Four Test Prep Mistakes Business School Applicants MUST Avoid
Former HBS admissions expert shines the light on foolish yet common applicant mistakes
By Chioma Isiadinso
In the run-up to applying for business school, potential applicants fret endlessly about admissions tests.
Which test should I take? When should I take it? How should I study? What score do I need? It would seem, therefore, that MBA applicants anticipate every eventuality and cover all the bases in their preparations.
However, I still see many applicants making the same basic mistakes time and time again. Here's how to avoid them:
1. Underestimating your workload.
Unless you have recently left business school and are familiar with all the test-prep material, getting a top score on a b-school admissions test will take work. You should plan for at least two months of study time, plus time to re-take the test if needed.
If you find yourself in an impossible situation, as some applicants do with test prep, there are guides available for doing an accelerated GMAT/ GRE study schedule. However, these guides are generally designed for students who can commit to test prep full-time, and even then they are best used as a last-ditch resort.
In short, plan out your revision schedule months in advance, and stay away from accelerated prep schedules unless absolutely necessary.
2. Not taking advantage of all your options.
Of course, you don't have to take the GMAT to get into business school. Even though the GRE has been gaining traction for a long time now, many students convince themselves that they absolutely have to take the GMAT, or they'll never get in.
The truth is, taking the GRE is a perfectly viable alternative. It is often the case that students taking the GRE either waste less time studying, or put in the same hours and attain a more impressive score than if they'd taken the GMAT. That's a win-win scenario.
If you're planning to pursue an Executive MBA, you may have yet another option. The Executive Assessment, launched in March 2016 by the creators of the GMAT, is designed specifically to test the skills and strengths of seasoned professionals, targeting the EMBA applicant pool directly.
The Executive Assessment is currently only accepted at a handful of top business schools, including Chicago Booth, Columbia Business School, London Business School, and INSEAD, but that list will doubtless grow with more time. The Executive Assessment also takes a mere 90 minutes to sit, and focuses on critical thinking and analytical skills. Spending less time brushing up your college algebra can only be a good thing.
3. Thinking your score is everything
No-one can deny that test scores are important. But obsessively studying and re-taking the test until you get a perfect score won't do you any good either. If you neglect the rest of your application on account of this, you suffer more.
Business schools are competitive because they're looking for the best candidates, not the best test-takers. Were that the case, the admissions process would be relatively straightforward – they would admit the top 5% of test-takers, and that would be it. Make sure to leave room in your study schedule for securing strong letters of recommendation, preparing comprehensively for your interviews, and writing and re-writing your admissions essays.
Finally, pay attention to the average test scores of admitted students at your target schools. Once your score is within that range, you should leave it at that and focus your attention on the rest of your application. If your dream school has an average GMAT score of 650 which you've already matched, pursuing a 780 is meaningless.
4. Ignoring the intangibles
There's a lot of content to cover on the GRE and GMAT, from sentence structure to algebraic expressions. Practicing this content should obviously be a core component of your test prep strategy. However, I often see students making the mistake of overlooking the less tangible elements of preparation, such as time management, dealing with test anxiety, and acquainting themselves with the test format.
You'll need to work on each of these elements in order to get the score you want. If you've completely mastered the content, but run out of time halfway through the question set, your score will suffer. The same goes for being so anxious on the day of the test that you freeze up and forget most of what you've studied. If you've never taken a computer adaptive test before, make sure you take at least one full-length practice test before the official day – you can even find a free one at MBA.com.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.