It wasn’t long ago that most schools required MBA applicants to submit GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test) scores. Only a relative handful of institutions would consider GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores, and very few required no test scores at all.
That’s changed significantly over the past decade as the profile of the ‘ideal’ MBA student has broadened. Gone are the days when every prospective manager was expected to be a hardcore number-cruncher. Sure, you’ll still need quant skills to survive your accounting, finance, and data analytics courses, but that’s not where success in an MBA program begins and ends. Schools now recognize that an MBA bolsters careers in a broad range of fields, including healthcare, nonprofit, education, the arts, and government. Today’s MBA candidates arrive with more diverse talents that legitimize the use of alternative entrance exams, such as the GRE. The fact that the GRE exam recently raised the difficulty of its quantitative section has further encouraged b-schools to accept it in lieu of the GMAT. Today, more than 1,200 MBA programs worldwide accept the GRE.
Why do most business schools require standardized test scores?
Business school admission departments need to predict which applicants will thrive in their program. That can be a challenge. Applicants earn their bachelor’s degrees in varied majors from disparate schools, making it difficult to compare them on the basis of GPA and faculty recommendations alone. Standardized tests provide a single measure for all candidates that schools can easily compare.
Additionally, standardized test scores have predictive value. Higher scores correlate to higher first-year grades and other measures of success (e.g., GPA for the entire program, faculty evaluations, likelihood of completing the degree). When an admissions department is uncertain about a particular candidate, standardized test scores provide an additional metric by which to predict whether that student will succeed in their program.
Completing an MBA is no easy feat. Of course, it’s worth all the effort—but you need to be prepared for the academic challenges ahead. Think of preparing for the GMAT or GRE as a first step in the process, the first challenge of many.
Which exam should you take?
To answer that question, consider the following questions:
- How do the GMAT and GRE differ?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages of each exam?
- Do MBA programs favor one exam over the other?
- Which standardized test scores does your MBA program of choice require?
How do the GMAT and GRE differ?
The GMAT and GRE differ significantly in terms of content, format, and scoring. We cover the key differences below.
If you had to boil the difference between the GMAT and GRE down to one characteristic, you’d probably say the GRE stresses verbal skills while the GMAT emphasizes quantitative skills.
The GRE includes two 30-minute essays and two 30-minute verbal reasoning sections. The latter typically include some pretty challenging vocabulary questions. The GRE quantitative section was once considered easier than the SAT (you read that right; easier than the undergraduate entrance exam), but test-writers have bolstered the section by adding question formats, including data interpretation. Like the SAT, the GRE quant section includes quantitative comparison questions.
The GMAT includes only one 30-minute essay. If the thought of writing timed essays makes you queasy, this may be enough to tilt you toward the GMAT exam (although remember, you’ll still have to write an essay; you just won’t have to write two essays). GMAT verbal questions focus on reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. Unlike the GRE, the GMAT does not test vocabulary.
The quantitative section of the GMAT asks tougher questions than does the GRE. It includes a unique and, to some, confusing question format called data sufficiency, in which you must determine whether the information provided is sufficient to answer the question. If you choose to take the GMAT, you’ll want to spend substantial prep time familiarizing yourself with this question format and completing practice tests.
It’s worth noting that neither exam tests math concepts beyond the tenth-grade level. There’s no trigonometry, no calculus, and rarely even any three-dimensional geometry. The challenge is in how the questions are posed, not in the actual math content.
Both the GMAT and the GRE are administered online. The GRE is also available as a paper-and-pencil exam, but only in parts of the world where the computer test is not available. In the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, the GRE is only available in the computer format.
The GRE takes 3.75 hours to complete; the GMAT, 3.5 hours. Scores for each remain valid for five years.
The most significant difference between the two exams is that the GMAT does not allow you to skip questions; you must answer the assigned question before you can move on to the next. The GRE allows students to skip around and return to questions within a specific section.
