GMAT vs. GRE – Everything You Need to Know

October 24, 2018

Ah, the burning question: Which is best to take for b-school admission, the GMAT or GRE? No doubt countless students around the world are tapping their fingers nervously as their desks, wondering the exact same thing. With more and more schools by the month publicly stating they will gladly accept either exam—and heck, even some law schools taking the GRE in lieu of the LSAT—it begs the question—is the GRE the new "it" test?

As if applying to MBA programs wasn't stressful enough, now prospective test-takers are scratching their heads wondering which exam will give them the better chance of admission. Rest assured that the advent of GRE scores for business schools isn't to stress you out any more than you have to be, it's really an attempt for programs to reach out to a broader pool of applicants to garner more diversity. Yet at the same time, it leaves many unanswered questions on the part of the applicant, such as: Will a GRE score hurt me when applying to Harvard? If this is the new craze, is taking the GMAT old news? Will one over the other give me an extra leg up when push comes to shove?

In an attempt to shed some light on this change in admissions policy, let's examine both tests—their differences and similarities in everything from content to structure to cost. With your sights set high on the school of your dreams, you should pursue the test that will play the best to your strengths and aid you in admissions. Hopefully, this article will do just that!

Both Exams at a Glance

Since breaking down the GMAT and GRE can involve information overload, let's take a look at the differences between both exams at a glance. Hopefully, this will paint a visual image and give you some key takeaways as we delve further into their similarities, differences, and school preferences.

 

 GREGMAT
Test-Takers Annually559,000251,000
Cost$160$250
Length of time3 hours, 45 minutes3 hours, 30 minutes
Business SchoolsOver 1300 b-schools accept the GREOver 7,000 b-schools accept the GMAT
Scoring260-340 composite range200-800 composite range
90th Percentile327700

It might be a good idea to spend some time with this GMAT vs. GRE breakdown. What are some aspects that leap out at you? If you are able to keep some of the primary points about them in the back of your mind, it enhance your decision-making as you get closer to making your decision.

Verbal

Traditionally, the GRE is known for having a more challenging verbal section than the GMAT. This is probably due to the necessity of an advanced knowledge of vocabulary and even some grammar on the GRE—even though both tests claim to not test verbal content beyond the high school level. Still, those with verbal strengths will probably fare better on the GRE than GMAT, making it appealing for those not so math-inclined.

In terms of key differences, the GMAT is known to be "analysis heavy", whereas the GRE is "inference heavy", meaning you make inferences to determine what could possibly be true. Because of this, the GRE has more aspects of formal logic that is similar to a philosophy class or even the LSAT, for example. Despite having slightly different names for specific question types—such as the GRE's "Text Completion" and "Sentence Equivalence" which mirror somewhat to the GMAT's "Sentence Completion" ones.

How did you perform on the ACT or SAT verbal section? If you are trying to determine whether or not your strengths lie in your grammar and vocab abilities, it may help to look to previous standardized tests and their results to guidance. Also, keep in mind that unlike the GRE, the GMAT does not allow you to alternate between questions. This comes to play most importantly in Reading Comprehension, where speed reading through an article and internalizing it is important on the GMAT so as not to waste precious time.

Quant

Both tests are similar in their Quant sections, where you are asked to solve questions revolving around mathematical theories and concepts. Again, this does not test beyond the high school level, so really advanced mathematics is not necessary for this. If you are quick at solving math in your head, the GMAT may be more for you since the GMAT does not allow a calculator. On the GRE, however, a "digital calculator" is present on the screen where you can solve problems.

The Quant section is known to be more difficult on the GMAT than the GRE and not just because of the no-calculator rule. The GRE contains more straightforward questions that are not question-adaptive; meaning your performance on one question will not factor into whether the following question is easier or harder. Because of this, truly challenging math problems on the GRE can be quite rare. It's no coincidence that MBA applicants in the world of finance and statistics will take the GMAT and promote their Quant scores on their resumes. Truly, the GMAT involves some serious math!

One positive aspect of the GMAT Quant is that the scoring algorithm is designed for missed questions, making it all the more forgiving. Again, it's designed to push your mathematical capabilities, where eliciting wrong answers can demand a lot of brainpower. This is not true necessarily for the GRE, which is not question-adaptive. If your strengths lie in mathematics then the GMAT may be more suited for you. Of course, sitting for a mock exam can give you the feedback you need prior to making the decision.

School Preferences

Within the past six years, more and more MBA programs and business schools are accepting the GRE in lieu of the GMAT. Why the change? Well, the alteration appears to be in an attempt to corral a more diverse student population. Not only is the GRE more widen taken, but it's also less expensive, giving the chance for students who might otherwise not sit for the GMAT to apply to business school.

Deirde Leopold, Managing Director of Admissions and Financial Aid at Harvard Business School stated, "We are pleased to widen our requirements to give all MBA candidates the option of submitting results from either the GRE or GMAT exams. Since many Harvard applicants are also considering graduate programs besides the MBA, there is now no need for them to take the GMAT if they have already taken the GRE." Leopold goes on to say, "We believe that both the GMAT and GRE meet our expectations of what a standardized test can tell us about a candidate's ability to thrive in our MBA Program."

Stanford concurs, stating on tis website, "Either the GMAT or the GRE is required for admission. We have no preference for one test over the other. If you take both exams, you can provide both scores." The GRE is even being accepted in lieu of the LSAT for law programs with schools like Cornell and NYU announcing in July of 2018, "Our hope is that accepting the GRE and GMAT allows us to reach a diverse group of students from different backgrounds, such as engineering or technology." Clearly, if you are applying to business schools and have a varied academic or professional background, now is the time to strike while the iron is hot considering this trend.

Some prominent MBA programs that accept either the GRE or GMAT are as follows: 

  • Harvard Business School
  • Wharton School
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology – Sloan
  • Columbia Business School
  • Cornell University – Johnson
  • New York University – Stern
  • Northwestern University – Kellogg
  • University of Chicago – Booth
  • Duke University – Fuqua
  • Yale School of Management
  • Dartmouth College – Tuck
  • University of California Berkeley – Haas

Of course, the only way to know for sure whether or not your intended schools accept both exams is to go to their website and find out directly. Furthermore, it might not be a bad idea to check the statistics regarding how many students apply with the GMAT versus the GRE. Trust a school at their word when they say they have no bias for either test. Thankfully, as is evidenced with this current trend, b-school-bound students in 2018 and beyond have choices.

In the end, deciding which exam to both study and sit for is a personal decision you must make. If you're applying to non-business graduate programs that require the GRE, it probably makes more sense to conserve all of your energy for that. After all, you want an exam that meets all of your needs and is flexible as to your course of study. Remember a primary reason for MBA programs accepting the GRE is so that students applying to other graduate programs don't have to study for two different tests.

If you are only applying to b-schools, however, and are looking at the choice of which exam to sit for, weigh your options carefully. Take stock of your strengths. Would you say your aptitudes lie more in the verbal or quantitative reasoning realm? Based on your diagnostic practice exams for both, which test did you find to be more suited to your talents, needs, and capabilities? These questions—among others—are all important when deciding whether to take the GMAT or the GRE.

If you're truly on the fence and applying only to MBA programs, then our assessment would be to take the GMAT. Since it is the "traditional" exam used for b-school admission, it does carry a weight and level of seriousness to it. While some schools may claim no bias—and we have to take them at their word—if given the choice with viable options either way, pursue the route countless other MBA applicants have chosen before with the GMAT. Anything to help you advance your seriousness as a viable business school student can only increase your chances of admission. Better to stick with the road most taken as opposed to the unusual one in any effort to enhance your candidacy.