Getting into business schools can be challenging with some of the most competitive programs accepting fewer than 15% of applicants. Applicants do their best to put their best foot forward, and standardized tests are one part of the admissions equation that requires some significant prep work for the majority of applicants (we all know that one person who scored a 720 cold and secretly hate them for it… I’m looking at you, Jessica).
Traditionally, the GMAT has been the favorite son because it is designed specifically for b-school applications. However, many universities have now opened their doors to the GRE in order to increase the amount of talent and diversity to choose from. According to a 2016 Kaplan Survey, roughly 90% of programs accept both the GRE and GMAT throughout the US and Europe.
If you want a simple answer, consider this bit of info from the same Kaplan survey:
“Twenty-six percent of admissions officer say those who submit a GMAT score have an admissions advantage over those who submit a GRE score. Only 2 percent say GRE takers have the advantage; the remaining 73 percent say neither exam taker has the advantage, essentially unchanged from Kaplan’s 2015 survey.”
Keep in mind that this survey was done in 2016, so take it with a grain of salt. The point is: make a conscious choice about which test is best for you. With that in mind, I’ll point out the key things to consider when deciding which test will best suit you.
First, let’s walk through whether you actually have the option to decide between the GRE and GMAT. Then, we will discuss differences between the two exams.
WHO HAS THE OPTION TO CHOOSE GRE vs. GMAT
Are you considering consulting?
Key Takeaway: If you are considering consulting, I would recommend taking the GMAT over the GRE (though there IS one exception I can think of).
Many top consulting firms look at your GMAT stats (especially if your MBA program has grade non-disclosure policies) and typically want to see a 710 or higher in order to identify the crème de la crème according to a Poets & Quants article. “Why can’t they just convert the GRE score to its GMAT equivalent?” you might ask. To be honest, I don’t have a bullet-proof answer. I would imagine some consulting firms have done the conversion on occasion, but it’s so rare that it’s difficult to find any articles on it. So if you want to keep it simple and are interested in consulting: opt for the GMAT. However, there is still some flexibility to this advice.
Let’s say that you: (1) have already taken the GRE and secured a great score or (2) feel more confident with the GRE and can use it to get into a great school but would need more time to perform better on the GMAT. In those cases, you may be able to first use your GRE score simply to get into business school and then study more for the GMAT before you begin your consulting job search. It is a bit risky… but it is an option.
If you go for the route mentioned above, you would also want to carefully consider how to present your story to an admissions committee. If your narrative is that you know you want to do consulting, a top b-school might be confused why you have taken the GRE instead of the GMAT. Therefore, if you do opt to take the GRE (and the vast majority of you should NOT be doing this if you know you want to be in consulting), make sure your story is as strong as possible.
Finally, let’s not forget that business school is extremely demanding, and you will already have TONS of things to pull on your time. Putting off the GMAT to study for it later might be a bit unrealistic depending on your timeline, and there’s no guarantee that you will score at your ideal level. Therefore, I would not typically recommend this route; however, it is an option in unique situations.
Which programs are you considering?
Key Takeaway: Not all schools accept the GRE, so know your programs. However, some joint programs may prefer the GRE.
Though many schools accept the GRE these days, not all of them do. Here is a list of schools that currently accept the GRE, courtesy of ETS (the makers of the GRE). If you’re not sure of which schools you’re targeting but want to make sure you have more options, I recommend taking the GMAT. However, if you will score better on the GRE and think it will open up more options for you personally, then you may want to pursue the GRE.
Are you applying to only business school?
Key Takeaway: If you plan to apply to master’s programs other than just the business school, then the GRE probably makes more sense.
If you are torn between b-school and other graduate programs, the GRE may make more sense. Even though many business schools are now accepting the GMAT, non-MBA graduate programs are NOT accepting the GMAT. Therefore, you may cut down on your workload by studying for the GRE if you’re still torn.
THE BIG DIFFERENCES
As mentioned before, the GMAT was originally crafted specifically with business schools in mind whereas the GRE is built for more general graduate school admissions. What this translates into are tests that emphasize different skillsets.
The GMAT focuses more heavily on quantitative and analytical skills (i.e. interpreting charts and data, solving complex word problems, and solving data sufficiency problems). This makes sense because that’s often what you need in business: the ability to quickly calculate and determine if you have enough info to solve a problem. You will not have access to any sort of calculator for the GMAT quant section, though you do get a simple digital calculator for the Integrated Reasoning portion.
The GRE is a bit easier when it comes to the quantitative side of things but bulks up the verbal portion. In particular, the GRE puts a big emphasis on vocabulary. This may be particularly challenging for test-takers who don’t speak English as their first language. When it comes to the quantitative portion you’ll get a simple calculator.
Both are computer adaptive tests, but they adapt differently. For the GMAT, you cannot return to a previous question. The algorithm tracks how you’ve performed on previous questions within a single section and then uses that data to determine the next question you will see. In contrast, the GRE is adaptive by section. For example, because you have two quantitative sections, the algorithm can use data from the first section as a whole and then determine what kinds of questions you will see in the next quant section. The test will allow you to return to previous questions within a single section.
I always recommend that when in doubt, test things out! Each website provides practice questions and free full-length practice tests. It’s a great idea to do a bit of prep by familiarizing yourself with the different types of questions, and then take a full test to see how you feel and how you perform. Most candidates don’t perform particularly well without much prep, so I would consider not only the initial score but also the potential you think you have for improvement (for more on plotting out your test preparation, check out this article!).
- GRE Practice Questions
- GRE Free Full-Length Practice Tests
- GMAT Practice Questions
- GMAT Free Full-Length Practice Tests
- GRE to GMAT Conversion Tool