I often get asked to help our students decide between taking the GMAT and the GRE. Here are the three most fundamental questions you should be asking as you make your decision.
1. How sure are you that you want to go to business school?
There is a logical argument for taking the GMAT simply because you know for sure that you want to go to business school. The rationale is that because the GRE can be used at an increasing number of business schools, but also basically any graduate program, folks that take the GMAT are clearly serious about business school, which is an attractive quality for a business school applicant to have. Of course, if business school is one of several options for you, then the GRE is a good fit.
I have heard a different argument though. This argument says if you know for sure you want to go to a top business school, but your GMAT score is low while the rest of your application is strong, then take the GRE. Because business programs report GMAT scores and not GRE scores, your relatively poor standardized test performance won’t impact their reporting and rankings, and thus they’ll be more likely to accept you.
I haven’t heard too many admissions consultants who subscribe to this logic, however. And I really don’t buy it either. In fact, because there is a general perception that the GMAT is harder than the GRE (I believe primarily because the quant section really is a bit harder for U.S. born individuals), my view is that students that take the GRE put themselves at a very, very minor risk of being associated with having “chosen to take the easier test.
2. Do you really struggle with math?
At the end of the day, the quantitative section of the GMAT is harder than the quantitative section of the GRE. It covers most of the same topics (algebra, arithmetic, geometry, data interpretation, word problems) and a few more (e.g., statistics, number theory), but in more depth, and which more difficult questions and question types (i.e., data sufficiency). The GMAT also doesn’t allow a calculator (the GRE does, although using one on any given question is not always a good idea…), so you have to be comfortable and adept at doing math in your head to score well.
While we are MyGuru actually believe that improving your skills to perform well on the math required for standardized tests is actually easier than many people seem to believe, if you really lack confidence and a foundation in math, you may want to focus on the GRE
3. Do you really struggle with verbal questions? Has reading never been your thing?
The “verbal” questions used on the GMAT fall into the following buckets:
- Sentence correction – just fix the sentence
- Reading comprehension – testing whether you understand what is being communicated
- Critical reasoning – testing whether you can follow and understand complex arguments and logic
The overall emphasis is on the “science of grammar”, which involves understanding rules that can be learned and applied (even by people that don’t tend to be naturally comfortable with reading and writing).
By comparison, the verbal section of the GRE covers reading comprehension and critical reasoning, but then instead of sentence correction, it also covers sentence equivalence (are these sentences saying the same thing?) and text completion (what is the right way to finish this thought?).
In addition to grammar, scoring well on the GRE verbal section requires a) a large vocabulary and b) a natural intuition with the written word. A lifetime of reading and writing is the one real key to developing a large vocabulary and general intuition about how to apply the written English language. In fact, one of the best ways to prepare for the GRE is simply to read magazines like the Economist (the same is true of the GMAT, by the way).
So, if you really struggle with verbal questions and aren’t an avid reader (or perhaps English is your second language) you may want to consider the GMAT
In a previous article, we laid out some approaches for improving your GMAT reading comprehension score. The gist of that article was that, unfortunately, learning to read and comprehend significantly better than you do today can be a long, hard process. It’s not impossible, but the mix of intuition, logic, grammar, and vocabulary skills needed to understand why one answer is better than another on the verbal portion of a standardized test is actually quite complex. The key to building such skills is to read and write a lot.
On the other hand, in that same article and in others on our blogs, we’ve talked about how people that are “just bad at math” actually, well, really don’t need to be. Yes, a lack of confidence and previous focus and training can lead to very low levels of math skills. But, with focused, deliberate practice, we find that many students can quickly build math skills. The same is not quite true for reading comprehension and vocabulary skills.
So, in sum, if you are really strong in math but struggle with reading and writing, perhaps you lean towards the GMAT. If the opposite is true, perhaps you lean towards the GRE. But remember, taking the GMAT sends a clear message you are interested in business school, which may provide a very slight “leg up” in the admissions process.
This blog article leveraged the thinking in Magoosh’s GRE vs. GMAT infographic.