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In 2003, Educational Testing Service (ETS) lost the contract to manage the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) to ACT and a division of Pearson. Since then, ETS has been aggressively urging business schools and students to consider using the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) instead of the GMAT.

Since Stanford Graduate School of Business took the step of accepting the GRE in 2005, 450 B-schools have followed suit. ETS will be launching a revised GRE in August, 2011, which should further intensify the competition. For those interested in the Coke-Pepsi rivalries in standardized testing, you can read the flurry of articles in the business press over the past two years: “GRE or GMAT: Test-Takers Dilemma” in BusinessWeek; “G.R.E. vs. the GMAT” in NY Times; “GRE is Fast Becoming a GMAT Alternative for B-School Applicants” in US News & World Report.

But as a college student or recent grad, you simply want to know: “Which test should I take?” Here are some considerations:

1. Differences between the two tests and your own test-taking strengths. Historically, the GMAT has been known to emphasize  logic, while the GRE has measured the test-takers’ ability more in vocabulary. The GMAT has been known to favor students of higher mathematical ability. However, I would warn against studying specific internet comparisons of GMAT vs. GRE right now, because the GRE is about to be changed (8/2011). Check out a comparison of the old vs. new GRE in About.com.

2. Your future goals.The GRE is the entry level test for the broadest set of future goals. If you plan to get a masters or doctorate in just about any field, including economics, the GRE has you covered. You may want to do your graduate school standardized test-taking while you are still in student mode, but you are not ready to commit to saying you will be applying to business school five years hence.

3.Where do you plan to apply? Most of the top ranking B-schools accept both the GRE and GMAT now: Stanford, Harvard, MIT Sloan, Columbia, NYU Stern, Wharton,  U Chicago Booth, U Mich Ross, UVA Darden, UNC Kenan-Flagler, Duke Fuqua, and Dartmouth Tuck. However, there are a few stars missing from the list: Northwestern Kellogg, UCLA Anderson, Cornell Johnson, USC Marshall, Emory Goizueta. So if you intend on applying to any of these schools, you will need to take the GMAT.

I advise researching the schools you are most interested in, to see what their philosophy is about GRE vs. GMAT. According to Wikipedia, Stanford GSB prefers the GRE but accepts both; NYU Stern prefers the GMAT but accepts both; Columbia accepts the GRE only if the applicant has not taken the GMAT in the past five years.

At this point in time, it may actually make sense to take both tests, to maximize flexibility. This is admittedly an expensive approach ($140 GRE, $250 GMAT), but what future brand manager would want to apply to Wharton, Tuck or Duke without applying to Kellogg? After the GRE is revised in 8/2011, there may be more efficiencies in studying for both tests. And hey, someday you may just want to get a PhD.

Recommended reading: The Best Business Schools’ Admissions Secrets: A Former Harvard Business School Admissions Board Member Reveals the Insider Keys to Getting In by Chioma Isiadinso. Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter? Take the GMAT While You’re Still Smart, Can I Get an MBA if I Wasn’t a College Business Major?

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You’re a junior in college, beginning to sweat about getting a job after graduation, listening to all the horrifying urban legends about recent grads from elite colleges who are still unemployed. But there’s not much you can do yet about your future, except nailing a good GPA, posting your profile on LinkedIn, and checking in with your college’s career services office about summer internships.

Ok, so here’s a thought: take the GMAT (or the LSAT, or the GRE–or even all three, what Grad.spot calls the “unholy trinity of graduate school testing) while you’re “still smart.” Within the first three years out of college, you will probably want to apply to graduate school. Especially if the job you are able to get out of college is not what you want to be doing the rest of your life.

But once you get out in the young professional world, it will not be so easy to prepare for grad school. You’ll be getting up early, commuting, working long hours, perhaps with travel. At the end of the day, the last thing you’ll feel like doing is attending a prep class, doing a course online, or even practicing from a book.

Your test-taking chops will not be as sharp after a few years in the professional world. It’s hard to imagine now, because you take exams all the time. But remember doing a varsity sport in high school? In-season you were in great shape. Off-season, if you didn’t work out at the gym or go out for a daily run, you got rusty. If you didn’t continue to play the sport in college, you wouldn’t even think of walking in cold to a competition.

Testing is that way too. The farther you move away from an academic environment, the more rusty you become. So take the tests now. And if your’re not sure what kind of grad school you may be interested down the road, you might want to…take them all.

Related posts: Your College’s Career Center, Can I Get an MBA if I Wasn’t a Business Major in College? Preparing for Business School: GRE or GMAT?, Time to Apply to B-School?, So You Didn’t Get That Summer Internship…What To Do?

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