Both exams are computer-adaptive tests (CATs), which means that the computer reacts to how well you are doing. Answer correctly, and the computer will boost the level of difficulty; incorrect answers prompt the computer to ask easier questions. The goal of CATs is to zero in on your final score as quickly and accurately as possible. The GMAT does this on a question-by-question basis. The GRE is adaptive on a section-by-section basis, i.e., your performance on the first verbal section will determine the level of difficulty of your second verbal section.
The GRE is written and administered by ETS (the Educational Testing Service), the same company that administers the SAT. The GMAT is written and administered by the GMAC (Graduate Management Admissions Council).
The GRE is scored on a 130 to 170 scale, with separate scores for each section. The GMAT is graded on a 200 to 800 score range, with a single score for the entire exam and percentile ranks for individual sections. Many programs that accept both GRE and GMAT use the ETS score converter to compare GRE scores to GMAT scores.
Both exams report scores immediately at the end of a test administration, allow you to cancel your scores, and permit you to retake the test multiple times in a year. GMAT scores can be canceled on the day of the test; you have 30 days to reinstate them. You may take the GMAT up to eight times in a twelve-month period. GRE scores can also be canceled immediately; you have 60 days to reinstate them, and you may take the exam up to five times in a twelve-month period.
The GRE is somewhat less expensive. You’ll pay $205 to take the GRE vs. $250 for the GMAT.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of each exam?
Because the GRE was created for various graduate schools, it is the more versatile of the two tests. If you are considering applying to graduate programs other than an MBA program—or if you’re considering pursuing a dual degree—the GRE may be the more useful option. MBA programs are the only academic programs that accept the GMAT.
Most experts consider the GRE quantitative section less challenging than the GMAT quantitative section. They regard the GRE verbal exam as more difficult than its GMAT counterpart. If your strengths are verbal, the GRE test should produce a better result for you. If your verbal skills are relatively weak, the GMAT should show you in a better light. If you hate writing essays, you will find the GMAT half as onerous (one essay vs. two).
Because the GRE allows you to skip and return to questions, some test takers find it less stressful than the GMAT, where you must provide an answer before you can continue to the next question. Both exams operate on pretty tight time limits; neither is easier in terms of the amount of time allotted to complete the text.
Some employers—notably, some prominent management consulting firms—require applicants to provide GMAT scores. If you want to go into consulting, you might want to consider taking the GMAT test now, since you may be required to take it eventually.
While many business schools accept the GRE, all business schools that require standardized test scores accept the GMAT.
Does Howard’s Online MBA admissions team favor one exam over the other?
Some experts assert that MBA programs with a quantitative emphasis prefer the GMAT. In contrast, some sources argue that schools regard GRE scores more leniently because they only report average GMAT scores to US News & World Report and other ranking entities. Because they don’t publicize average GRE scores, there’s less pressure to keep that figure as high as possible, and the school can admit an otherwise qualified candidate who does not perform optimally on standardized tests.
Admissions offices rarely reveal the exact process by which they assess candidates, meaning that definitive conclusions regarding their preferences are rare. What’s undoubtedly true is that you will need to perform well on the quantitative section of whichever test you take to succeed—at Howard or any other top business school.
How to decide which exam to take
Ask most admissions officers this question and they’ll advise you to take whichever exam puts your application in the best light. You can determine this by taking practice exams and grading them, then comparing the results. Use the ETS score converter to determine which exam is better for you.
If you’re working with an MBA admissions counselor, ask for their advice. A good professional counselor should have detailed information on how each of your prospective programs regards the various admissions tests.
Finally, remember that standardized test scores are only one component in the application process. Devote as much energy to your essays, letters of recommendation, and resume as you devote to exams and you may not even need great test scores. The rest of your application will be so impressive you’ll be admitted regardless of your GMAT or GRE results.
If you still have questions, connect with a Howard Online MBA enrollment advisor today—and remember, our goal is to help you succeed.