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Should I take the GRE or the GMAT?

“Should I take the GRE or the GMAT” is one of the more frequent lines of questioning we get from students considering working with a GRE tutor. Everyone wants to know if their application is negatively impacted by the decision to submit a GRE score instead of a GMAT score. In this article, we’ll offer our brief thoughts on the question.

We’ve previously held the position that if you know you want to go to business school, you should take the GMAT. And, even now, at the margin, having digested information from multiple sources and individuals whose opinions we respect deeply, we continue to hold this position. However, the strength of our conviction in this position has declined and ultimately, it seems that, increasingly, it doesn’t matter so much whether you take the GRE or the GMAT.

Our logic for suggesting that, if business school is your goal, the GMAT is the better choice, goes as follows:

  • The GMAT is only accepted by MBA programs, so taking it indicates a sincere desire to pursue an MBA (vs. grad school, or law school, etc.)
  • There is alignment and agreement across legitimate areas of the internet that the quantitative section of the GMAT is more challenging than the GRE (consider this article which states that GMAT quant is more difficult than GRE quant). At least two thirds of the students who seek help from a GMAT tutor are focused on quant over verbal.
  • Many MBA programs, particularly highly ranked ones, place particular value on analytical skills

You take those three bullets together, and it’s easy to conclude, at the margin, that if you had to choose one exam, you would want to choose the GMAT.

But there are clear reasons to opt for the GRE.

First, of course, is the idea that the quant / math section is a bit less challenging. If MBA programs truly don’t make much of a distinction, and you aren’t as confident in your math skills, perhaps the GRE makes sense. I personally scored in the 99th percentile on GMAT verbal but only in the 73rd percentile on GMAT quant. GMAT quant was hard (and I’ve always considered myself an analytical person. My background is management consulting and I have a degree in finance).

Second, the GRE allows you to skip questions and come back to them. This reduces text anxiety substantially. And finally, native English speakers seem to perform better on the GRE than non-native speakers.

What is the latest thinking on whether MBA programs prefer GMAT to GRE scores?

To get a better sense for whether it really matters if you take the GMAT or the GRE, we asked our business partner Dr. Don Martin, founder of Grad School Road Map. He spent almost a decade as the Director of Admissions at the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Martin offered us the following thoughts:

  • Most b-schools have privately been accepting GRE scores from applicants for decades.
  • Fifteen years ago, when b-schools began to publicly announce that they had been and would definitely continue accepting GRE scores from MBA applicants, in many cases they also indicated that they preferred receiving GMAT scores. In most instances, that is no longer the case - they are now equally accepting either test score report.
  • The number of MBA applicants submitting GRE scores instead of GMAT scores has steadily grown.
  • Every business school admissions office has access to GRE/GMAT score equivalency information provided by the Educational Testing Service.
  • It is not required, but perfectly appropriate, to provide a brief explanation when submitting GRE scores with your MBA application.
  • Ultimately, and has always been the case, test scores are only one part of an applicant's overall profile. What is most critical is that an applicant takes the test on which s/he believes they will do the best, and be prepared to offer a cogent and honest explanation for lower scores.

If you research respected and popular MBA admissions websites and forums you’ll find a wide range of anecdotes. For example, you might read that you need to get score above the 80% percentile on BOTH the quant AND verbal section of the GMAT to get into a top MBA program. But, I scored in the 99th percentile on verbal and near the 70th percentile on quant and was admitted to Kellogg and Booth. In our view, these anecdotes might be closer to false than true, and yet there is something to learn from them. Business schools want balance in quant and verbal, it just is probably not true that getting above the 80th percentile in both is some sort of threshold that is looked at by admissions professionals.

The idea that the GMAT is preferable to the GRE is another powerful anecdote out there.

GMAT vs. GRE? Our conclusion

If literally everything else was equal, why not choose the GMAT? If nothing else, it indicates that my goal is getting an MBA. I have no plans to attend any other type of grad school.

That said, if standardized testing is not your thing and you aren’t as strong in quant, and you find that your GRE score tends to be, relatively speaking, more impressive than your GMAT score. We are increasingly convinced that you are well served by choosing the GRE. It appears that any negative impact on your application would be so small that it would be outweighed by your ability to score relatively higher on the GRE than on the GMAT.

In sum, should take the GMAT or the GRE? It doesn’t really matter. Take the test that allows you to score the highest on a percentile basis.