GMAT vs. GRE: Which is Best for Your MBA Application?

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Tuesday, February 12, 2019
By Mark Skoskiewicz
Photo by iStock
When preparing to apply for the top MBA programs, which entrance exam is the right one to take? These tips will help you decide.

Should I take the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)? It’s an increasingly common question given the increasing acceptance of the GRE at the top business schools worldwide.

Your decision should be based on a logical exploration of your answers to the below questions:

  • Do you believe that MBA programs on average prefer on 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 one vs. the other?

Do you believe that MBA programs on average prefer one over the other?

This article from Poets&Quants suggests MBA programs don’t care which you take. Similarly, in this U.S. News article on the GMAT vs. the GRE, which contains facts gathered in a 2016 survey conducted by Kaplan, one learns that 73 percent of MBA programs surveyed said that GRE and GMAT test-takers were treated equally by the admissions committee.

However, the same article notes that only 2 percent of schools express a clear preference for the GRE, while a significant 26 percent said GMAT takers have an advantage. And, if you search around the admissions portions of top MBA web-sites, you’ll find facts like this: at Harvard Business School, 85 percent 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.

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 to the GRE. You should research your target programs, and if there is indeed a preference, you should note it. But 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 hiring process. If you are interested in one or both careers, you have another reason to learn towards the GMAT.

Do you believe you’d perform substantially better on one vs. the other?

All else equal, you want to apply with a standardized test score that puts you in the best relative light with admissions consultants. If the schools you are applying to don’t have a preference, your 85th percentile GRE score is clearly more desirable than your 70th percentile GMAT score.

Of course, the clearest way to determine which test would allow you to put your best foot forward would be to take both exams. But you can save valuable time by hypothesizing about whether you are likely to perform better on one versus the other by looking at the major points of differentiation between the two exams.

The GMAT is generally considered to have the more difficult quantitative section, but not because its mathematics concepts are more complex. Both tests cover concepts experienced in the 10th or 11th grade in U.S. high schools. However, the GMAT is often 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 taking you a very long time and may negatively impacting your score. 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 substantial peculiarities to score 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. 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.

If your target MBA program doesn’t state a clear preference for the GMAT or the GRE, it’s safe to assume a slight bias towards the GMAT is 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.

Mark Skoskiewicz
Founder, MyGuru
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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