Should You Take the GMAT or GRE?

If you are considering applying to business school, you have probably been told it is important to secure a good GMAT score for admission. However, most top-ranked business schools now also accept GRE scores from applicants who do not want to take the GMAT, causing many to debate which exam is really the right one to take. In this article, we’ll go over the GMAT and GRE and tell you which one you should take depending on your skills in various academic areas.


Which test do business schools want you to take?

For decades, the GMAT was the only admissions test accepted by MBA programs. In recent years, however, more and more schools have started accepting GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores. Now almost every business school has stated that they have no preference for whether applicants take the GMAT or the GRE before they apply.

So, should you take the GMAT or GRE for business school? It all depends on how confident you feel with your math and language skills.


Are you good at Quant?

Both the GMAT and the GRE have a Quantitative (or “Quant”) section. This section will ask you to solve questions based on various math concepts. When it comes to math, the GRE will ask you more straightforward questions than the GMAT will, but the scores and percentiles of the Quant section will be less forgiving. Solving a GRE math problem will undoubtedly feel easier than solving a GMAT one, but since the GRE is not question-level adaptive and the truly challenging problems are rare, a few silly mistakes can drop down your score very quickly.

The problems you will encounter on the GMAT Quant section will be more difficult, but the section as a whole is more forgiving than the Quant section of the GRE. Every GMAT test taker misses questions, and the GMAT scoring algorithm is designed for that – the exam is supposed to test your upper limit, which means it has to really push you to elicit wrong answers. Because of this, you will not be punished as much for outlier mistakes. You can always rebound from a wrong answer.


Are you good at Verbal?

The GRE and the GMAT both include Reading Comprehension questions and Critical Reasoning questions in their Verbal sections. There is a subtle difference here, but on these types of questions, the GRE is more “inference heavy” (meaning inferences require you to determine what must be true) while the GMAT is essentially more “analysis heavy.”

More simply put, the GRE has more elements of formal logic (similar to the LSAT exam or a philosophy class), whereas the GMAT is rooted in the more practical applications of logic. These emphases are much more similar than they are different,

The other Verbal areas the GMAT and the GRE will test you on will appear very different, but they are actually more similar than they first look. For example, the GRE features “Text Completion” and “Sentence Equivalence” questions, for which the answer comes in the form of a vocabulary word. On the other hand, the GMAT features “Sentence Correction” questions, the answers to which look and feel more like grammar. Ultimately, both exams are primarily testing the meanings of sentences and short passages – what is logical, what is clear, etc. But even with this in mind, test takers who have stronger backgrounds in grammar than vocabulary will probably prefer the GMAT, while those more comfortable with vocabulary than grammar will probably prefer the GRE.


So, should you take the GMAT or the GRE for business school?

Take the GMAT if…

1) You’re reasonably confident with both core math skills and with your reasoning ability. Over the course of 37 adaptive questions, that ability will be your competitive advantage against other test takers. You won’t have to get every question right, so you can afford to make a mistake or take a guess every now and then, knowing that all the while your true ability is still being measured.

2) You’re comfortable with uncertainty. The GRE definitely feels more “controlled” than the GMAT, as it allows you to use an on-screen calculator during the Quant section and to skip and return to questions you may be unsure on. The GMAT forces you to just “do your best” for the 75 minutes you are given per section without those extra tools. Taking the GMAT will not feel as comfortable as taking the GRE, but if you’re ok with that, then this will be a competitive advantage.

3) You aced the SAT and ACT Writing Sections. The Writing sections on both the SAT and ACT exams (which you probably took if you attended college in the U.S.) are very similar to the “Sentence Correction” questions you will see on the GMAT, so if you were successful on the SAT Writing section or the ACT Writing section, you will probably do well with GMAT Verbal.

4) You’re a fast reader. Unlike the GRE, the GMAT does not allow you to go back and forth between questions, so for “Reading Comprehension” questions, it will be important to internalize passages quickly so that you can budget your time well.

5) You consider yourself a strong, practical, critical thinker. You may not love pure philosophy, but in a business or social context, you’re good at picking up arguments and playing the “devil’s advocate”. Having these skills will definitely come in handy answering questions on the GMAT Verbal section (especially “Critical Reasoning” questions).

Take the GRE if…

1) You’re intimidated by GMAT math. The GRE is much more straightforward than the GMAT in the Quantitative section, and will let you apply content knowledge to answer a question without requiring more clever reasoning.

2) Your strength lies more in precision than in reasoning. 1) If you think you may miss some of the more abstract connections that GMAT Quant questions will force you to make, and you know that you won’t lose points to silly mistakes, the GRE will play more to your strengths.

3) You have bigger-than-average vocabulary. If you have a large vocabulary or if you aced the vocabulary questions on the old version of the SAT, you should be very comfortable answering the more vocab-heavy questions in the Verbal section of the GRE.

4) You enjoyed formal logic classes in high school or college. Especially if you excelled in a philosophy class, there is a good chance you will be able to handle the GRE’s more formal logic challenges.

5) You feel more comfortable previewing questions in a passage before you read it. Some test takers feel much more comfortable knowing all of the questions before they dig into a Reading Comprehension question. If this sounds like you, then you will prefer the GRE’s approach with these questions.


So Should You Take the GMAT or the GRE?

The truth is that the GMAT and the GRE are actually much more similar than they are different, especially since the the GRE was significantly revised in 2011. So, be aware that some of the advice that you still see out there may be significantly out of date since it was written back when the two tests were much more different from one another. Now, these are not two radically different tests, and we almost never meet a student who can do great on one but poorly on the other.

With that said, if you’re completely undecided about which test to take, and you’re sure that business school is in your plans, then go with the GMAT. It helps to show that you’re serious about earning an MBA, which is especially critical if other aspects of your profile may make you look like an unusual or uncommitted candidate. Anything that shows you’re serious about business school can only help your candidacy.


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