gives you a concrete target date, which establishes an effective framework for your preparation.

2. Next, learn about the GMAT. Become familiar with its structure and content. What will you need to know? What kinds of problems will you have to solve? How will the questions look? How will you give your answers?

3. When your test date is looming on the horizon about a month away, it's time to start studying. If you can, take a vacation and attack your GMAT preparation aggressively for 2-3 weeks. It is better to study intensively every day for a few weeks than to spread your efforts over a month or two with days off and excuses for skipping your studies.

4. Now, have a rest before the test. Even though you think you still have a lot to study, there is not much you can do in last day or two before your test.

5. Finally, on the day of the test, read or listen to something easy and interesting. Challenge your brain to start working, but don't push it much. Your aim is to warm up, not to burn out.

6. Go take your test...prepared, refreshed, and ready to succeed.

Take the GMAT seriously

How you do something can be more important than what you do. This has become a cliché because it is so often true. Setting up the right priorities and establishing an appropriate pace will play a major part in success. Effective GMAT preparation is crucial for MBA applications. It is the backbone of the package. It's a mistake to underestimate the significance of GMAT preparation: those who don't pay enough attention to it too often find their applications rejected. Do you need another reason to take the GMAT seriously?

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