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by Daniel Repko

One of the most common questions that Pericles gets is whether or not a student will pass or fail the GMAT or TOEFL after taking our course. The answer though rather confusing is "yes" and "no." The simple fact is that pass and fail are not concepts of the GMAT or TOEFL. These are not ordinary exams that try to test a specific topic that you studied beforehand; but rather they are exams that try to test the way you think. These exams do not have a "pass/fail" but simply have acceptable and unacceptable scores that are separately determined by each university.

Every University sets its own standard as to what is a minimum score to accept someone into its program. For example Harvard's average TOEFL score is 281 this year, but their minimum score in order to be accepted is 253. Therefore, if your TOEFL score is below 253 you should probably not apply to Harvard, but between 253 and 281 you can still try.

This does not mean that you cannot get into another b-school. For example Indiana University at Bloomington's TOEFL requirement is 237. This is significantly lower than Harvard's requirement and yet Indiana is a top 20 school. In the end, if you would get a 240 on the TOEFL you would have an acceptable score for Indiana but not for Harvard, whereas if you get a 253 or higher you have an acceptable score for both schools, even though it is below the Harvard average. Remember that, since TOEFL is a language test, all you have to prove is that you understand the language well enough to study in their respective programs.

Now let us look at the GMAT test. Finding the minimum requirement for a GMAT score is like finding a needle in a haystack. In most cases universities do not publish the minimum but rather the average GMAT score. These unpublished minimums are significantly lower than the averages. Let's examine two universities that have significantly different averages: Rotterdam and Stanford. Rotterdam's average GMAT score was 625 this year and Stanford's average GMAT score was 710. Simply put, someone who gets a lower score, say mid-500s, will have a better chance of getting accepted into Rotterdam, which does not put as much emphasis on the GMAT score, than to Stanford that puts a more emphasis on the GMAT score. Both are top schools, but Rotterdam may look more at other factors than GMAT in its admissions decisions.

What does this all mean? Simply that you can't think of pass/fail. You must take the exam, and then balance your experience and application strength together with your scores to determine where you should apply.

Now to answer the question as to whether or not preparation helps--Yes. Most preparation courses are designed to teach you test-taking methods, which are rather difficult to pick up when you study alone. Those who study on their own usually do not analyze the patterns that appear on the exam and they do not understand the nuances of the English language that are needed to do well on the exam. This is where a prep center can come into play. By teaching you methods and by having you study them, your goal is simply to recognize the pattern of question ETS is asking you, and apply the strategy you have been taught.

A little piece of advice: beware of preparation centers that guarantee you will pass the GMAT or TOEFL! As you can see from the examples, you will ALWAYS pass the exam. The question is simply--for which school? A smart candidate should know what a school is seeking. This gives you a better idea as to what kind of score you will need on the exam.

And remember, although a higher score is better, no one needs to get a 700 on the GMAT and 280 on the TOEFL to get into a top B-school! A good prep center and a little research can help you target your test achievements and profile to good schools that best appreciate you as a candidate. After all, when you are thinking of B-school admissions, the key is not "I passed the test" but "I got in to the school"!

Daniel Repko has been teaching TOEFL and Business English for Pericles for the past two years. Pericles TOEFL and Business English start every 6-7 weeks. For more information regarding the courses that Daniel teaches please contact Pericles at: 292-5188/6463.

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