GMAT or GRE for MBA – Which Test Should You Take?

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT or GRE for MBA - Which Test Should You Take

A common question when applying for an MBA is what entry application test is best or even required for acceptance into business school.
Is the GRE or GMAT best for an MBA? Can I get into business school with a GRE? Do business schools only accept GMATs? What test should I take to get into a business program?
In this article we completely explain the differences between the GRE and GMAT and dispel all myths and misconceptions about each to identify what test is best for you and ultimately if the GRE or GMAT is best to get accepted into business school.

What Is the GRE?

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examinations General test. It is a standardized test that plays a role in college admissions across a wide variety of programs. The GRE tests a basic understanding of:

  • English literature – Analyzing literature, reviewing texts, and understanding literary theory
  • Biology – Cellular biology, molecular biology, evolution, ecology, and organismal biology
  • Chemistry – Analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry and physical chemistry
  • Mathematics – Calculus, algebra, number theory, arithmetics, and geometry
  • Physics – Wave phenomena, thermodynamics, statistical mechanics, classical mechanics, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, special relativity, atomic physics, nuclear physics, particle physics, and laboratory methods.

What Is the Format of the GRE?

The GRE spans 3 sections:

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Quantitative Reasoning
  3. Analytical Writing

Verbal Reasoning

The verbal section measures your ability to analyze and understand written excerpts. There are 3 types of questions found in the verbal section of the GRE.

  1. Reading Comprehension – Questions related to a passage of text testing your understanding of what you’ve just read.
  2. Text Completion – Fill in the blank questions to analyze your ability to complete sentences with the best choice of word.
  3. Sentence Equivalence – Similar to text completion, except there are additional areas where you need to fill in the blank to make sentences that have the same meaning with one word choice.

Quantitative Reasoning

The quantitative reasoning section on the GRE measures your knowledge in:

  • Algebra
  • Arithmetic
  • Data Analysis
  • Geometry

The quantitative section consists primarily of multiple choice questions.

Analytical Writing

This section consists of writing 2 essays in which you will have to:

  1. Analyze an Argument – Critique a provided argument
  2. Analyze a Task – Explain your position on an argument (agree or disagree & why)

What Is the GMAT?

GMAT stands for Graduate Management Admission Test and is used for admission into business programs across the globe.

What Is the Format of the GMAT?

The GMAT consists of 4 sections:

  1. Verbal – Testing reading comprehension, grammar and editing.
  2. Quantitative – Evaluates numerical literacy, mathematical abilities and math logic.
  3. Integrated Reasoning – Testing the ability to read, analyze and interpret various data formats.
  4. Analytical Writing – Questions logical and analytical communication skills as well as critical thinking, demonstrating how and why arguments are made and can be improved.

Verbal Reasoning

Similar to the verbal reasoning on the GRE, the GMAT tests grammar, logic, and your ability to read and understand a passage with multiple choice questions. The verbal section of the GMAT challenges your knowledge on 200 grammar rules with a ‘sentence correction’ area that tests you on the science of grammar that assesses how well you can express thoughts.

Quantitative Reasoning

The quantitative section of the GMAT takes approximately 1 hour and consists of 31 questions (approximately 2 minutes per question). These questions test your problem solving abilities as well as data sufficiency.

Data sufficiency questions consists of multiple data statements where the test taker is required to identify the relevant data provided to answer the question.

Problem solving questions are multiple choice and focus on math concepts that do not go beyond what was taught in your final year of high school.

Similar to the GRE, this section of the GMAT tests your overall understanding knowledge of:

  • Algebra
  • Arithmetic
  • Geometry

Integrated Reasoning

Unique to the GMAT, integrated reasoning challenges participants ability to understand data and solve complex problems presented through graphs, tables, numbers and charts.

This section of the GMAT is highly relevant to business school applicants, testing your ability to:

  • Understand and arrange data from images, texts and numbers
  • Analyze data
  • Organize data
  • Solve interrelated and complex problems
  • Manipulate data points and  information

Analytical Writing

The analytical writing section of the GMAT is an analysis of a given argument and you have to identify its strengths and weaknesses and how it can be improved.

