College graduates around the globe all face the same question if they are considering a Masters programme: whether and when to take the GRE test? Nearly every business school calls for a standardised test score as a minimum requirement for admission, but with several tests on the market, it may be difficult to know which is appropriate for your situation.

This guide assists you with that decision by providing general information about the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and comparing it with other tests.

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Purpose of graduate admissions tests

Graduate schools determine the best candidates for admission based on submitted applications and scores on graduate admissions tests. In addition to meeting minimum application criteria, students must demonstrate they will perform well under the rigours of a Master’s programme, and a standardised test reveals much about a prospective student’s intellectual knowledge and academic capability.

An admissions test score in addition to the other elements of the application package (letter of motivation/statement of purpose, essays, resume, letters of reference, academic transcripts) provides a more complete picture of a student’s potential since most graduate schools do not rely exclusively on one or the other. A weak application can be boosted by a high score, and vice versa.

Check out: Business School Admission Tests

What is the GRE test?

The GRE is a nearly four-hour test administered on a computer (or in some areas, on paper) in testing centres approved by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the developer of the exam. Since there are certified testing centres around the globe, at least one of the locations is likely to be less than a half-day’s drive from you. The ETS website provides a complete listing of testing locations.

There are two versions of the GRE: the GRE General Test and GRE Subject Tests. The latter is typically used as a supplemental demonstration of knowledge of a specific subject like biology or physics. The general test is the version most often used by graduate schools to evaluate candidates for admission. It is comprised of six sections designed to measure your analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills.

When to take the GRE test

Your chosen field of study

There are several graduate admissions tests used globally, such as the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). But the GRE is the most widely accepted and its general version – the GRE General Test – is not limited to specific areas of study. That allows you to take the test even if you do not know for sure which area of study you will enter. And since the scores are valid for five years, you have plenty of time to decide.

GRE vs GMAT for business schools

The GMAT has traditionally been the preferred admissions test for graduate programmes in business fields since it was designed specifically for business students, but that is not the case anymore. Many graduate schools, like the London Business School (UK), accept either the GMAT or GRE score as qualification for programme admission.

Keep in mind that the acceptance of one test or the other for a Masters programme at a specific B-school may not apply the same across all their programmes, even if they are all business related. For example, ESMT Berlin (Germany), a business school, accepts both the GMAT and the GRE, but according to its website, the GMAT is “highly recommended” for its quantitative business management programme. Therefore, it is vital that you check with the B-schools you are considering to see what their exact requirements, and even preferences, are.

If they accept both, and if you have taken the GMAT and are dissatisfied with your score, you could consider taking the GRE as well and submitting the better of the two scores. In addition to wider acceptance outside of B-schools, the GRE is also less expensive than the GMAT.

Test format features and score reporting

When you have a choice among several tests – such as GRE or GMAT – it is wise to also check out the format and opt for the one that will help you perform better.

In addition to allowing more freedom in deciding on a particular programme, a GRE testing format change in 2011 now allows you to skip questions and come back to them later, a feature that improves the test takers experience and performance. You can also change your answers before final submission if you have second thoughts. Some say these options lead to higher scores overall.

The GRE has another advantage in that it offers, ScoreSelect®, a feature that allows you more control over when your scores are sent to universities and which scores are sent to them. Instead of deciding on the actual test day to send your scores somewhere, you have the option of waiting until some future point in time to send them. If you decide to take the test more than once, you can choose to send only your best score.

Global acceptance

The GRE originated in the U.S., so some people mistakenly think it is only accepted by U.S. graduate schools. It is actually widely accepted around the globe at thousands of institutions and for a myriad of different programmes. Access to the test is widespread as well, since there are over 1,000 testing locations in over 150 countries. This combination of benefits makes the GRE one of the best standardised testing options for graduate school admission.

You can know make an informed decision about when to take the GRE test depending on whether you are going to graduate school or a business school, in which part of the world you plan to study, and which test format will enable you to perform in the best way.