Many business masters programs require applicants to take one or more standardised exams as part of the application process. The GMAT (or GRE) is often required of all applicants to a program, whereas the CAE, TOEFL and IELTS are required only of non-native English speakers. In some cases, however, the GMAT (or GRE) is only required of international applicants or those from unusual backgrounds (to determine their suitability for the program).
Cambridge English: Advanced
Cambridge English: Advanced, also known as Certificate in Advanced English (CAE), is accepted by UK universities and colleges as proof of English language skills. The exam is also accepted by the UK Border Agency for Tier 4 student visas and students can also gain valuable UCAS Tariff Points that can be used when applying to UK universities. CAE can be taken in 1,300 centres in over 130 countries. To find your nearest centre, or for more information, visit: www.CambridgeESOL.org/Advanced
The GMAT exam is designed to measure your ability to think logically and to employ a wide range of skills, including the ability to write persuasively. It does not assess business competence or academic knowledge beyond some very basic mathematics and grammar. GMAT scores provide business school admissions staff with a standardised way to assess candidates. Admissions officers tend to rely most heavily on them when comparing applicants from a wide variety of different national and academic backgrounds.
The GMAT tests your aptitude through a range of multiple-choice questions, along with two essay-writing assignments.
The multiple-choice questions
The multiple-choice questions are now available in a computer-adaptive format in most parts of the world, and in the traditional paper-and-pencil version in other parts.
The electronic version adapts your answers to your performance. Therefore, if you correctly answer the first question, the next question will be more difficult; or, if you answer it incorrectly, the next question will be easier. As such, the exam can quickly determine your ability level.
The multiple-choice questions are of five types:
• problem solving – involving arithmetic, basic algebra and geometry
• data sufficiency – similar in scope to the ‘problem-solving’ questions, but more abstract
• reading comprehension – testing your ability to comprehend and analyse the logic, structure, and details of densely written materials
• critical reasoning – testing your ability to evaluate the evidence and logic used in short arguments or statements
• sentence correction – requiring you to recognise clear, concise, and correct sentences.
The problem-solving and data sufficiency questions are grouped together in the quantitative section of the exam; the other three question types are part of the verbal section.
The essay-writing assignments
For the written portion, you must write essays on each of two assigned topics. The essays are similar in nature: one is termed ‘analysis of an argument’, the other, ‘analysis of an issue’. In the first, you analyse how persuasively the author marshals the arguments and evidence in support of a position. In the second, you are asked for a more personal response to an issue, which you discuss.
Doing your homework
To prepare seriously for the GMAT, you can either use special preparatory books and online tutorials or spend some time taking preparatory classes/courses.
The advantages of self preparation are its lower cost and flexibility. Make sure you use several preparatory books and practise with old GMAT exams, which are available only from GMAC (www.gmac.com). Structure your study schedule carefully: for instance, spend two hours a night twice a week and six to eight hours on weekends for six to eight weeks before the exam. Having a study partner can also be very useful.
By contrast, preparatory classes/courses can help structure your studying, guide you through the material, offer you expert advice, and give you the opportunity to study and compare yourself with others.
Cost and any inconvenience is usually outweighed by the higher scores achieved. If you decide to take a preparatory class/course, shop around. There are a lot of good-quality courses available, so be sure that the one you choose meets your needs in terms on schedule, location, reputation, price, or other requirements you might have.
What your GMAT score means
You will receive four scores: three for your performance on the multiple-choice questions and one for your essay performance. At the end of the exam, you are given an unofficial score for the multiple-choice portion, but, approximately two weeks later, the four scores are officially sent to you and to your designated schools.
Your overall score on the multiple-choice section is reported on a scale of 200–800, and is also given as a ‘percentile ranking’. Top programmes tend to require scores in the mid-600s or higher, meaning that their students are typically in the top 5–10% of test-takers.
The other two scores for the multiple-choice section give percentile rankings for your verbal and quantitative (maths) skills.
The fourth score is based solely on the written portion of the exam, which is given on a scale of 0–6. Schools typically consider a 4.0 or 4.5 to be acceptable, and anything higher is regarded as a good performance. Although copies of the essays are also forwarded on, some schools only take the score into account.
If your first GMAT score isn’t enough for the program you desire, you may need to retake the exam. But, before making this decision, you should analyse your application and see where improvements might be made. Getting into a top program is also about marketing yourself, so your time might be better spend rewriting your application essays or enhancing other credentials/qualifications.
Many business programs permit (or require) applicants to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) General Test instead of the GMAT. It is often the test of preference for academically orientated programs, such as economics, whereas pure business programs, such as marketing, more often prefer the GMAT.
The GRE General Test is very similar to the GMAT, with a verbal section, a quantitative section, and an essay-writing section. The scoring is also very similar, but, instead of one overall score, separate scores (on the same 200–800 scale) are given for the verbal and the quantitative sections.
The material tested is similar to that tested on the GMAT, with one large exception. The GRE tests vocabulary much more than the GMAT does. In fact, over half of the verbal questions are explicitly vocabulary questions.
Thus, applicants offered the choice between the GMAT and GRE may be wise to opt for the latter if their vocabulary is stronger than their other test-taking capabilities.
IELTS is the International English Language Testing System, the world’s proven English language test. IELTS measures ability to communicate in English across all four language skills – listening, reading, writing and speaking – for people who intend to study or work where English is the language of communication.
IELTS is jointly owned by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia and University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations, and is administered through more than 800 test centres and locations in over 130 countries.
Over 1.5 million IELTS tests are taken each year, opening doors for candidates to international education and employment opportunities in the English-speaking world and beyond. The world trusts and recognises IELTS as a secure, valid and reliable indicator of true-to-life ability to communicate in English for education, immigration and professional accreditation.
Students planning to undertake postgraduate studies in English will need to take the Academic IELTS test. The institution you are applying to will specify their required IELTS module and minimum band score needed for admission. IELTS scores are accepted by over 6,000 education institutions and professional organisations worldwide. You can search a complete database of IELTS test centres, where you can also use an online Global Recognition System to search the thousands of institutions that accept an IELTS score as proof of English language proficiency.
IELTS offers up to 48 test dates in a year or up to 4 test dates in a month. With the increasing popularity of IELTS, you should check the test date availability with your selected test centre and book your test before the closing date for registration. The test fee varies, but you can use the test centre database to find out the test fee in your country.
Many schools teaching in English require that non-native English speaking applicants have taken the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). A general exception is made for those who completed their bachelors degree in an English-speaking country.
Unlike the GMAT, the TOEFL is not a complicated test. If you are comfortable speaking and reading English, it will likely pose little problem for you. Scores above 250 (on a scale of 40–300) on the computer-based test or the equivalent on the Internet-based test (100) or the paper-based test (600) are generally required at the top schools. The scores acceptable at less-demanding programs, however, can be somewhat lower. At Texas A & M’s Master of Science in Marketing program, for instance, a 213 on the computer-based test (or 550 on the paper-based test) is the minimum score.
Try a sample exam, such as those available at the TOEFL website. Bear in mind that, if you score below 250 on the TOEFL, you probably won’t be able to succeed on the GMAT, since its English requirements are much higher.
The TOEFL is now offered in traditional paper-and-pencil, computer-adaptive (such as the GMAT), or Internet formats. Listening and reading comprehension, structure, written expression, and vocabulary are all tested. Your written skills are tested in a 30-minute essay on an assigned topic.
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