GMAT vs. GRE: What test should I take?

Tyler York
Choice between two paths: GRE and GMAT

When you’re deciding between the GMAT vs. GRE, most resources you find will not give you a definitive answer to the question. Many think of the GMAT as a business-focused exam and the GRE as more general, but that is actually an outdated notion – all top 25 business schools now accept the GRE. When choosing between the GRE vs. GMAT, you should now consider the other features of the test and testing pool to give yourself the best chance of success. Here are eight reasons why the GRE is a better option:

1. The GRE only requires math, not logical reasoning

One of the hardest parts of the GMAT quantitative sections is logical reasoning, in which you have to answer questions that combine logic questions with math. The GRE has no such questions, and this makes the test itself easier and also gives you one less thing to have to study as you prepare for the exam.

Experts agree that the GRE quant is easier than the GMAT quant. As shared in US News: “Students with stronger math skills may want to take the GMAT,” said Dan Edmonds, a test-prep tutor with IvyWise. But remember, more difficult questions means that other math whiz applicants are taking the GMAT too. It’s a tougher hill to climb in all aspects.

Furthermore, the GRE’s math section is only one type: Quantitative. The GMAT has two different types of quantitative sections: Integrated Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning. This means you have to study two different question types and practice with two different problem sets. That’s twice as much work and brain-space, which you’d much rather use to maximize your score.

GMAT vs. GRE? Oxford University accepts both
Nowadays, even Oxford University accepts the GRE for MBA applications. Photo by Delfi de la Rua on Unsplash.

2. The GRE is equally good for business school

As I mentioned before, all of the top 25 business schools in the United States now accept the GRE as well as the GMAT for their admissions requirements. In fact, 90% of business schools in the US and Europe now accept both. Chances are, if you’re looking to apply to a business school program, it accepts the GRE.

In fact, due to fear of lawsuits around admissions selections, universities are heavily incentivized to not favor one exam over another. “The majority of applicants historically have favored the GMAT, but HBS has no preference for one over the other,” shared Andrea, a former HBS Admissions Officer. 

This has led to thousands of test takers switching their exam to the GRE over the GMAT. As outlined by Poets and Quants, the average percentage of GRE submitters at top 25 schools increased from 13.5% in 2019 to 27.8% in 2020 – more than doubling the number of applicants.

Below is a table of MBA programs with the greatest shift from GMAT to GRE in between 2019 and 2021 – as you can see, the shift is huge and gaining momentum:

P&Q RankSchool% GRE 2019% GRE 20202-Year Trend
8UC Berkeley (Haas)21%35%+14%
9Dartmouth (Tuck)21%39%+18%
14Duke (Fuqua)23%38%+15%
24Georgetown (McDonough)43%54%+11%
27Notre Dame (Mendoza)24%37%+13%
29Washington (Olin)49%71%+22%
35Ohio State (Fisher)35%53%+18%
37Pittsburgh (Katz)34%58%+24%

Source: Poets & Quants

And the seeing the top gainers over five years really shows how dramatic this shift has been for some programs, and also how much this transition has picked up steam in the last two years:

P&Q RankSchool% GRE 2016% GRE 20205-Year Trend
9Dartmouth (Tuck)13%39%+26%
11Virginia (Darden)8%28%+20%
13Michigan (Ross)14%37%+23%
14Duke (Fuqua)11%38%+27%
20Texas (McCombs)18%38%+20%
21Washington (Foster)6%27%+21%
24Georgetown (McDonough)22%54%+32%
27Notre Dame (Mendoza) 11%37%+26%
29Washington (Olin)34%71%+37%
31Minnesota (Carlson)16%36%+20%
35Ohio State (Fisher)23%53%+30%
37Pittsburgh (Katz)22%58%+36%
39Florida (Warrington)23%45%+22%

Source: Poets & Quants

UNC’s Danielle Richie, in Poets & Quants, said that “We’ve seen an increase in GRE test-takers, and expect that to continue.” The sentiment is echoed by many other business school admissions officers and consultants. The GRE for MBA is here to stay.

3. It is easier to get into a top business school with the GRE

Probably the most important and overlooked aspect of choosing between the GMAT vs. GRE is the competition – specifically, who are you competing against when taking the test and receiving a scaled score. Both tests grade ‘on a curve’, meaning that they normalize their scores based on everyone’s performance. This isn’t malicious – they do it in case they make a particularly hard or easy version of the test and need to adjust scores accordingly. But it does mean that the test taking population of each test matters – your scores are being compared against everyone else’s, both at the scoring step and during the actual admissions process.

For the scoring step, the GRE is much more general than the GMAT, and has a less difficult quantitative section. This means that someone of the same math school will likely find it easier to stand out on the GRE and receive a top percentile score. So you’d think that means that the top business schools only accept the very best GRE applicants, right? Surprisingly, the opposite is true and offers yet another competitive advantage.

