Tests Battle: What Test Should Be Taken First?

Written by Kelly Granson. Posted in MBA Admission

sport boxIn order to fulfill the MBA application requirements of most business schools, you have to take two tests: a language test such as TOEFL or IELTS and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

This raises an important question. Which test should you start with? Should you test your language first? Or would it be better to try the GMAT, since you think you're well prepared for those analytic and math assessments. Either choice may be right. The better choice for you personally depends on your skills and timetable.

A quick comparison shows that the language tests are quite similar.

Descriptions of the language tests

TOEFLIELTS Academic Module
Content and OrganizationListening
Speaking (Break after first two tests)
Speaking (Break after first two tests)
Reading AssessmentTime Limit: 60–80 minutes
Questions: 36–56 questions
Task: read three or four passages from academic texts, and then answer questions
Time Limit: 60 minutes
Questions: 40 questions
Task: read for main ideas and read for detail; understand inferences and implied meaning; recognize writer’s opinions, attitudes, and purpose; follow development of argument
ListeningTime Limit: 60–90 minutes
Questions: 34–51 questions
Task: listen to lectures, classroom discussions, and conversations, then answer questions about them
Time Limit: 30 minutes plus up to 10 minutes of transfer time
Questions: 40 questions
Task: show understanding of main ideas and specific information; recognize opinions, attitudes, and purpose of speaker; follow development of argument
SpeakingTime Limit: 20 minutes
Questions: six tasks
Task: express an opinion on a familiar topic; speak based on previous reading and listening tasks
Time Limit: 11-14 minutes
Questions: 3-part face-to-face oral interview with an examiner
Task: communicate opinions and information on everyday topics and common experiences and situations by answering a range of questions; speak at length on a given topic using appropriate language and organizing ideas coherently; express and justify opinions and analyze, discuss, and speculate about issues
WritingTime Limit: 5Time Limit: 50 minutes
Questions: two tasks
Task: Write essays based on previous reading and listening tasks; support an opinion in writing
0 minutes
Time Limit: 60 Time Limit: 60 minutes
Questions: two tasks
Task: organize, present, and possibly compare data; describe the stages of a process or procedure; describe an object or event or sequence of events; explain how something works; present a solution to a problem; present and justify an opinion; compare and contrast evidence, opinions, and implications
Total TimeFrom 3 hours 20 minutes to 4 hours 10 minutes, including one 10-minute breakApproximately 2 hours 50 minutes, including transfer time in the Listening section; no breaks 
Score ScaleFrom 0 to 120 pointsFrom 0 to 9 points
FeesFees vary by country, usually between $160 and $250Fees vary by country; expect to pay about $230-250

Compared to either language test, the GMAT is not directly addressed to language skill but is more directly focused on problems of reasoning and analyzing. However, solving these problems requires high-level language skills, and the Verbal section, of course, is all about understanding English.

Description of the GMAT DetailDescription
Content and OrganizationAnalytical Writing Assessment
Integrated Reasoning
Analytical Writing AssessmentTime Limit: 30 minutes
Questions: 1 essay
Task: analyze the reasoning behind a given argument and evaluate the argument.
Integrated ReasoningTime Limit: 30 minutes
Questions: 12 questions
Tasks: analyze and synthesize data in different formats and from multiple sources
Quantitative SectionTime Limit: 75 minutes
Questions: 37 questions
Tasks: reason quantitatively, solve quantitative problems, interpret graphic data
Verbal SectionTime Limit: 75 minutes
Questions: 41 questions
Task: read and comprehend written material; reason and evaluate arguments; correct written material to conform to standard written English
Total Time3 hours 30 minutes plus optional breaks
Score ScaleFrom 200 to 800 points

So which test should come first? It's a personal choice, finally. But you should know this: the GMAT will challenge your language skills more than TOEFL or IELTS. Most test-takers agree that after the GMAT, scoring well on the language test is a piece of cake.

So if your command of English is intermediate or below, you should definitely start by studying for the language test. It will prepare you for the GMAT and give you time to improve your English.

If you have achieved advanced mastery of English, go ahead and start with the GMAT. Once it's out of the way, you can toss off the language test and move forward.

For most candidates, the language test should come first, simply based on language skills.

Test order

Language Skills /
Prep Time Available
Short of TimeSome TimeA lot of Time
Poor1. Language test
1. Language test
1. Language test
Intermediate1. Language test
1. Language test
1. Language test
Advanced1. GMAT
2. Language test
2. Language test
2. Language test

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