Choosing between graduate exams

 Now that GRE scores are being accepted at many management schools, in addition to GMAT scores, one has a choice of exams, writes Arun Jagannathan.

In 2016, Indian School of Business (ISB) declared that it will be accepting Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores going forward, along with Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores. While such a move is not unprecedented in the business school arena, it did take a lot of aspirants by surprise. On the global front too, many business schools had already made the same move, hence fuelling the debate of GRE versus GMAT.

So, what does a student trying to get into a management programme that accepts both scores need to know about this new development to make an informed decision about which exam to take?

Opening the gates to GRE
From 2006 to 2016, the number of students admitted to ISB has gone up from 345 to 908. During this time, ISB has grown by leaps and bounds, opening up a new campus in Mohali in 2012. The huge increase in the number of students has presented a problem that any world class institute has to address — maintaining the quality of admitted students.

To better understand the dilemma here, let us look at an attribute known as ‘acceptance rate’. Acceptance rate is the number of people who are offered/number of applicants to the programme X 100. Since the number of students who are offered admission in ISB has increased almost threefold, in order to maintain the same acceptance rate (which correlates to quality admissions) the number of applicants should also have to increase accordingly.

In India, every year, around 25,000 students take the GMAT, and a fraction of them apply to ISB. This is not a great number when compared to an intake of over 900. The GRE is taken by one lakh students every year in India — hence, the decision of the ISB admission committee to accept GRE scores has been made primarily to get more applicants to their programme. This move will in turn help maintain the quality of students who are admitted to the institute.

A student’s dilemma
A lot of college students with higher education goals take a shot at the GRE soon after college. Many of them are looking for technical programmes abroad, while other are aiming at management programmes. Due to the wide array of programmes one can apply to with the GRE score, a higher number of students have been opting for GRE over GMAT.

This does not, however, mean that the GMAT is becoming obsolete in any way. While GRE applicants are mostly students who are fresh out of college, the GMAT is mainly given by candidates with quite a few years of industry experience. For the admission committee, especially in management programmes, this becomes an important distinction. Moreover, the acceptance of GRE scores is a recent phenomenon, and admission panels have no precedent to compare them with.

An applicant with a good GRE score was probably looking for a Master of Science (MS), but thought of giving a shot at a management programme as well. On the other hand, a good GMAT score would mean that the applicant is focused on getting into a B-school. Having said that, the applicant’s profile is also of utmost importance. A good score can get you an interview, but getting admitted into the university and course of your choice totally depends on your profile.

Regarding the difficulty and time required for preparation, GMAT and GRE are quite at par. In order to get a good score, one would have to put in two to three months of practice for either of the exams. Both the exams test a student’s analytical writing, verbal, and quantitative capabilities, even though the exam patterns are slightly different. For someone, who has a good profile and has made up his or her’s mind to get into a B-school, a GMAT score would provide the necessary credibility. On the other hand, if someone is looking at MS programmes while keeping MBA as an option, GRE would help him or her manage both.

At the end of the day, however, what matters the most to the admission committee is the integrity and dedication that an applicant promises to the programme and his or her own aspirations. So, if you believe in your dreams and are prepared to commit to them with all your heart, your scores will shine through irrespective of the exam you took.

(The author is CEO, CrackVerbal, Bengaluru)

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