Should I take the GRE or the GMAT?
It’s an increasingly common question given the growing acceptance of the GRE. 10 years ago, very few MBA programs accepted the GRE as part of their admissions requirements. 5 years ago, a growing number of schools accepted the GRE in theory, but it was still a clear minority of students who were in fact applying to MBA programs with a GRE score instead of a GMAT score.
Today, almost all MBA programs accept the GRE, but only ~20% of students apply to MBA programs with a GRE score. That means 80% of applicants to business school are still taking the GMAT. The basic situation, as most students understand it, is that it seems as if business schools still prefer the GMAT, but clearly are also comfortable accepting the GRE. And many students feel they may perform better on the GRE and are thus considering focusing on that exam. And there is uncertainty. Do schools really prefer the GMAT? Is it really OK to apply with a GRE score? No one knows for sure.
We recently wrote a guest post on the GRE vs. GMAT question for the AACSB, and this post will build on the information in that article to help you decide whether to consider the GRE instead of the GMAT.
In this article, we’ll encourage you to ask yourself some questions and decide for yourself what you believe given the facts that are available. That should lead to the appropriate decision for you. After all, that’s how decisions are made in business. It is rarely possible to make a business decision through pure logic. You must gather facts, decide which facts are most relevant and grounded, evaluate those facts with some sort of framework, and then decide on the best course of action. But you ever know for sure what the right answer is, and often there is more than one right answer.
We believe your decision about whether to take the GRE or the GMAT should be based on a logical exploration of your answers to the below questions:
- Are you confident you’ll be pursuing a graduate education in business, or are you considering other types of graduate programs?
- Assuming you are confident in your desire to earn an MBA, do you believe that MBA programs on average prefer one test over the other?
- Do you have a specific target school or post-MBA career that expresses a preference?
- Do you believe that you’d perform substantially better on the GRE relative to the GMAT (or vicer versa)?
- How much time do you have before you will apply?
Are you confident you’ll be pursuing a graduate education in business, or are you considering other types of graduate programs?
We can start with a basic question. Are you confident you plan on applying to graduate business programs vs. other types of graduate programs? The GMAT is designed specifically for business school admissions decisions, while the GRE is used for business school and dozens (maybe hundreds) of other types of graduate programs, from archaeology to psychology to education to nursing. Even law schools are increasingly accepting the GRE.
So, if you are 50/50 between business school and some other type of graduate program, you should clearly more strongly consider the GRE.Assuming you are confident in your desire to earn an MBA, do you believe that MBA programs on average prefer the GMAT over the GRE (or vice versa)?
Do MBA programs prefer the GMAT over the GRE? This is really the key question, and there are differences of opinion, even amongst MBA admission experts.
This article from Poets and Quants suggests most MBA programs don’t care which you take. It argues that almost all schools accept either test, and you should just take whichever test puts you in the best light. And in this US News article on the GMAT vs. the GRE , which contains facts gathered in a 2016 survey conducted by Kaplan, you learn that 73% of MBA programs surveyed said that GRE and GMAT test-takers were treated equally. There is no bias one way or the other.
But in the same article, one reads that only 2% of schools express a clear preference for the GRE, while a sizeable 26% stated that GMAT takers were preferred and at an advantage relative to their GRE-taking counterparts. And, if you search around the admissions portions of top MBA web-sites, you’ll find facts like this; at Harvard Business School, 85% of students applied with the GMAT.
Though the GRE clearly has achieved basic acceptance, my conclusion is that there remains a general preference for the GMAT. Senior Instructor and MBA Advisor Sergey Kouk from our GMAT course partner in Chicago, Admit Master, agrees, “We offer GRE prep and are happy to help students prepare for the GRE. But the GMAT is the only exam specifically designed for business school. Taking the GMAT indicates to the schools to which you are applying that you are serious about pursuing an MBA, and with 85-90% of applicants to top MBA programs still applying with the GMAT, we believe your put yourself at a disadvantage by not taking the GMAT.”
Do you have a specific target school or post-MBA career that expresses a preference?
