Should you take the GMAT or the GRE for MBA applications?
First, let’s start with the key difference between the tests:
GRE: The GRE has three sections: analytical writing (two 30-min essays), verbal (two sections), and quantitative (two sections). There will also be another section purely for research purposes, which will be either quantitative or verbal (you won’t know which section it is).
GMAT: The GMAT has four sections: analytical writing (one 30-min essay), integrated reasoning (fewest questions), quantitative, and verbal (most questions). The integrated reasoning section measures how well you use data to solve complex problems, and contains questions such as chart or table analysis, graph interpretation, two-part analysis, and multi-source reasoning. Although the GMAT does not have an entire section for research purposes, there are several ungraded questions throughout the test that are used for research.
Both tests take roughly the same amount of time, are valid for 5 years, and are available in a computer adaptive version (depending on what part of the world you are in). The GMAT is slightly more expensive than the GRE ($250 vs $205). The most significant difference is the presence of the integrated reasoning section for the GRE. Additionally, the GRE can be used to gain admission into a variety of graduate programs, whereas the GMAT is exclusively for business school admissions. Increasingly, a larger number of MBA programs are accepting the GRE in addition to the GMAT (hundreds of MBA programs now accept the GRE).
Here are some factors to consider as you decide which test to take for your MBA admissions:
1) School list.
Review your top choices for MBA programs and see if each of your programs accept both the GRE or GMAT. If one of your top choices only accepts the GMAT, then your decision may already be made for you. Although it is likely that all of your MBA programs of choice accept both tests, it is critical to check and make sure.
2) Practice test scores.
Taking practice tests of both the GRE and GMAT can be one of the best ways to figure out which test you may perform better on. Don’t worry if there are formulas or concepts you have forgotten (you can easily study those). Pay more attention to the types of questions being asked and how they fit with how your brain naturally works, what your strengths are, and what types of analyses you find easier. You’ll be exposed to the differences on each test, such as the vocabulary focus of the GRE versus the grammar and editing focus of the GMAT. You can use these insights to think about which test you are more interested in studying for. The integrated reasoning section of the GMAT may suit you if you have a lot of experience in quantitative analysis or interpreting data in charts, graphs, or tables. If you don’t enjoy math, the GRE may be a better fit for you, as the math can be more straightforward and the test allows a use of a calculator for quantitative problems. No test is actually easier than the other, it just depends on what your strengths, tendencies, and interests are. Taking a sample of both tests can be paramount to helping you decide where you want to dedicate your studying efforts over the next few months. There are a number of free, online practice tests that you can use to get a flavor of each one.
3) Score ranges.
Check the average scores for your top schools and see how much work you may have to do on either test to get to where you want to be. Although you may initially score higher on one test rather than the other, think about the type of studying you may need to do and how much time it may take for you to get your score into your desired range. Furthermore, check to see if your top choice MBA programs post score ranges for the GRE. Many MBA programs have only begun to do this recently (and some still only post GMAT score ranges), which may mean that they have additional leeway to accept candidates across a wider variety of GRE scores without publicly reporting it. Although not always the case, this could be a factor in helping you decide which test to take if you are struggling with the GMAT.
4) Further academic study.
Are you interested in a dual degree program or perhaps considering a second masters or a PhD later on in life? I know quite a few people who started out in business school and then decided to either supplement their education with an additional degree in international relations, education, public policy, data science, statistics, or healthcare administration, or wanted to take their business studies to a PhD level. If this might be the case, even if you don’t know for sure now, you may want to consider taking the GRE to give you the most amount of options in the future. Remember that both test scores are only valid for 5 years.
5) Background and experience.
Although not always useful in determining which test you may be best suited for, thinking about your work and academic experience can be helpful. If you have worked in consulting, finance, or operations, you may be used to analyzing lots of data and building graphs, and the quantitative and integrated reasoning sections of the GMAT may be ideal for you. If you were a liberal arts major and spent most of your college education synthesizing lots of written information, reading quickly, and writing papers, you may be best suited for the analytical writing and verbal sections of the GRE. Of course, these are not steadfast rules – you may be a liberal arts major and be extremely suited for the GMAT – but just something to think about. Take both practice tests and see where you feel the most comfortable.
Good luck! And remember above all, test scores are just one component of your application. Having a well-rounded application that demonstrates a strong undergraduate performance, lots of professional and leadership experience, teamwork, and a strong case for why business school can help balance out a lower test score.