GMAT vs GRE – this is a conundrum that is not uncommon among MBA applicants today. This scenario has developed fairly recently, but it is here to stay. 2011 onwards, ETS (Education Testing Service, the people who conduct the GRE) started pushing for wider inclusion of the GRE among business schools. According to a US News report, more and more business schools are now also accepting the GRE for MBA admissions. Before we can get to the question on whether one should take the GRE or the GMAT for B-school admissions, we first need to compare the two tests to point out obvious differences.
GMAT vs GRE – what are the obvious differences?
While the GMAT and the GRE both test basic Quantitative (Math) and Verbal (English language) skills, they vary from each other on a number of parameters. We list some of these below.
Quant: More variety on GRE questions, but GMAT questions can be harder
The GRE quantitative section includes four different types of questions (click here to see the different types). On the other hand, the GMAT includes only two different types of questions (see the different types of GMAT questions here).
In spite of this fact, though, GMAT Quant is generally considered harder because the sheer difficulty level of questions, especially Data Sufficiency questions on the GMAT, can be high. A perfect Quant score on the GRE exam is 93 percentile (i.e. 7% of test-takers achieve it), while on the GMAT exam it is 97 percentile (i.e. 4% of test-takers achieve it).
While this is not an exact comparison (for example, because GRE-takers tend to be more often from quant-oriented backgrounds than GMAT-takers do), but it does provide some flavour that GRE quant is, in general, slightly more negotiable.
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Verbal: Both the GRE and GMAT have takers
The GRE as well as the GMAT contain three different types of questions on the Verbal portions (click here for information on the GRE question types and click here for more information on the GMAT question types).
Those who are more comfortable with English grammar and logic find the Sentence Correction and Critical Reasoning question types on the GMAT Verbal section to be more negotiable.
On the other hand, those more comfortable with vocabulary usage and implementation find the GRE Verbal section to be less cumbersome. Both tests have their own takers here.
Test mechanics: You cannot skip questions on the GMAT, while you can on the GRE
The GMAT is adaptive on a per-question basis, which means that you cannot move on to the next question unless you answer the previous one. The GRE, on the other hand, allows you to move between questions within sections.
Which is better? It is hard to say. Some people feel that the GMAT’s insistence on being able to answer each question before moving on bestows much-needed test-taking disciplines, while others feel that the GRE’s flexibility to go back to questions one cannot immediately answer is a big help.
Total testing time: Both the GRE and the GMAT end up about the same on this parameter
The GRE takes 3 hours 45 minutes to administer, while the GMAT takes 3 hours and 30 minutes. Nothing much to choose there. One important point to highlight for both – stamina is important.
Minor point: The GRE is cheaper to take than the GMAT is
The GRE costs $195 to take once, while the GMAT costs $250. Now, while some people will look at this $55 difference and say that it is significance, we feel that in the overall context of the application process, this amount is low enough to not be a factor at all.
Think about it – you are applying for an MBA and will end up spending $100,000+. Would you endanger your chances to save $55 by taking the GRE for reasons other than potential performance? No chance.
These comparisons having been made, which test should you take if you are applying to top MBA programs?
In our opinion, the GMAT is better than the GRE for MBA admissions
Here is why:
1. The GMAT still remains the de-facto standard for MBA admissions: While the number of GRE-takers intending to use their scores to apply for MBA programs rose 38% last year according to ETS, the same article also mentions that most schools see 10%-30% of their applicants apply with a GRE score.
This means 70%-90% (and the average is likely to be closer to 90% than to 70% for top programs) of MBA applicants still apply using GMAT scores, rather than GRE scores.
2. (Indian MBA applicants–>) Not all schools accept GRE scores: About three years ago, top schools like Chicago Booth and Berkeley Haas did not accept the GRE instead of the GMAT. That has now changed. All top programs now accept the GRE as well as the GMAT.
With one notable exception (Indian candidates, please sit up and take notice): Indian School of Business (ISB). ISB clearly mentions that it will not accept the GRE in place of the GMAT for its prestigious PGP (MBA equivalent) program. As of the first publishing of this post (June 2014), ISB does not accept the GRE.
3. No clear answer yet on how schools use GRE scores: As so few applicants come in with GRE scores, it is difficult to find competitive ranges or class profile averages for GRE scores at top MBA programs.
Look up the class profile of most programs and you will find prominently displayed the average GMAT score (often the 20-80% ranges for the GMAT as well), but not one program lists the average GRE scores or GRE score ranges.
For sure, MBA programs would have tools to be able to rate GRE performance and compare it to that on the GMAT, but why risk a comparison that could go either way for you, especially with no data as a guidance on what a great GRE score would be?
4. Post-MBA scenario: Ok, this is not relevant for MBA Admissions, but still important when if you are keen on IB or consulting. Some recruiters, especially investment banks and strategy consulting firms, like to look at GMAT scores when shortlisting candidates.
They will accept GRE scores as well in most cases, but again the lack of data (especially when comparing you to your peers, most of whom will report GMAT scores) can make a clear comparison an issue.