If you’re considering applying to a graduate-level business program, you’re probably thinking about the question of standardized tests. According to the Application Trends Survey, over 90% of applicants to the top 100 MBA programs (according to the Financial Times Global MBA Ranking) included a standardized test score from one of these two exams. 70% of applicants who included a test score used their GMAT score.
Is this an indication that the GMAT is the best test for you to use in your business school applications? In the past, this was clearly true. The GMAT was created in 1953 for the specific purpose of predicting MBA students’ performances in their first year of school. For much of the time since then, the GMAT was the test of choice for MBA programs everywhere.
In recent years, however, things have begun to change. Now, over 1,200 MBA programs accept either the GMAT or the GRE. This doesn’t mean the two tests are equivalent, however. There are meaningful differences between the two tests, and understanding these differences is key to figuring out which test is best for you.
GMAT vs. GRE: What Are the Differences?
The GMAT and the GRE both have certain things in common, but they also have important differences.
First, let’s look at the basics.
- Time: The GMAT takes 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete, while the GRE takes 3 hours and 45 minutes.
- Cost: The GMAT costs $250, while the GRE costs $205.
- Format: Both tests are generally administered by computer, although the GRE offers a paper-based test for certain areas where computer testing is less available. Both tests also offer a remote option for taking the test at home.
- Structure: The GRE includes a 60-minute Analytical Writing section (with two 30-minute essays), two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections, two 30-minute Verbal Reasoning sections, and one 30-35 minute section that can be either Quantitative or Verbal. This final section is not included in your score, but is used to experiment with new questions for future exams. The GMAT includes one 30-minute Analytical Writing section, one 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section, a 65-minute Verbal section, and a 62-minute Quantitative section.
One important difference between the two tests is that the GMAT is much more heavily oriented toward quantitative questions, whereas the GRE is more oriented toward verbal questions. Also, the GRE allows the use of a calculator, whereas the GMAT does not.
The GMAT is also formatted as a “computer-adaptive” test, meaning the questions get easier or harder as you go, depending on whether you answer them correctly or not. The GRE, on the other hand, has a fixed sequence of questions that do not change based on your performance. The GRE also allows you to return to previous questions and change your answers, while the GMAT does not. This last factor might be important to consider as you weigh which test might allow you to achieve better results.
One final difference involves score reports. The GMAT allows you to submit your scores to an unlimited number of schools for up to 5 years. The GRE, on the other hand, allows you to send your scores to 4 schools for free, but after that, each additional score report costs $27.
GMAT vs. GRE: Which Test Do Business Schools Prefer?
In years past, the GMAT has been the clear favorite among business schools. This makes sense, given that the GMAT was specifically designed to predict b-school performance. In recent years, however, virtually all business schools have begun accepting GRE scores as well.
The reason most business schools have started accepting GRE results in addition to GMAT results is that the GRE is accessible to a wider range of applicants from a greater variety of backgrounds. Business schools have begun valuing diversity in their applicant pool in terms of demographic, educational, and professional backgrounds. The GMAT tends to reward students who have a traditional background in business and business education. By accepting GRE results, business schools have widened their talent pool to include more worthy applicants who may not look as good on paper with a GMAT result.
GMAT vs. GRE: Which Test Should You Take?
When considering whether the GMAT or the GRE is right for you, you should consider your holistic applicant profile and how this will look to business schools. This includes your background and experience, your strengths and weaknesses, your educational goals, and which test is likely to make you a more compelling applicant.
If you’re applying as a candidate with a relatively traditional background—let’s say you went to a conventional four-year American university and studied business as an undergrad—you may want to consider the GMAT. The GMAT would be the standard test for such an applicant to take, and admissions committees may wonder why such a student would take the GRE. Further, the GMAT is likelier (though not guaranteed) to play to your strengths.
If, on the other hand, you’re applying from a less conventional background, the GRE may highlight your strengths more. This is especially true if you’re stronger at verbal skills vs. quantitative skills. The GRE is tilted more toward verbal thinkers, and its quantitative questions are more straightforward.
Another thing to note is what your choice of test says about you as an applicant. The GMAT exists exclusively to assess b-school applicants. The GRE, on the other hand, is considered by a wide variety of academic disciplines. Taking the GMAT signifies to b-schools that you’re exclusively interested in studying business. This can make you a more compelling applicant, since schools like to know that a student has clear and specific goals, which are aligned with what the school has to offer.
If you’re considering the multiple kinds of graduate programs, and b-school is just one among them, then the GRE may be the right move for you.
If you’re absolutely set on b-school and a career in business, one final thing to consider is that the GMAT isn’t only useful for business school. Many employers, especially elite consulting firms, also take GMAT scores into account when making hiring decisions. That means that taking the GMAT can help you in your career search even after b-school is over.
Both the GRE and the GMAT are legitimate options for applicants to business school, and it’s possible to land a spot in a top-tier MBA program with either. However, some students may find that one test or the other is right for them. While most b-schools now accept results from either test, some schools have clear preferences. Before you make your choice, you should come up with a list of your top schools and research whether they prefer the GMAT to the GRE. After finding this out, think about the differences between the GMAT and the GRE and make your decision based on which one will make you, specifically, look like a better applicant.
About the Author
Mark Skoskiewicz is the founder of MyGuru, a provide rof 1-1 GMAT tutoring, as well as test prep services for a wide variety of exams. MyGuru also recently launched a self-paced video-based GMAT course that focused on the logic and critical thinking required to excel on the GMAT. Mark graduated from Kellogg with an MBA in 2010 and founded MyGuru while at Kellogg in 2009. He also has almost 20 years of experience in strategy consulting, and holds a BS in Management from Indiana University as well.