In parts one and two of our series, we discussed the purpose of the GMAT and GRE for business school admissions, as well as the differences in the test structures and the skills you will need to tackle each of them. 

But how do you decide which test is best for you, and how do you prepare to score well? In this final part, we will provide some tips and a five-step plan to get you started. 

As with any recommendation, we cannot stress enough that your mileage may vary.

Ultimately, the best way for you to truly understand which of these two tests is more suited to your personal strengths is to give each one a try.

The good news here is that both GMAC and ETS (the organisations that administer the GMAT and GRE respectively) offer free sample tests that closely replicate your actual experience, so trying them out will give you a very good sense of your baseline performance and preference. 

However, we recognise that this is very time-consuming especially for working professionals, and you may want a few guidelines and tips to point you in the right direction.

To fulfill that need, here are a few quick litmus tests you can try on your own.

Question 1
Of the words below, how many do you know the definitions of without checking a dictionary?

  • Loquacious
  • Pernicious
  • Abnegation
  • Laconic
  • Prevarication
  • Perspicacity
  • Amalgamation
  • Moribund
  • Castigation
  • Saturnine


Question 2
A straight line on a Cartesian plane intersects the x-axis at (0,6). For this line to have a positive, non-zero gradient, what are the possible values of its y-intercept? (Select all that apply)

a)    3    
b)   1.5    
c)   15     
d)   -1    
e)   -15


Question 3
“It is raining, so you should take an umbrella!” Which of the following, if true, would invalidate this advice the most?

a)    I do not like having to carry an umbrella.
b)    I am only going out later.
c)    I enjoy being soaked by the rain.


Question 4
A school has two language courses: Japanese and French. Every student in the school must take at least one course.

There are 20% more students studying Japanese than there are studying French. 30 students study both Japanese and French.

Is there sufficient information above to calculate how many students attend this school?

If you found Questions 1 and 2 to be easier, you might want to consider taking the GRE. If you found Questions 3 and 4 to be easier, you could consider taking the GMAT.

Again, we have to emphasise that this is a very rough indicator, and we definitely encourage you to put time aside and take at least one of the full samples!


What should you do next?

Take a piece of paper and get yourself a pen. At the top of your paper, write down today’s date. Then, at the bottom of the page, write down a date that is roughly three months away. Underline that date, or circle it. Do anything you like to highlight and emphasise it. That is your target date for completing your GMAT or GRE.

From today, you are going to complete a series of steps that will allow you to clear your test by that target date.

Step 1

Based on your improved understanding of each test, decide which one to focus on. Go to the test website, create an account, and do a full sample test. This is an extremely important step for two reasons.

Firstly, going through a full sample can help you understand if you have the skills that are being tested. Secondly, the score of your mock test is a very important benchmark to help you identify how much preparation you need.

Step 2

Check out the test requirements of your preferred business school. Each school has a different approach to assessing test performance.

For example, INSEAD prefers a balanced score with good percentiles in both the V and Q sections.

Measure that against your benchmark score from step one to see how much improvement (if any) is needed.

While INSEAD does not have a minimum GMAT score required for admission, we advise candidates to aim for a score as close as possible or above 640. For the Integrated Reasoning section, we recommend achieving a score of 6 or above.

If you opt for the GRE, we advise candidates to aim for a score above 80% for the quantitative and verbal sections of the GRE.

Please keep in mind, however, that standardised tests are just one of several admissions criteria. A high score does not guarantee admission, and a below average score does not eliminate a candidate.

Step 3

Plan your preparation strategy according to the score gap. If you are less than 10 percentile points away from your target, self-study and practice should be sufficient. Make use of the free practice questions from the test websites.

If you are between 10 to 20 percentile points from target, consider buying a prep guide to get access to a wider range of sample questions and detailed answer guides.

If you are more than 20 percentile points from target, consider enrolling yourself in a prep class so you get a structured, supportive environment to help you prepare yourself intensively.

Step 4

Implement a preparation schedule.

Nothing beats consistent practice, and you will benefit more from completing three questions a day over a month than from rushing 100 questions in a single day.

Set aside 15 minutes a day to attempt practice questions and review your approach. Challenge yourself to keep an unbroken streak – for every seven continuous days of study, reward yourself with something nice!

Step 5

After about two months of your preparation schedule, do another full sample test (good thing that both GMAC and ETS provide two free tests each, or alternatively, try our free GMAT mock test here). This is when you see your hard work pay off!

Keep in mind that the higher your benchmark score, the more difficult it will be to progress, so if you started off with a 680 in the GMAT, do not be discouraged with “only” a 710 in your second attempt.

If you are comfortable with this score, book an appointment to do the actual test no later than two weeks from your second sample. If you are still falling short of your target, return to step one, draw up a new timeline, and start over.

On your piece of paper, draw an arrow connecting the two dates. Mark notches along this arrow for each step and write down a date beside each notch. Check that this timeline makes sense. Once done, paste this piece of paper somewhere visible, or better yet, take a photo and share it with your family or friends!

Commit to this plan and you will see your efforts bear fruit.


Parting Notes

It is always important to keep in mind the bigger picture behind your GMAT or GRE. A good postgraduate education can literally be a life-changer: this is something that many INSEAD alumni will testify to. While it may seem like a thankless slog, remember why you are doing this! 

We also want to stress that your GMAT or GRE, while important, is not everything. Most top business schools apply a holistic evaluation model, and INSEAD is no exception. Even as you give your test your best effort, never allow your score to limit your exploration.

After all, if schools do not reject you on the basis of your score alone, why should you reject yourself?

Clearing the GMAT or GRE is a major milestone for any prospective postgraduate student. Preparing yourself for one takes discipline, commitment, and a good support network.

You do not have to do this on your own. Involve your friends, family, or other peers. There are several forums online where test takers freely share advice, frustrations, and words of encouragement – feel free to join those if you want.

We hope that you found this series of articles helpful. Aside from informing you about the differences between the GMAT and GRE, we hope that we also gave you some direction on getting started with your preparation. More importantly, we hope you are now motivated to succeed!

Written by Brendon Low

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