This is a single 30 minute essay that evaluates a test takers ability to understand and analyze a specific argument.

Consider this like playing devils advocate. You are required to read an argument and explain as well as point out areas of improvement to create a stronger argument. 

Key Differences Between GMAT and GRE

The GMAT and GRE are quite similar, and both might get you into business school and the MBA program of your choice. But there are some differences you should keep in mind.

For starters, the GMAT only consists of one written essay, and the GRE has two. The GMAT also contains a separate section consisting of integrated reasoning. This specific section plays a pivotal role in why the GMAT has typically been considered as the standard test to take when applying for business schools.

The GMAT is also a question-adaptive test whereas the GRE is section-adaptive. It is required during the GMAT to answer each question in order while you can skip questions on the GRE and return to them later. We go into more detail on these differences later on in this article as we identify if the GMAT is actually a better test to take for business school acceptance. 

Is the GMAT or GRE Easier?

This question is asked often. The reality is, it really depends. For one person, the GMAT may be easier to get into an MBA program, for another person, it may be the GRE. You are actually graded on your score in comparison to your peers. If the test is easier, it is easier for everyone. If everyone was to score a high score, the higher scores would be accepted, as there is not enough room in a school for everyone.

When it comes to actual sections of each test, there are 2 ways you could individually find one test easier than the other. For starters, you may excel in mathematics and specifically the integrated reasoning section but struggle with the verbal and language questions. This could mean that you would likely score a relatively better score on the GMAT than the GRE.

The quantitative reasoning section/integrated reasoning section is what is often pointed to as the area where the GMAT can be considered more difficult. This is primarily because the integrated reasoning section is not an area where you can really memorize anything. It is more logical based and there isn’t formulas you can study and practice to prepare. While you can still practice and improve, you can’t get away with just memory like in the other areas of the math sections on both tests. This section on the GMAT requires more analysis and critical thinking.

Overall, the difficulty of each test is comparable and it comes down to an individuals strengths and weaknesses to determine what is more challenging.

Do All Business Schools Accept the GRE and GMAT?

Almost all schools in the United States accept both the GMAT and GRE. This can be misleading due to the fact that, while each test can be accepted, one may be prioritized over the other.

It’s true that approximately 90% of schools across the US accept both tests for admissions, but a 2015 study of more than 200 business schools found that ¼ prefer the GMAT.

The GMAT is accepted at all business schools. Top rated schools that accept the GRE for their business programs include:

  • Harvard Business School
  • Stanford Graduate School of Business
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • University of California Berkeley
  • Cornell University
  • Duke University
  • Yale School of Management
  • Florida State University
  • Arizona State University
  • Wharton School
  • Columbia Business School

You can view a complete list of schools globally that accept the GMAT here.

You can view a complete list of schools globally that accept the GRE here.

Check your target schools policies on both tests to confirm if both are accepted and if one is prioritized over the other for an MBA. Schools such as Harvard Business School have stated clearly that they do not prefer one test over the other.

What GMAT Score do You Need to Be Accepted Into Business School?

The average GMAT score needed to be accepted into each business school varies. Overall, the average cumulative score is 568. However, for top business schools, you will have to do much better than that.

Stanford tops the list with an average GMAT score of 733, Harvard Business School has an average GMAT score of 727, Yale University 720, and the University of Michigan has an average score of 711 for acceptance. But there are also business schools with lower requirements, for instance Florida State University College of Business has an average GMAT score for an MBA of 545.

What GRE Score Do You Need to Be Accepted Into Business School?

The average GRE score needed to be accepted for each business school also varies. The average for acceptance across all MBA programs is 303 with 260 being the lowest possible score for acceptance to an MBA program in the USA.

Yale and Stanford top the list with an average GRE score of 329 between the verbal and quant sections for an MBA. The average score for an acceptance into Harvard sits at 328. Carnegie Mellon has an average score of 321 while Notre Dame has an average GRE score of 315 for acceptance.

Should I Take the GMAT or GRE for MBA?

When you are deciding what test to take for your MBA there are several factors to consider. These include:

  • What school(s) are you applying for?
  • What are your testing abilities?
  • What exam will you most excel at?
  • How are your math skills?
  • How are your language (reading/writing) skills?
  • What is your comfort level with the testing structure and formatting?

