Here’s a question we’re frequently asked in the admissions department: Should I take the GRE or the GMAT for business school?
There isn’t a definitive answer that applies across the board. Different schools accept different tests—and some accept both. But there are some things to consider before you make your decision; we’ve outlined them below.
GMAT vs. GRE
To understand the purpose of these tests, it helps to see them in context, alongside other exams associated with higher education. Each of the so-called “professional schools” has its own standardized test:
MCAT—for applicants to medical school
LSAT—for applicants to law school
GMAT—for applicants to business school
The GRE was created for applicants to most other graduate programs that don’t fall into one of these three professional schools.
The GMAT Exam
The Graduate Management Admission Test, or GMAT, was created by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) specifically for admission to business schools. GMAC owns and administers the test.
What’s on the GMAT test?
Generally speaking, the GMAT assesses your quantitative and analytical skills, which are necessary for business school and demanded of business professionals. According to the official GMAT website, the skills demonstrated on the GMAT exam are the ones “that matter most in business school and beyond.” Up until just a few years ago, it was the only test accepted by MBA program recruiters. The GMAT is comprised of four sections:
Analytical Writing Assessment: Test takers are presented with a topic and asked to analyze the reasoning behind a given argument in a written critique. Skills evaluated: analysis of the argument.
Integrated Reasoning: Test takers are presented with numerous information sources in different formats and asked to solve complex problems based on all the information provided. Skills evaluated: multi-source reasoning, graphics interpretation, analysis.
Quantitative: Test takers use reasoning skills (data analysis and drawing conclusions) to solve mathematical problems. Skills evaluated: data sufficiency, problem-solving.
Verbal: Test takers answer questions related to understanding/analyzing information and using reasoning skills to craft arguments, as well as proficiency of the English language. Skills evaluated: reading comprehension, critical reasoning, sentence correction.
Test takers receive one score for the GMAT, ranging from 200 to 800. For the past five years, 500 has been the average score on the GMAT around the world. (Note: You can find sample topics from each of these sections on the GMAT website.)
The GRE Exam
The GRE General Test assesses quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills. According to the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the test, the questions featured on this test “closely reflect the kind of thinking you’ll do in graduate or business school.”
What’s on the GRE test?
The GRE has three test sections:
Verbal Reasoning: Test takers are presented with text passages and answer questions demonstrating their ability to analyze and draw conclusions, distinguish major from minor points, summarize text, and understand the meanings of words. Skills evaluated: analysis and evaluation of text, and the ability to synthesize information obtained from it.
Quantitative Reasoning: Test takers answer questions requiring them to interpret data presented in a variety of forms. Skills evaluated: basic math skills and the ability to reason quantitatively and solve problems with quantitative methods.
Analytical Writing: Test takers write two separately-timed responses—one to analyze a particular issue and one to analyze an argument. Skills evaluated: critical thinking, information analysis, and writing.
Test takers receive three scores for the GRE—one for each test section. In verbal and quantitative reasoning, scores range from 130 to 170. Analytical writing scores range from 0 to 6.
Which test should you take?
In the past five years, some business schools have started to accept both the GRE and the GMAT. In deciding whether to take the GRE or GMAT for business school, consider the following:
Which test does the school or schools you hope to attend accept? Check this first—GMAT vs. GRE requirements vary.
How much time do you have to prepare? The GMAT takes longer to prepare for because it’s a more complex test. It has four parts compared to the GRE’s three, and places more emphasis on quantitative and analytical skills. If you’re short on time (and it doesn’t matter if you take the GRE vs. GMAT), you might consider taking the GRE.
What are your strengths? A lot of people ask, “When it comes to GRE vs. GMAT, which is easier?” Unfortunately, the answer varies according to the person taking the test. In general, people with better-than-average analytical skills, like engineers, for example, tend to do well on the GMAT because their natural way of thinking matches the structure of the test, with a greater focus on logical arguments and quantitative questions. People who are stronger in vocabulary and communications may do better on the GRE, though math is still a big component of the exam. It all depends on your strengths, your study style, and the way you think. So don’t waste time considering which is harder or easier—both require a great deal of preparation if you hope to do well.
Will your GMAT score be necessary for future employment? Depending on the type of career you go into, some companies may ask to see your GMAT score as part of the recruitment process (though this happens very rarely). They’ll consider it right along with your transcript, interview, experience, and any other information they have available. If you have a GRE score, it’s possible they won’t consider you as a potential candidate for employment. Research companies that you would like to work for post-MBA or talk to corporate recruiters to seek out what they look for in new hires.
How will my scores compare against other applicants? Some schools convert GRE scores to GMAT scores using a special comparison tool. Only the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning scores will be considered in the conversion, not the analytical writing score.
How much will each test cost? Both the GRE and GMAT are an investment. Depending on what part of the world you live in, the cost to take the GRE is either $205 or $220. It can be retaken once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous 12-month period. The cost to take the GMAT exam is $250 globally. The GMAT can be retaken once every 31 days, up to five times within a continuous 12-month period.
Testing Tips For Future MBA Applicants
Ask potential schools for three things when it comes to both the GMAT and the GRE: 1) The minimum requirement for admission, 2) the range of test scores they receive, and 3) the average test score they admit. The definition of a “good” score varies by school, so asking the three questions above will give you a good idea of the type of schools you should apply to based on your test score. Because the tests are computer-based, you’ll know how you did as soon as you complete the test. (Though the GRE test score will be “unofficial” until 10-15 days after your test date, during which time the writing portion will be scored.)
Give extra attention to the beginning sections of both tests. Both the GRE and the GMAT are adaptive, meaning that the questions at the beginning of each section start out at an average level of difficulty (500-level, approximately) and either increase or decrease in difficulty based on how you performed early on. If you start out low, it will be that much harder to make up lost points.
When deciding whether to take the GMAT vs. the GRE for business school, remember this: Test scores aren’t everything, but they are a significant starting point for admissions departments simply because they provide common ground on which to evaluate all business school applicants. Everyone who applies has different backgrounds, different work experience, and different life experience; as the recruiting process goes on, those things will also come into play. But good test scores will always be an asset—so choose the test that you believe you’ll do best on, and prepare to the best of your ability.