The Kaplan facts mentioned above make it clear that some schools do prefer the GMAT over the GRE. You should research your target MBA programs, and if there is a preference, you should take that preference into serious and strong consideration. Indeed, our Director of Online GMAT Instruction, Stefan, notes that “The most important variable regarding the GRE vs GMAT question lies not with the student, but with the target program. When considering the GRE, always reach out to target programs to find out what score is desired. If the school doesn't provide a target GRE score, be sure to convert their target GMAT score with the official GRE converter tool and be aware that the required score for the GRE can be higher because it isn't necessarily the preferred exam.” Here is a link to the GRE to GMAT convertor tool that Stefan references - https://www.ets.org/gre/institutions/admissions/interpretation_resources/mba_comparison_tool
There is one other issue to consider. It has been documented that some management consulting firms and investment banks (some, not all), do like to look at your GMAT score during the recruiting process. They view the GMAT as a “pure” test of critical thinking and analytical capability as measured under a time constrained, stressful environment. If you are interested in one or both careers, you have another reason to lean towards the GMAT.
Do you believe you’d perform substantially better on one vs. the other?
All else equal, you want to apply to business school with a standardized test score that puts you in the best relative light. If the schools you are applying to truly do not have a preference, your 85th percentile GRE score is clearly more desirable than your 70th percentile GMAT score. That is clearly true.
So, which exam are you likely to excel on, relatively speaking?
Consider these factors:
The GMAT is generally considered to have the more difficult quantitative section, but not because it is testing more difficult or fundamentally different mathematics concepts. Both tests cover concepts experienced in the 10th or 11th grade in U.S. high schools. The GMAT is generally considered more difficult for two reasons. First, it covers a few concepts in more detail than the GRE (basic probability) or that the GRE doesn’t cover (e.g., number theory).
Second, while the GRE is essentially a test of “pure math” skills, the GMAT asks you to apply math concepts in unique ways to test your logical reasoning skills (i.e., by quickly eliminating incorrect answers and using mental math to make estimates). With the GMAT, memorizing math concepts is often required but not sufficient, and trying to work out the specific answer to a question using a math formula (a fine approach on the GRE) could end up negatively impacting your score by causing you to spend far more time on the problem that is necessary or than which the designers of the test intended. Also, the GRE allows the use of a calculator while the GMAT does not.
The GMAT also tends to be considered a less straightforward exam. The GRE may feel more like the math and English exams you took in school. The GMAT, with its unique data sufficiency and integrated reasoning sections, demands that you familiarize yourself with its unique question types and sections to perform well.
The GRE relies much more heavily on vocabulary than the GMAT. People who read a lot or studied reading intensive subjects like Literature or History sometimes perform better on the verbal sections of the GRE relative to the GMAT. They are more likely to know the meaning of an obscure word or may be better at using context clues to figure out what words must mean. The GMAT relies more heavily on knowledge of grammar rules in its sentence correction section. Learning grammar rules in preparation for an exam tends to be easier than building up your vocabulary and intuition around word usage and meaning.
How much time do you have before you need to apply?
You can save valuable time by hypothesizing about whether you are likely to perform better on the GRE vs. the GMAT by looking at the major points of differentiation between the two exams above. However, if you have a lot of time before you’d be applying to MBA programs, and you don’t find the prospect of preparing for and taking both exams too exhausting or expensive (considering the direct and indirect costs of applying), you should consider just taking both exams.
Although, as noted above, the exams have clear differences, preparing for the GMAT does build the same types of mathematics, reading comprehension, critical thinking, and logic skills that will serve you well on the GRE. So, taking another month to prepare specifically for the GRE, for example, and then taking an official GRE is an option to consider. At that point, you’ll know, for sure, whether your GMAT or your GRE score puts you in the best possible light.
If your target MBA program doesn’t state a clear preference for the GRE (only about 2% of MBA programs are likely to state such a preference), it’s safe to assume a slight bias towards the GMAT might be present, putting you at a slight disadvantage if you apply with a GRE score. To overcome this slight disadvantage, you need to believe your relative performance on the GRE will be substantially better than your relative performance on the GMAT.