GMAT vs. GRE: Which Test?

Oliver’s experience in anthropology and public relations helps foster a more diverse learning environment in Pepperdine’s full-time program. His expertise in healthcare allows him to contribute to class discussions in ways that someone in finance or accounting cannot. “I’m ultimately seeking employment in hospital administration, so I contribute my viewpoints on the regulatory, ethical, and political issues surrounding healthcare. Someone in finance will bring their perspective and I’ll bring mine from a healthcare standpoint. When you bring these two viewpoints together, you begin to draw similarities which make for a much more engaging conversation.”


Whether it’s to boost application stats or to diversify the student body, the GRE is making noticeable strides in the MBA arena. ETS says the number of B-schools accepting GRE scores is expected to hit an all-time high this year. But schools consistently say it has less to do with GMAT vs. GRE and more to do with making it easier for applicants.

Many GRE test-takers have taken the exam because they’ve already acquired a graduate degree in a non-business field or because they’re currently considering one. “If we have an applicant who has already taken the GRE, we want to remove the impediment of having to take the GMAT,” says MIT’s Garcia. “We just want to make it easier; that is our intention. Not to send a signal that we prefer one test over the other.”


By taking away the stigma that has been historically associated with the GRE exam, ETS is opening the doors for a larger population of potential MBAs. One myth is that applicants who take the GRE aren’t B-school material. They opt for the “easier” test and, therefore, aren’t cut out for an MBA program.

“We hear this frequently,” says David Payne, vice president and chief operating officer for College and Graduate Programs at ETS. “If this were the case, why would it be that doctoral programs in biochemistry and engineering accept the GRE? The same is said for a PhD in physics. To obtain a PhD in physics, you have to take the GRE.”

To further dispel this myth, admissions directors and students have confirmed that the exams are equal in difficulty and the weight that they carry. Oliver Freund, the student from Pepperdine, decided to find out for himself. He took both exams.

“For me the difficulty was the same. The GMAT focuses on math skills and the GRE deals more with vocabulary and your ability to logically reason. But, in terms of difficulty, I would absolutely say that both tests require the same amount of preparation and time management skills.”

“In both cases though, ultimately what they’re testing is your ability to do well on that test,” says Freund. “It’s an assessment of how well you perform on that particular exam, not a test of your ability to do well in an MBA program.”

Freund says this is especially the case for the GMAT. “It’s designed with little tricks where they try to fool you or mess with your head. As a test-taker, your job is to learn how to maneuver through these riddles efficiently. Ultimately, I think admissions boards want to know that you were able to set a goal, apply yourself, and do well. Both exams are simply a means to an end.”

Rod Garcia confirms Oliver’s theory. “That’s all we want to know is that they’re good test takers. Then we move on to other attributes such as work experience, written essays, and so on.”

There’s also the delusion that the GMAT exam is the standardized test for business school and therefore it must test business knowledge. “This is false,” says ETS’s David Payne. “It can’t assume that you know accounting and finance and human resources. Therefore it is a general reasoning test.”


If you’re applying to B-school, your first step is to create a list of aspirant schools and do your homework. Contact the admissions offices and inquire about their policies. If the GRE is permissible, examine your personal strengths and make the decision from there. If your background is more quantitative in nature, take the GMAT. If you’re more qualitatively driven, take the GRE.

Dismiss the notion that the GMAT is the preferred test. 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. However, don’t confuse dominant with preferred.

Once you’ve determined which exam is right for you, take that exam and be done with it. Don’t feel pressured to take both exams. This isn’t necessary nor does it give you an advantage over other applicants.

Finally, if you’re thinking is, “I’ll take the easier test,” put it out of your mind that the GRE is the lesser of two evils. It’s not and shouldn’t be viewed as an opportunity to game the system.


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