GMAT vs. GRE: Which Test?

For MBA hopefuls, the first task in pursuing a graduate business degree has traditionally been to conquer the Graduate Management Admissions Test. For nearly half a century, the GMAT has been the gold standard predictor of an applicant’s ability to survive the rigor of graduate business education. But now, many business schools are pondering whether it is the only qualified exam to do the job.

Some have called the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) the “GMAT killer” because of the way it’s aggressively infringing upon GMAT territory. In three years, the number of business schools accepting the GRE has shot up 200%, according to Educational Testing Service, the creator and administer of the exam. In terms of the range of schools, the level of prestige is at an all-time high: Among those that are proudly flashing “Now Accepting GRE” signs are the business schools at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, MIT, and INSEAD.

The discussion around this topic has helped fuel a heated debate, butting the two standardized tests against one another. Yet the reality is, most B-schools aren’t nearly as concerned with the debate as is led to believe. Instead, the schools view the GRE as an invitation of sorts to non-traditional applicants. In other words, their eyes are focused on the virtues that GRE applicants bring: more applications and a more diverse student body.


The GRE is hardly the GMAT killer, but its numbers are rapidly mounting. There are a number of reasons for the shift. At the forefront: by accepting the GRE exam, business schools are able to expand and diversify their applicant pool.

According to Rod Garcia, director of MBA admissions at the Sloan School of Management, “About 95% of Sloan’s applicants use the GMAT. But for people who have only taken the GRE, they can now apply. It’s our way of saying, ‘there’s room for you here.’”

MIT’s Sloan School has been accepting the GRE exam since 2006, but says it has had experience with the exam as far back as 1988.

The Sloan School has a joint program with the school of engineering for which applicants don’t need to take the GMAT, only the GRE. “Because of the experience we had in this regard, in 2006 we said, ‘let’s pilot this for the MBA program too.’ The decision was predicated on the fact that we already had experience with the GRE. Therefore, we saw it as a way to diversify the applicant pool,” says Garcia.

“Most people who take the GRE apply to graduate programs in the arts and in the sciences. For us, that is exactly the type of diversity we want at the Sloan School.”

Administrators at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management had a similar outlook. In an email, a spokesperson for the school said, “The Admission Committee reviewed the practice at other schools such as Baylor and voted that it made perfect sense to consider GRE scores as one way to ensure a diverse mix of backgrounds in our Full-Time MBA program.”


Although it’s too soon to tell if accepting the GRE is indeed widening the applicant pool (many schools have only just begun to matriculate GRE test takers) some schools are seeing positive results already. In the fall of 2010, Graziadio enrolled a total of nine GRE students; three for the full-time MBA program and six for the part-time program. One of those students was Oliver Freund.

Having gone to high school in New York City, Oliver Freund says he saw college as an opportunity to learn about different cultures. He studied anthropology at Syracuse University then parlayed his writing skills into a career in public relations. “I started working and built a career in healthcare PR. I enjoyed it and I learned a lot, but I hit the glass ceiling very quickly. In order to get where I wanted to be, I knew I needed to pursue an MBA.”

  • edbtz

    I took both tests recently so here is my take on the issue. Overall, they are about the same. Interestingly the ETS GRE-GMAT score conversion predicted my score perfectly. It’s on the ETS site. If you want to know how your score would translate, then I would check that out.

    I think the GMAT is easier to study for in terms of recognizing frequent question formats. The GRE seemed to have a pretty wide array of problems. This was particularly true in the quant sections because there is a basic calculator and this opens up an array of new problem types (multiple period compound interest, etc.) that could be too time consuming without a calculator. The GRE also had more statistics problems like quantiles, standard deviation, etc. so if you are good at those sort of problems then you might prefer GRE. Another key difference is the data sufficiency vs quantitative comparisons. These test similar concepts, but in the GRE typically have to solve it, rather than knowing what is needed to solve it like on the GMAT. If you have a really strong knowledge of number properties, then GMAT might suit you better for those problems because you can know the answer without solving the problem and thus save time for other problems.

    I do think GRE is harder for non-native English speakers. The verbal has a lot of logic components now (“What would strengthen/weaken?” “What is assumption X?”) and these require really fast and careful English reading.

  • 3rdWL

    ETS has a conversion table from GRE to GMAT

  • Sd

    Interesting take Patrick. I gave the GRE last year as a non native english speaker and scored a 670 in verbal and 730 in quantitative. I’m applying to B-schools this fall and am really confused. I hope someone from P & Q can reply to your question. I’m contemplating whether to give the GMAT or retake the GRE

  • Here’s a thought.

    If you are a native English speaker and a school accepts either the GMAT OR the GRE and your profile is lacking in any other way, take – and do well on – both tests.

    It couldn’t hurt.

    (Why native English speaker you ask? The GRE is brutal when it comes to English language knowledge.)

  • Andrea Carter

    Michael, you raise an interesting point. I think ‘background’ and ‘experience’ can be used interchangeably to some degree. I don’t question your B-school experience, but schools are accepting the GRE precisely because they want to create more experiences like the one you had. To this end, the GRE is helping to broaden the applicant pool and to bring more diversity (professional, academic — even gender) into the classroom.

    Spencer, ETS has a tool you can use to calculate your “equivalent” GMAT score.
    Keep in mind this tool will be updated when ETS unveils the revised GRE this fall.

  • One thing that isn’t mentioned here (or maybe it is and I just suck at reading) is that the two tests have different scores. While the GMAT puts out one score with a max of 800, the GRE reports a verbal and a quantitative score, both on a scale of 200-800.

    I took the GREs back in 2004 without much prep and scored a 740Q and 480V. I wasn’t worried about my low verbal because most engineering masters programs only use the Q to evaluate applicants, but I’m having trouble seeing what an “equivalent” GMAT score would be based on what I scored, and how Adcoms would evaluate candidates who took different tests?

  • “Schools say that the GMAT will continue to be the dominant exam, but this is expected given that most B-school applicants come from a business background.”

    Is this really true? What I’ve heard, and my experience reinforces, was that B-school was designed for non-business backgrounds, academically. If the author meant that applicants have business experience, I agree, but I had an English degree and I would say most of my classmates’ backgrounds were in engineering or humanities or something other than “business.”