As a growing number of universities accept have begun accepting either GRE or GMAT scores as part of their MBA admissions process, deciding which standardized test is best for you is not a straightforward decision. Traditionally, the GMAT used to be taken almost exclusively by candidates applying to MBA programs, whereas the GRE used to be taken to apply to other Masters(MSc)/PhD programs. However, with the flexibility to choose between either test for MBA programs, it is natural to wonder whether business schools have a preference for either test, how business schools think about both these tests, and which test is best for you.
Before we answer these questions, first let us look at the structure of each exam, including the duration, topics tested, and the scoring. The GMAT has four different sections:
- The AWA (Analytical Writing Assessment) section comprises one 30-minute essay.
- The IR (Integrated Reasoning) section comprises 12 questions, with a time limit of 30 minutes.
- The Quantitative section comprises 31 questions, with a time limit of 62 minutes.
- The Verbal section comprises 36 questions, with a time limit of 65 minutes.
These 4 sections can be attempted in any one of the following predefined orders (you can select this on the test day before you begin the test):
- Quantitative, Verbal, IR, AWA (Recommended if Quants is your weaker section)
- Verbal, Quantitative, IR, AWA (Recommended if Verbal is your weaker section)
- AWA, IR, Quantitative, Verbal (Not recommended)
On your GMAT scorecard, the most important score you receive will be the aggregate scaled score, which can range from 200 to 800, in 10-point increments (this means that you can get a score of 710, 720, 730, etc.., but not 701 or 705). The aggregate score (and the associated %ile score) is derived from a combination of your Quantitative and Verbal scores. This scaled score is the parameter that the B-schools pay most attention to when considering your GMAT score report. The AWA and IR section(s) are graded separately, and their scores are not part of the composite score.
Your official score report will also contain sectional scores. The Quantitative and Verbal sections have score ranges between 0 and 60 (although the maximum scaled score in either section is 51), in one-point increments. However, it is important to note that the scaled scores are not proportionate – Q51 is 97%ile in Quants; V45 is the 99%ile in Verbal
The AWA section scored between 0-6, with half-point increments. Generally, a score of 4.5+ (44%ile) is considered an acceptable score by most B-schools. However, a score of less than 3 (6%ile) on the AWA section may raise some concerns. The IR section is scored between 1 and 8, in 1-point increments. Generally, a score of 5-6+ (67%ile) is considered acceptable by most B-schools. However, you may need a higher IR score if you are planning to apply for a consultancy-based role in the Big 4 after completing your MBA.
The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test, which means that, in the Quant and Verbal sections, the difficulty level of a question is based on the difficulty level of the previous question(s), and whether you answered it correctly. Therefore, the test will start off with a medium difficulty question, and if you answer that question correctly, the next question will be slightly harder, and if you answered incorrectly, the next question will be slightly easier. The algorithm will continuously “adapt” throughout both Quant and Verbal modules until you reach the end of each section (31 questions for Quant, 36 for Verbal). The GMAT directly tests you on the skills required to be a manager, namely your decision making and critical thinking skills. Hence, the “adaptive” testing algorithm also entails that once you have answered a question, you cannot go back to it. Nor can you skip a question. This process is used to obtain an accurate measure of your problem solving, decision making, critical thinking skills by selecting specific questions with varying difficulty levels.
The GRE, on the other hand, has 3 “macro” sections :
- Analytical Writing – this section comprises two 30-minute essay-writing tasks
- Quantitative Reasoning – This section comprises two 35-minute modules with 20 questions in each module
- Verbal Reasoning – This section comprises two 30-minute modules with 20 questions in each module
The GRE will also include one additional unscored section – either Quant or Verbal – which will not count towards the overall score. The unscored section can appear anytime after the AWA section, and there is no way to identify the unscored section. So, on the test day, you will have either 3 quantitative and 2 verbal sections, or 2 quantitative and 3 verbal modules (plus the AWA component).
The AWA section on the GRE is scored in the same way as on the GMAT (scores between 0-6 for each section, with half-point increments). The Quantitative and Verbal sections are graded between 130 and 170, with 1-point increments. The total score is between 260 and 340, with 1-point increments.
The GRE is also a computer-adaptive test; however, it is “sectional-adaptive”, which means that, in Quant and Verbal modules, the section as a whole will be easier/more difficult based on your performance in the previous section. This “sectional-adaptive” testing also ensures that, within a particular question, you can go back to a question, skip the question(s), and/or flag a question to attempt it later.
The following table does a side-by-side comparison between the GRE and GMAT in terms of duration, questions, and scoring:
|Duration||~4 hours (including breaks)||~3.5 hours (including breaks)|
|#MCQs||100 (including the unscored section)||79|
|Sections||7 (including the unscored section)||4|
|Score Validity||5 years||5 years|
|Registration Cost||US $205||US $250|
Which test is right for my MBA?
As we can see, both exam formats test your skills in 3 main areas – quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, and writing. However, the GMAT tests more rigorously on your logical and critical thinking skills, whereas the GRE places a greater emphasis on vocabulary. As such, the GRE verbal is often a more challenging exam for non-native speakers, since there are multiple word lists to memorize before you can be truly confident of scoring well in the Verbal section of the GRE. Conversely, the Quant sections of the GRE are much easier than those of the GMAT as most of the questions are based on simple calculations and numeric entry type questions and does not really test you too heavily on your critical reasoning skills. Overall, the GRE is an exam which can be aced by “memorizing”, while the GMAT tests you on your way of thinking, pattern recognition, and problem-solving skills.
Furthermore, although most business schools do accept the GRE for an MBA program, they prefer that you write the GMAT. This is simply because of the fact that many candidates have previously taken the GMAT for their MBA programs and therefore, the universities have a fairly good understanding of what a “good” GMAT score is, and how to evaluate your GMAT score. On the other hand, there are not too many data points (i.e., previous scores) available to B-schools, and thus it remains somewhat vague as to what constitutes a good GRE score for a B-school. Generally, the top B-schools set a higher cutoff score for GRE applicants. For example, for a top B-school such as Stanford, Yale, or Harvard, the average GRE score is 328+, while the average GMAT score is ~730. In our opinion, it is easier to score a 730 on the GMAT than a 328 on the GRE. Therefore, we recommend that if you are applying to an MBA program, you should write the GMAT. For other Masters and Ph.D. programs, write the GRE.