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Breaking Down The GMAT VS GRE Debate

GMAT vs. GRE: Differences, Similarities, and Specifics

If you’re aiming for business school, you are more than likely mulling over an important question: Which test is better for MBA admission, the GMAT or the GRE? Many students around the globe are wondering the exact same thing, and it’s an important question to ask. After all, standardized tests help determine your admission prospects at the school of your dreams. Finding the right one is the key to gearing yourself up for success.

Are you even the slightest bit aware of which test you want to take? If not, we’re here to help.  

With more and more business schools publicly announcing that they will gladly accept either exam, even some law schools are now taking the GRE in lieu of the LSAT—it begs an additional vital question: Is the GRE the new “it” exam?

As you well know, applying to MBA programs is stressful enough without having to decide which exam to take. It used to be that the GMAT was the gold standard for admission to business schools and the GRE wasn’t even an option. Now, prospective test-takers are often left scratching their heads wondering which test will give them their best odds at admission.

Take heart that the acceptance of GRE scores for b-schools isn’t to stress you out any more than necessary; it’s an attempt by programs to reach out to a broader pool of applicants in order to achieve a higher degree of student diversity.

The GRE is considered a more accessible test by many people around the world, and as you’ll find out a little later in this article, it’s also a bit cheaper. Who’s to say that students more likely to take the GRE wouldn’t also make top-notch global business leaders?

With the advent of this new trend, it leaves many unanswered questions on the part of the applicant, such as: If this is the new craze, is taking the GMAT old news? Will a GRE score hurt me when applying to Harvard? When push comes to shove, will one test give me a clear advantage?

Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, MIT, and Columbia are just a small handful of elite business programs that will accept either GRE or GMAT scores, but what are the differences between these two tests? Are they fundamentally the same exam, or are there major distinctions that would cause a student to seriously consider one over the other?

After all, there are meaningful differences between the SAT and ACT for undergraduate admission and between the TOEFL and IELTS for the assessment of English language skills. Is it possible the GRE and the GMAT are one and the same and you can decide which one to prep for with the flip of a coin?

To answer these questions, let’s do a deep dive into both tests. We’re going to cover their similarities and differences in everything from structure and content to cost, but first, here’s a spoiler alert: Standardized testing for business school is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. Students should choose the test that will best aid in admissions by playing to their academic strengths. Hopefully, this article will help you do just that!

Basic Differences between the Two

Since deconstructing the GMAT and GRE can involve information overload, let’s have a quick glance at some important bullet points for both exams. Hopefully, this will paint a visual image and give you some key takeaways as we delve further into the details.

  GRE GMAT
Annual Number of Test-Takers 559,000 251,000
Cost $205-$230 $250
Length of time 3 hours, 45 minutes 3 hours, 30 minutes
Business Schools Over 1,300 b-schools accept the GRE Over 7,000 programs at about 2,300 b-schools accept the GMAT
Scoring 260-340 composite range 200-800 composite range
90th Percentile Score 327 700

 

It might be a good idea to spend some time committing the above GMAT/GRE breakdown to memory. If you are able to keep the primary points in the front of your mind, it can enhance your decision-making as you get closer to your ultimate choice. If you want to get a firsthand impression of the two exams, check out Manhattan Review’s GMAT practice questions and GRE practice questions, where you can find representative exercises for each test, including detailed solutions for all questions and statistics on how you performed in comparison to other test-takers.

GMAT vs. GRE: Quantitative Skills


The two tests have some commonalities in their mathematical sections, where you are asked to solve questions centered around mathematical concepts and theories. That neither test assesses math ability beyond the high school level should be welcome news. If you are good at doing math in your head, the GMAT may be advantageous because this exam does not allow the use of a calculator. The GRE, on the other hand, provides test-takers with an on-screen digital calculator.

One positive element of the GMAT Quant section is that the scoring algorithm is designed for missed questions, making it more forgiving. The GMAT Quant section is intended to push your mathematical capabilities, and avoiding wrong answers can demand a hefty amount of brainpower. This is not necessarily true of the GRE, which is not question-adaptive. If your strengths lie in mathematics, then the GMAT may be better for you. Naturally, sitting for a mock exam can give you the feedback you need before making a decision.