Below, we list the fifteen top business schools as reported by US News alongside their GMAT and GRE percentile scores. As you can see, most of these programs have a considerable gap in percentiles, meaning that you only need to be in the top 15% of applicant GRE scores to have a median chance of getting into UPenn Wharton, vs. a top 4% score for the GMAT. Not only is the GRE quant section easier, but you need a lower percentile score on it to get into a top school – win win!

UniversityPercentile - GMATPercentile - GREDifference
University of Pennsylvania (Wharton)96%85%-11%
Stanford University (GSB)96%91%-5%
Harvard University (HBS)96%88%-8%
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Sloan)96%88%-8%
University of Chicago (Booth)96%88%-8%
Columbia University (CBS)96%85%-11%
Northwestern University (Kellogg)96%85%-11%
University of California - Berkeley (Haas)96%84%-12%
Yale University (SOM)94%91%-3%
Duke University (Fuqua)89%78%-11%
University of Michigan (Ross)94%85%-9%
Dartmouth University (Tuck)94%85%-9%
New York University (Stern)94%85%-9%
University of Virginia (Darden)92%81%-11%
Cornell University (Johnson)89%80%-9%
Average94%85%-9%

The average difference is 9%, which is a substantial difference in necessary score across the two tests to reach the median score of a top-15 program.

Lastly, I found that some admissions officers admitted that the way university admissions is scored by US News and other agencies factors into the process. For example, Jenna, a former NYU Admissions Officer at Stacy Blackman Consulting shared: “We did not have to report GRE scores to the ranking agencies, so we were much more willing to ‘dip’ in test scores if the candidate took the GRE instead of the GMAT.” This means that if the rest of your application is outstanding, a lower GRE score would hurt you less than a lower GMAT score would.

4. The GRE can be used for any program

Are you one of the many applicants that are not sure whether you want to be an MBA or a specialized master’s degree in your field of work? With the GRE, you only need to prepare for one exam and your results will be applicable to any program. This saves you substantial time, effort, and money by reducing your overall exam footprint from 2 to 1. This also means that you can apply to both types of programs without exam considerations, widening your options and ensuring that you have the best chance of getting into a top choice school.

computer based test
Photo by Marcus Loke on Unsplash

5. The GRE has a less punishing adaptive format

Both the GRE and GMAT are ‘adaptive tests’, which means they get more or less difficult depending on how you do on previous questions. The GMAT adapts every question, which means it can ramp up in difficulty very quickly if you get a lot of questions right. The subsequent questions can be very difficult and it takes a lot of time and energy to prepare for them on the chance you get to see them. In fact, as someone who prepared for the GMAT myself, I found these higher difficulty questions to be a huge distraction. I spent a ton of time preparing for questions I never saw, because I didn’t do well enough on the ‘easier’ questions to unlock them.

On the other hand, the GRE only adapts after each section, so the question difficulty varies a lot less. This lessens the burden of preparing for the exam because there is less content overall to cover, and the difficulty is more consistent between questions. Also, because the scope of content difficulty is smaller, you’ll more consistently prepare for the questions you’ll actually see on the exam. 

6. The GRE is better for test anxiety

Unlike the GMAT, the GRE gives you the option to save and return to questions on each section of the exam. This can help make the test taking experience less stressful for many test takers. As you know, both the GRE and GMAT are timed exams, so being able to move quickly through the questions makes a big difference. 

On the GMAT, because it adapts after each question, you can’t skip, and that means you might end up spending more time than you’d like on a tough question. While you’re doing that, you’re worried about whether you’re even going to get it right  (and if you don’t, you’ve just wasted that precious extra time), and even if you do get it right, you won’t know until the end and will still need to finish the remaining questions in less time. 

On the GRE, being able to skip questions means you’re able to quickly diagnose and move on from questions that you know are more challenging. You can focus on nailing the easy questions quickly first, then go back and know exactly how much time you have to finish the remaining, more difficult questions. This makes for a much less stressful test taking experience, and one that you can approach strategically rather than through brute force.

7. ETS’ ScoreSelect® feature lets you hand-pick where you submit your GRE scores

The GMAT is very restrictive in its score reporting policies, and every score report you send to programs will include any GMAT test scores you’ve submitted within the last five years. 

The GRE’s creators, ETS, instead give you flexible options for how you submit your scores via their ScoreSelect® program. On the test day, you can submit your Most Recent scores (the test you just completed) or All scores, and after test day, you can submit Most Recent, All, or ANY scores for a small fee. This gives you the flexibility to, for example, send a better Quantitative score to an MBA program while sending your better Verbal score to a different program. The GMAT does not offer this option at all.

8. The GRE is cheaper

If all that wasn’t enough, the icing on the cake is that the GRE is slightly cheaper than the GMAT. For the GRE, you pay $205 for each attempt, while for the GMAT you will pay $275. Those prices can increase slightly for both exams if they are taken outside of the United States, but the GRE pricing never reaches the $275 baseline for the GMAT. 

Conclusion: The GRE is the best option, even if you’re applying to an MBA program

The GRE has an easier quantitative section, is easier to take, works for any graduate program application, is equally good for any business school application, and puts you up against a less competitive field for those business school applications. It’s no wonder that students are switching from the GMAT to the GRE in droves.

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