What School(s) Are You Targeting for Your MBA?

The school(s) you are applying to play an important factor in what test you should take. We’ve established above that while most schools will accept both, many prefer one. That is not always the case though.

When deciding on the GMAT or GRE for your MBA, consider the official policies of your target schools. If both exams are considered equal then it could make sense to take the test you are more comfortable with to excel beyond the competition. If a school prefers say the GMAT over the GRE you should certainly go that route.

The most important factor that outweighs everything listed below is how relevant the test is to your desired program.

What Areas of Testing Do You Strive In?

Consider your testing abilities and if you are considerably stronger at one area or another. If tests are considered equal, follow your strengths. Taking a practice test in both is a great starting point, but remember that with time and practice you can improve your GMAT or GRE score from your initial practice significantly to make sure you get into the MBA program of your choice.

If you can score way better on one test than the other, it may be in your best interest to take that test if all tests are considered equal.

Math Skills

Business programs necessitate that you have strong math, data analysis, and reasoning. This is a major point in why the GMAT is often considered the ideal test to take for your MBA.

If your math and specifically your integrated reasoning is a strength or at par with peers, that should be a deciding factor in the test you choose to take for your MBA. If your target school really considers both tests equally, it could be argued that it is best to take the GRE. If logic centered questions are your strength, the GMAT will likely be a more desirable test to take for your MBA.

You can expect both tests to evaluate your knowledge and understanding of algebraic expressions and inequalities, solving linear and quadratic equations, manipulating and converting decimals, ratios and fractions, exponents and roots, statistics such as standard deviation, mean, median and mode, Venn diagrams, counting methods (permutations/combinations), calculating probability, properties of shapes, properties of uniform solids, properties of lines and angles, as well as coordinate geometry.

On the GMAT, it requires a deeper understanding of data analysis and chart interpretation.

Language Skills

It is often said that the GRE contains a deeper vocabulary that could be especially more challenging for non-native English speakers. This could impact your decision to take the GRE or GMAT, however having a solid English vocabulary should ensure your ability to understand and respond to any questions in all sections without struggle.

How Comfortable Are You With Different Testing Formats?

A major difference we discussed between the two tests are the overall ways the tests are allowed to be taken.

The GMAT requires each question to be answered in a specific order. On the other hand, the GRE allows you to skip questions and return to them later. The latter could relieve anxiety of being stuck on a specific question not knowing the answer as well as the potential to root out a new idea by reading a separate question.

A huge problem for many test takers of the GMAT is that they are lost on one question and panic having to commit to what they feel is a guess or complete wrong answer. This can impact your mentality moving forward if you’re not prepared, while the GRE allows you to come back to it at the end and take more time to work through it and reduce test anxiety. Here are some tips on how to work around this problem on the GMAT.

With this in mind, time constraints make both tests fairly anxiety inducing if inadequately prepared. However, with proper preparation, both the GMAT and the GRE can easily get you into an MBA program of your choice, as this is a problem you can avoid.

Is the GMAT the Preferred Test for an MBA?

Yes, the GMAT is still the preferred test for admission into business school. The biggest reason why the GMAT is widely considered the best test to take for business school is because of the quantitative and integrated reasoning sections. These sections relate more specifically to business programs and the classes you will be required to take.

The logic, reasoning, and data interpretation questions test relevant skills required to obtain an MBA degree. All four sections of the GMAT are designed to test your knowledge in related subjects for an MBA.

The GMAT also gives the impression that you are committed to going to business school whereas the GRE can give the impression that you are uncertain because it is accepted for so many more programs.

To add to that, having GMAT scores for the majority of school applicants makes the process of judging and comparing students easier for the administration staff.

The downside of taking the GRE for an MBA is also that while it may not put you at a disadvantage for college acceptance, it won’t provide you any real advantages.

Conclusion: GMAT or GRE for Business School

While 90% of business schools accept the GRE for an MBA, the GMAT should be your preferred test to take. It is not the only path, as we have established, but if you are confident in your ability to prepare and study, you can’t really go wrong with the GMAT.

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