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Why It's Impossible to Compare Short-Form GRE and GMAT Focus Scores

After the GRE General Test started gaining traction as an alternative to the GMAT for business school admissions in the late 2000s, it soon became rather easy to find a GRE to GMAT conversion tool online. For a while, it was right on the official ETS GRE website. Applicants could plug their scores into the tool and in both directions a supposedly equivalent score would pop out.

Several years ago, that interactive tool was removed from the Educational Testing Service (ETS) website - I will happily and openly speculate that it was at the direct request of the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), but I have not gotten explicit confirmation. However, a clumsy excel version of it (referencing the year 2017!) can still be downloaded from the ETS website and has been deployed throughout the internet. To test whether any available GMAT to GRE score conversion tool is based on that old ETS converter from 2017, simply plug in scores of 165 and 165; if the tool produces a 730 overall GMAT score with a 41 on the verbal section and a 47 on the quantitative - it's using the expired GMAT scoring scale and is derived from the antiquated ETS tool! It astonishes me that this methodology is still used, even though it is impossibly outdated, so I am here to shout loudly and clearly that no matter what an MBA candidate or even more importantly an admissions officer may have heard, it is impossible to compare GRE and GMAT scores following the changes the exams underwent in 2023.

Unequal Percentile conversionS

The simplest way to debunk the idea that any new short-form GRE score can be reliably converted to a GMAT Focus score is by using the published percentile values provided by the two administering bodies. The GMAC has gone out of its way to publicize its new scoring scale (and how it compares to the old GMAT curve - 645 is the new 700!) for the GMAT Focus Edition and even won the 2024 Bradley Hanson Award for Contributions to Educational Achievement, recognizing the advanced psychometrics that went into creating the adaptive scoring mechanisms of the new exam. If a GMAT Focus score is approximately 55 points different from a classic GMAT score, how can a GRE score be compared to a GMAT Focus Edition score through a conversion tool using classic GMAT scoring information? The answer is it can't.

Let's dive deeper to consider quantitative section scores and verbal section scores directly using percentiles that ETS has released for all GRE General test administrations from July 2019 through June 2022. According to ETS, a 170 (a perfect score!) on the quantitative section represents the 94th percentile. Now, a 94th percentile GMAT Focus quantitative section score is an 87 on the new scale of 60-90 for each section. As for the verbal section of the GRE, a score of 169 or 170 represents the 99th percentile, while on the GMAT Focus a score of 87 or 88 represents the 99th percentile and an 89 or 90 the 100th percentile. 

Now comes the tricky part, converting these individual GRE scores to an overall GMAT Focus Edition score. Of course, as GMAC Head of Test Development and Psychometrics, Chris Han stated himself, this is impossible since the Data Insights section of the GMAT Focus has no equivalent on the GRE, but we'll ignore that for demonstrative purposes. For simplicity, let's assume that each of the "perfect" GRE section scores is an 87 on the corresponding GMAT Focus Edition sections and use the overall percentile average of 97. The 97th percentile overall score for the GMAT Focus is a 685 - a fantastic score! Of course, using the old GRE to GMAT conversion tool, plugging 170 and 170 into each section pops out a perfect 800 on the classic GMAT scale, so unsuspecting MBA candidates might expect an 805 on the new GMAT, too, even though as we just showed a 685 (fully 120 points lower!) is a more reasonable expectation. 

Moving down the scoring scale, many students aim for a 165 on each GRE section believing that to be a reasonable approximation to a 720+ on the classic GMAT overall scoring scale. A 165 on the GRE verbal section is a very respectable 95th percentile score, but a 165 on the GRE quantitative section is only the 76th percentile. Averaging those two percentiles gets an 85.5, which we'll round up to an 86. Using the old conversion tool excel, a student is told to expect a 730 overall, which using the classic GMAT to GMAT Focus concordance table converts to the 685 that we just showed is actually more similar to a perfect 170 and 170 GRE score! However, just looking up the 86th percentile on the GMAT Focus overall scoring scale shows a 165 and 165 overall GRE score should be closer to a 635 on the GMAT Focus. These two examples alone show that there is at approximately 100 points of inflation from the most commonly used GMAT to GRE conversion tool.

a plea to admissions Professionals

To best serve students, I regularly attend conventions and expositions featuring admissions officers from leading business schools to stay on top of news and trends in the industry. Just this year I've been to the first Clear Admit MBA Fair and an MBA Tour event in MyGuru's hometown of Chicago where I heard admissions officers repeatedly say two mutually exclusive statements:

  1. We don't care which test a candidate submits of the GMAT, GRE, and in some cases even the lesser-known Executive Assessment
  2. We primarily use standardized tests to evaluate quantitative aptitude and readiness

I am not, nor have I ever been an employee of either GMAC or ETS. I am solely interested in these tests as valuable instruments to prepare students for business school and in that role let me state unequivocally - only the GMAT Focus edition (and to a lesser extent the Executive Assessment) tests quantitative skills that are even remotely relevant to business school.

One of the bigger casualties of the GRE shift to a shorter form of the exam is the second data analysis set of questions. Now, only one of the two GRE quantitative sections can be expected to have three questions pertaining to a data set featuring a chart or graph that is at least vaguely similar to the math content of the GMAT Focus Edition's data insights section that was specifically designed to be relevant to MBA coursework. Furthermore, quantitative success on the GRE relies much more on rote memorization (i.e. geometric formulas) and less on the creative real-life mathematic problem solving that the GMAT rewards. Ensuring business-related skills were tested was the primary reason that GMAC updated its exam in 2023. A cynical race to remain shorter and easier was the primary reason that ETS updated the GRE in half the time with infinitely less preparation and support for graduate school candidates.

The GRE verbal section is also inherently biased towards native English speakers since now seven of the twelve-question first verbal section can be expected to directly relate to vocabulary usage. I personally have degrees in communication and journalism, so prolixity (GRE vocabulary alert!) is near and dear to my heart, but for the life of me I cannot understand how effectively deploying "abecedarian" in a sentence is relevant to any of the verbal skills that a business leader might need. As the globe inexorably shrinks. expanding the MBA applicant pool across seas, borders, and languages, it becomes more and more inexcusable to use an exam with such a clear advantage for some but not others.

WHy This All Matters

There is a persistent belief that the GRE is an "easier" test than the GMAT. While that may be true, we at MyGuru have seen firsthand that the "easier" test does not always mean better for an MBA application. Preparing for the standardized test portion of an MBA application should be seen as an opportunity and not an obligation. For the diligent MBA applicant it's an opportunity to showcase dedication to your grad school goals and to establish good study habits before heading back to campus. Building the logic and problem solving abilities needed to excel on the GMAT will develop qualitative and quantitative skills that will serve any MBA student well in the classroom or the board room. Of course, we at MyGuru remain available to assist in your GMAT preparation or GRE preparation and as always, the best way to determine which test is best for you is by taking a practice exam of each rather than relying on these unreliable conversion tools!