by Brian Burnsed

Need help mastering the GRE? These tips will help you tackle the test and earn the score you want

In 2005, the Stanford Graduate School of Business took a step that was unprecedented among top-ranked peer schools -- it began to accept the GRE from applicants. While many business schools had long accepted the GRE on an exception-only basis, Stanford, whose business school is tied for the top spot in U.S.News's rankings of the nation's best business schools, extended that option to applicants. And it hasn't regretted the change.

School officials say they made the decision because it seemed nonsensical to accept the GRE from candidates applying to their Ph.D. programs but not from their M.B.A. applicants. Officials also wanted to make the business school more accessible to students who wished to coenroll in two graduate programs. Rather than being forced to take the GRE and GMAT to gain acceptance into separate programs, Stanford officials reasoned it made more sense for students to take one test. Thus far, the students accepted to the school who submitted a GRE score instead of a GMAT have performed on the same level as their peers, and the school has seen no drawbacks to the policy. "It's not a test you use in isolation," says Derrick Bolton, Stanford's dean of M.B.A. admissions. "It's a test you use in context with academic record, with professional experiences. None of the assessments are perfect, but all of them give us valuable information, so we were comfortable in trying this out."

In the years since Stanford's policy change was made, hundreds of M.B.A. programs have followed suit. According to Educational Testing Services, which administers the GRE, 334 business programs accept the GRE, up from 150 when ETS began tracking the data. Officials at ETS believe that the rapid acceleration over the last several years will continue because accepting the GRE allows schools to strengthen their applicant pools: Every year, more than 600,000 people take the GRE, while only about 270,000 take the GMAT. "From a strictly business perspective, it's a smart move," says David Payne, vice president and COO of college and graduate programs at ETS. "At no cost to the schools, it allows them to increase the size and diversity of their applicant pool. In our discussions with business schools, especially directors of M.B.A. admissions, they've said that that their priority is to have a large, diverse, and talented applicant pool so that they can bring in the classes they want."

The Graduate Management Admissions Council, owner of the GMAT, acknowledges that schools want to diversify their applicant pools by accepting the GRE, but believes that the GMAT more accurately reflects which students are best suited for business school. Despite the GRE's surge at business schools, the GMAT too has experienced growth in the number of test takers every year since 2004. While GMAC's president and CEO David Wilson sees the general appeal of broadening an applicant pool, he wonders whether some of the GRE test takers are truly committed to business school. "[The schools] are looking for diversity, but it seems to me you want diversity with a purpose," he says. "There's a question of motivation. Are [these students] motivated?"

While the majority of business schools now accepting the GRE are smaller, less-renowned programs, several other top-ranked business schools have followed Stanford's lead. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management , Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business , and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business stand third, seventh, and 14th, respectively, in U.S.News's best business school rankings, and all accept the GRE. MIT made the decision in 2006 because it wanted to open the door to students who had taken the GRE but may not have long considered business school to be an option. Currently, about 10 percent of Sloan's roughly 4,500 applicants submit a GRE score instead of a GMAT. "We wanted to be able to open up our possibilities," says Julie Strong, Sloan's senior associate director of M.B.A. admissions. "Maybe they're taking a GRE instead of a GMAT. Do they not go to business school because they're thinking, 'Oh, I already took a GRE, I'm not going to do that'?"

Now that so many schools are giving the applicants an option between the tests, it's important for business school candidates to know which exam is right for them. Sean-Michael Green, dean of graduate and adult enrollment at Marist College , is familiar with both tests, having taken the GRE and GMAT three times each in the past five years as a hobby. He claims the GRE places more emphasis on vocabulary and favors students with strong backgrounds in English. Conversely, Green notes that the math is easier on the GRE than the GMAT, so students who wish to attend business school but have taken little or no math during their time in college should steer clear of the GMAT. "If someone hasn't had many math courses, they would have a very difficult time with the GMAT, but that person could survive the GRE because a lot of the math is algebra," he says.

Graduate exams are not cheap, so cost is a factor as well. The GRE costs roughly $140, which is $110 cheaper than taking the GMAT. While that difference may seem negligible as a one-time payment, many students opt to take the tests multiple times. Given that the GRE is less expensive and allows students to apply to a broader range of graduate programs, some experts feel it's the test that makes the most sense for a broader number of students, especially those unsure if business school is right for them. "If you can take one test and get away with it, why not?" asks Neill Seltzer, national GRE content director for the Princeton Review. "Especially if you're not sure if you're going to go to business school or graduate school."

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The GRE Test is Fast Becoming GMAT Alternative for Business School Applicants