On the whole, the Quant section is known to be more difficult on the GMAT than the GRE—and no, this isn’t just because of the no-calculator rule! The GRE consists of more straightforward questions that are not adaptive, meaning your performance on one question will not make the following question either harder or easier. Due to this, genuinely challenging math problems on the GRE can be scarce. It’s no coincidence that MBA applicants in the world of statistics and finance will take the GMAT and promote their Quant scores on their CVs. The GMAT can involve some truly serious math, so keep that in mind when weighing your decision.

Here are a handful of questions to ask yourself when it comes to GRE and GMAT Quant: How well do I understand high school math? Is math a strength of mine? Will I need to pursue and utilize math beyond business school—say, in an arena of finance or statistics? What are my prospective scores on both Quant sections as indicated by mock exams? Which Quant section better emphasizes my strengths?

GMAT vs. GRE: Verbal Skills

Did you know that traditionally speaking, the GRE is known for having a more challenging verbal section than the GMAT? This is primarily due to the GRE verbal section’s advanced vocabulary and grammar. Although neither the GRE nor the GMAT evaluates verbal skills beyond the high school level. It’s known to many test-takers worldwide that the GRE has a more demanding verbal section.

Are you more math-inclined than verbal? If so, the GMAT is probably better for you.

In terms of primary verbal content differences, the GMAT is known to be “analysis heavy” while the GRE is “inference heavy,” meaning that you make inferences to find out what could be true. Due to this, the GRE has more elements of formal logic, similar to what is taught in philosophy classes or tested on the LSAT. There are slightly different names for specific question types—such as the GRE’s “Text Completion” and “Sentence Equivalence,” which somewhat mirror the GMAT’s “Sentence Completion” exercises.

If you’re still struggling to make your decision, ask yourself how you performed on the ACT or SAT verbal section. If you are trying to find out whether or not your strengths lie in your grammar and vocab abilities, it may help to look at the results of previously taken standardized exams for guidance. Also, keep in mind that unlike the GRE, the GMAT does not allow you to go back and forth between questions, and this is particularly important in reading comprehension exercises. On the GMAT, speed-reading through a textual passage and internalizing it is vital to prevent wasting precious time.

GMAT vs. GRE: What Do Business Schools Say?

With an increasing acceptance of both the GRE and GMAT for b-school admission, wouldn’t it be nice to know what MBA programs are actually saying? Sure, there is widespread news that more of them are accepting the GRE, but wouldn’t it be great to read the public statements of specific schools concerning this change in policy?

In a September 2017 update to their website, the Stanford Graduate School of Business outlined its new guidelines: “We have no preference for one test over the other. If you take both exams, you may provide both scores. Candidates applying to joint-degree programs that require the GRE should not feel obligated to take the GMAT.”

Stanford was one of the first schools to accept GRE scores instead of GMAT scores, starting as early as 2005.

Official comments and policies expressing exam non-bias are plentiful. Rod Garcia, director of MBA Admissions at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, told Bloomberg that “good people always manage to shine whether they take the GMAT or GRE.” The testing policy of the George Mason University School of Business is as follows: “We are now using the GRE or the GMAT. We do not have a preference of which exam you take.”

Harvard Business School made headlines in 2009 when it declared that either exam would be acceptable for admission. “We are pleased to widen our requirements to give all MBA candidates the option of submitting results from either the GRE or GMAT exams,” announced Managing Director of Admissions and Financial Aid Deirdre Leopold.

“Since many HBS 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 clarified. “We believe that both the GMAT and the GRE meet our expectations of what a standardized test can tell us about a candidate’s ability to thrive in our MBA Program.”

The overarching goal to reach a more diverse applicant pool is overtly stated by many recruiting officers. Nikhil Varaiya, Director of Graduate Programs for San Diego State University, explained this to U.S. News & World Report: “With more and more employers saying, ‘We want students from diverse backgrounds,’ it was sort of difficult to argue that the GMAT was the only measure to use.”

Finally, and perhaps most encouragingly, the Admissions Committee at NYU’s Stern School of Business publicly stated, “Applicants who submit GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores are not held in lesser regard. Taking the GRE exam will not have a negative impact on your application. However, we do not have any statistics on the average GRE score.”

