Not long ago, the GMAT was the undisputed authority in business school assessment. Most admissions officers still understand the GMAT better than the GRE, and the GMAT is still the score that’s mentioned in most MBA rankings. Historically it’s been privileged over other entrance exams by design, as the only standardized exam created by business schools for MBA admissions. On the other hand, there’s now a major recognition that having a more diverse applicant pool enhances the MBA cohort, and admissions officers perceive that they can expand diversity and attract a different pool of candidates by accepting the GRE General Test.
With very few exceptions, most business schools now accept either the GMAT or GRE. With NYU Stern’s recent announcement that it will also accept the Executive Assessment for the full-time MBA, it’s another option to consider when choosing between exams.
Which exam is the right fit for you, and what are the key differences? Which exam will maximize your chances of admission? To answer these questions, we assembled a panel of experts for a live webinar to discuss the differences and benefits between the GMAT, GRE and EA assessments: GMAC Former Director & Fortuna Admissions expert coach, Joanna Graham, Fortuna Director and former Chicago Booth Associate Dean Bill Kooser, and Bryce Warwick of Warwick Strategies. While you can now view their full video strategy session, Admissions Exams Decoded, I’ve captured key insights and tips from their discussion below.
OVERVIEW OF THE GMAT, GRE & EA ASSESSMENTS
GMAT: As mentioned, the GMAT is distinct among assessments when it comes to the MBA. Because it’s been around for 50 years, there are decades of validity studies showing that performance on the GMAT is strongly correlated to success (GPA) in the first year of business school.
In terms of format, the GMAT is divided into four sections. The two primary sections are quant and verbal, and within quant, questions fall into one of two question types: problem-solving and data sufficiency. The verbal section includes reading comprehension, critical reasoning and sentence correction. Most people tend to focus more heavily on quant and verbal because those two sections combine to give you your total score (on the 200 to 800 scale). There are two other sections that are scored individually, which are an essay (the Analytical Writing Assessment) and the integrated reasoning section. The integrated reasoning section was introduced in 2012 and asks test-takers to solve complex (and multi-part) questions by evaluating data from a variety of sources.
About 18 months ago, GMAC (the organization that administers the GMAT exam) reduced its time by 30 minutes (test time is just over three hours). In doing so, the quant section dropped from 75 to 62 minutes and the verbal section fell from 75 to 65 minutes. The composition of the test didn’t change, as the questions that were removed were all experimental or data collection questions.
GRE General Test: The GRE is designed as a general assessment for graduate school, and as such, is inherently broader. Candidates who are less certain about choosing between graduate programs historically opted for the GRE to qualify them for a range of program types, from business to law. Given that more than 1,200 business schools currently accept the GRE exam, it’s gaining favor among applicants.
In terms of format, the GRE measures verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking and analytical writing skills across three test sections (verbal, quant and analytical writing), and the overall testing time is three hours and 45 minutes. ETS, the organization that develops the exam, has made significant moves to make the GRE more candidate-friendly and position it as a credible alternative to the GMAT. The GRE touts its “friendly” format, which allows test-takers to skip questions, go back and change answers and even use a calculator. It’s no secret the GRE quant is easier and less rigorous than the GMAT quant.
Executive Assessment (EA): The Executive Assessment is a relatively new exam. It was originally designed as an option for Executive MBA applicants, tailored to their unique backgrounds (being roughly 15 years out of school, as opposed to 3-5 for the full-time MBA candidate). The EA can be characterized as a shorter version of the GMAT, as it pulls from the same pool of questions. A huge difference is testing time – the EA is only 1.5 hours. This makes it feel less onerous because it’s only 90 minutes long, as well as more focused on the issues and concepts that Executive MBA students are going to meet. It’s also more expensive, but there aren’t as many “rules and fees” for last-minute changes.
Over time, as the EA becomes more well-known around the industry and accepted among more top business schools like NYU Stern, we expect to see a more robust expansion into full-time MBA programs.
DIFFERENCES TO CONSIDER BETWEEN THE GMAT & GRE:
- Calculator use: The GRE allows students to use a calculator, so if your math skills aren’t as sharp, this can be a big antidote to anxiety. (While not permitted for its quant section, the GMAT allows a calculator for the IR section only.)
- Adaptivity of the tests: The GMAT is computer adaptive on a question by question basis, adjusting based on candidate responses. The GRE is only adaptive by section, so you must complete an entire section, which informs the difficulty of your next section. The difference being that the GRE is not truly computer-adaptive, whereas the GMAT is.
- Ability to course-correct: The GRE allows you to go back within a section and review, flag question and check your answers. In the GMAT, once you’ve submitted an answer it’s done – no looking back.
- Critical reasoning: The foundational math skills that are required on both the GRE and GMAT are similar, but the GMAT definitely requires more critical reasoning. What differentiates the two is that the GMAT (especially with data sufficiency) isn’t asking you to necessarily solve a question, but rather think about what information is NECESSARY to solve a question. It’s a subtle but very important and distinct difference between the two exams.
- Verbal: On the verbal side, the GRE typically requires a lot of vocab memorization, although it has shifted away from complex vocab. The GMAT evaluates a candidate’s grammar critical reasoning skills, so it’s not always asking for the 100% correct answer but rather the “least bad” of what’s presented. This can often be a bit easier for native English speakers.
3 TIPS FOR CHOOSING BETWEEN EXAMS:
- Weigh up your strengths & weaknesses: As you consider the GMAT and GRE, it’s really important to think about your background, your strengths and weaknesses, and your aptitude for test-taking, to consider which exam is going to put you in the best light. If you have the runway in terms of advance planning, take a practice exam for each test and see how you fare. Our advice is to discern which test plays best to your strengths.
- Choose early for focused, efficient prep: While about 70 percent of the skills are transferable test to test, there can be a significant amount of time lost if you’re devoting yourself to one test over another. Beyond the self-assessment mentioned above, seek advice early on regarding which exam to sit for and prep accordingly.
- 3. Consider the GMAT if You Excel in Quant: We’re sincere about choosing the exam that plays to your strengths. And, we tend to advise clients who score reasonably well on GMAT’s quant section to invest in the prep required to submit a solid GMAT score. While a good score is a good score on either exam, a great quant score on the GMAT shows a school you have the quant capabilities to do well in the classroom. By reasonably well for top 10 school standards, this means a 47 or higher, ideally a 49 or 50 in quant.
At the end of the day, remember that the GMAT, GRE or the EA is just one piece of your MBA application. Avoid getting too myopic about garnering a ‘magical score’ and consider your application holistically – the narrative you’re crafting, the content of your essays, your letters of recommendation. It’s critical to keep the big picture in mind: a 780 on the GMAT or a 170 across the board on the GRE won’t be your golden ticket to HBS if your resume, essays, or letters of recommendation don’t deliver on the sincerity and substance admissions committees are looking for.
Caroline Diarte Edwards is Director of Fortuna Admissions and former Director of MBA Admissions and Financial Aid at INSEAD. If you’d like more guidance on applying to a European business school, reach out to Fortuna for a free consultation.