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Application Tip #1 from the Director of Admissions

Commit to a training plan for the GMAT or GRE.

Image of Soojin Kwon Koh

Soojin Kwon is the director of admissions at the Ross School of Business. Since joining the Ross admissions team in 2004, Soojin has evaluated thousands of applications. She knows what makes applications stand out. In upcoming editions of the Ross Newsletter, Soojin will share advice on how to put your best application forward.

Our online application is now available and check out this page for a list of application requirements and criteria. Also, be sure to visit my blog for updates on where we are in the admissions process.

For many of you, the GMAT/GRE requirement is one of the biggest sources of application-related stress. One way to help mitigate this stress is to follow my first piece of advice: Commit to a training plan.

We use the GMAT or GRE in concert with your undergraduate and graduate transcript to assess your ability to handle the academic rigors of the Ross MBA Program. The key to doing well on any exam is to put in the proper training and preparation. Most applicants submit GMAT scores, so for simplicity, my suggestions reference the GMAT. But the advice holds true for both exams.

  1. Start preparing (i.e., studying!) early: Studying is like a workout for your brain. The more you exercise it, the better you will perform when it counts. Some people naturally are gifted at things like standardized test-taking. But for most of us, it doesnít come naturally. So we need to train our brains to get them into test-taking mode.
  2. Assess your baseline, then set a goal: Take a practice test to assess the level of training youíll need to close the gap between your practice score and the average and middle 80 percent range of a schoolís GMAT scores. Keep in mind that a higher score doesnít necessarily increase your chance for admission; plenty of applicants scored higher than our average (which was about a 704 this year) but were not admitted. But given a similar professional background and undergraduate performance, a higher GMAT score will make you more competitive.
  3. Set up a training schedule:Set up a study plan to which you can commit. This might involve taking a test prep class, working with a tutor, or using study guides to prepare on your own. Do what fits your schedule and budget best. If you choose to prepare on your own, make sure to schedule regular study time on your calendar. Mark down the day or days you plan to take an entire practice test to assess your progress. Thorough and disciplined preparation is a key to success. Weíre not looking for every student to score over 700, but we are looking for scores (total and section scores) that will allow us to be reasonably confident you wonít struggle in our program.
  4. Simulate the test day scenario: The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, so itís very difficult to exactly replicate the exam environment. But close your door, turn off your phone, set a timer, and take a practice test. Do it around the same time of day that you will be taking the actual test. Endurance often is the key, and itís important to stay focused throughout the duration of the exam. Continue these training runs and your preparation regimen until you score in your target range and feel you can go into the actual test with confidence.
  5. Go for your PR (personal record): You may hit your goal on your first try, or you may not. Itís okay if you donít, and this drives home recommendation #1: start preparing early. You want to give yourself ample time to take the test again if you feel itís necessary to do so, so donít wait to go for your PR just before you submit your application. If you think you can do better, and can muster up the stamina to give it another shot, you should ó our admissions committee considers the highest total score. In fact, the majority of our applicants take the GMAT more than once. We look favorably upon applicants who retake the GMAT rather than submitting only one low score. (However, we donít encourage you to be a serial test-taker simply because you hope to increase your score by 10 points.) If you decide to retake the test, focus your preparation on the sections that challenged you the most.

Reality check: The score won’t make or break you.
Keep in mind that your test scores only are one aspect of your application. At Ross, we evaluate applications holistically — no single element will guarantee admission or denial. So for those who ace the GMAT or GRE, donít rest on the laurels of your strong score. Make sure the rest of your application is strong as well. The same advice applies to those with scores that are lower than youíd like. Everything counts, so go for a personal best on every part of the application.