It is important to note, however, that the following prominent institutions currently accept the GMAT only: London Business School, the University of Toronto, Erasmus University, IESE Business School, the Indian School of Business, and HKUST Business School. Prospective students should continue to monitor the policies of these schools, but they are still GMAT-only for now.

GMAT vs. GRE: What Do Prospective Employers Say?

In 2015, Patrick Perrella, Director of MBA Career Development at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, was quoted as saying, “We see a large number of consulting companies, some investment banks, and a couple of corporations all looking at both GMAT and MBA GPAs. These companies are looking for a sustained record of academic excellence.”

For some companies, GMAT Integrated Reasoning scores are also important. In an interview with BusinessWeek in 2013, Keith Bevans, global head of recruiting at Bain and Company, proclaimed, “The IR scores are trying to test analytical abilities, which is important to us. We hope it’s a good match for determining if you’ll be successful at Bain.”

As this GRE/GMAT trend makes its way through b-schools, perhaps it’s also making its way through companies that have traditionally only sought candidates with high GMAT scores. With the need for a diversified workplace, perhaps more firms will start giving GRE scores equal weight.  

Competition between the GRE and the GMAT

More than a half-million future graduate students take the GRE annually, compared to roughly a quarter-million people sitting for the GMAT. For GMAT test-takers, the intended programs are likely master of business administration, master of finance, or master of accounting. For the majority of GRE test takers, they are likely to be headed into fields such as engineering, the social sciences, the arts and humanities, or graduate management. These students’ competition will be a highly varied academic population across a variety of disciplines. When one takes the GMAT, he or she will be gunning for a top-notch score against others who are also vying for graduate management or business degrees. Would you want to be in the first group or the second? That depends on assessing your own strengths and weaknesses. There is a GMAT to GRE score conversion page and also a GRE to GMAT score conversion page that you can consult to get an idea of your score concordances.

GMAT & GRE Test Centers in the Philippines

As of the time of this posting, there are two test centers that administer the GMAT in the Philippines. One is MISNet Incorporated located in Cebu City (32 2531536) and the other is MISNet Inc. in Makati City Manila (2 751-2871).

The closest location that administers the computer GRE is in Malaysia at the Prometric Technology Center, located at Suite 11-1 in Kuala Lumpur.

GMAT vs. GRE: Conclusion

After reading this article, you might still be wondering: Which one do I take? After all, several things must be deliberated as you weigh this important decision. You don’t want to spend all your time, money, and energy prepping for both exams when you should take only the test that produces your highest possible score.

Are you applying to other graduate programs besides business schools? Most grad schools that aren’t business- or MBA-focused will want the GRE. Clearly, if that’s the exam they want and the business schools you’re considering also accept the GRE, your energies are best served studying for that. GMAT scores won’t help you get into that grad program in psychology, trust me!

On the other hand, if you are only applying to b-schools, then you really have a choice, and it all comes down to preference and aptitude. Frankly, the Quant section on the GMAT is known to be challenging for those not gifted in math. If math is your strength and the Quant section comes easier to you, then that might be where you have a chance at a higher score. Conversely, if your natural abilities are along the lines of vocab and grammar, the GRE is the better option, as the Verbal portion is more challenging than that of the GMAT.

With this new trend of dual exam acceptance, you really have to weigh the pros and cons of both and determine which one is right for you. What are the requirements of your preferred schools? It might be a good idea to do a little research and find statistics and quotes to be certain. Also, be honest about your own strengths and weaknesses in order to pick the test that will get you the best score. While it’s nice to have choices, it’s imperative to make the right one when it comes to your test prep and MBA application.

About Manhattan Review:

Manhattan Review is an international test prep firm that mainly offers preparation for admissions tests needed to apply to US-based universities and schools, including the SAT, GMAT, LSAT, SAT, ACT, SSAT, ISEE, and TOEFL. Founded in 1999 by Dr. Joern Meissner, an internationally renowned business school professor, the company helps students gain entrance to their desired degree programs by working to improve their admission test scores. Headquartered in New York City, Manhattan Review offers SAT Prep in the Philippines and many cities in Southeast Asia, including Singapore, Kukatpally, Begumpet, Jayanagar, Mehdipatnam, Himayatnagar, and Hong Kong. Please also check out our official website for Manhattan Review India.

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