GMAT Versus GRE: The Battle For Hearts & Minds

University of Colorado

With the long-term impact of coronavirus still unknown, data from recent years has limited utility — unless by examining it we can establish a baseline for where things were before the great disruption of 2020. This story, then, is a milepost, along with the rest of our coverage of Graduate Record Exam and Graduate Management Admission Test scores in the 2018-2019 admissions cycle. They will serve to contrast what we eventually learn about the effect that the COVID-19 pandemic has on graduate business education in general, and on MBA programs in particular.

One trend that has stood out pre-coronavirus: The GMAT’s dominance as the go-to test for B-school admissions is holding strong at the top-tier schools in there United States, but outside the top 25, the GRE is catching on — and in places has already overtaken its rival test.

According to U.S. Newslatest ranking of MBA programs, 20 schools in the top 50 had 30% or more entrants who submitted GRE scores; only five of those, or one quarter, were in the top 25. The top-ranked school with the highest percentage: UNC-Chapel Hill Kenan-Flagler Business School, where 48% of entrants in the fall of 2019 submitted GRE scores compared to 52% of GMAT submitters. Georgetown University McDonough School of Business was next at 43% GRE submissions. Meanwhile, at the lower end of the top 50, six schools had incoming classes last fall with 50% or more GRE submitters.

Over the past five years, the percentage of entrants submitting GRE scores has climbed at 42 of the top 50 full-time MBA programs in the United States.

“The GRE is catching up with the GMAT because now there’s enough data on GRE test-takers,” says Betsy Massar, founder of Master Admissions. “Maybe years ago admissions officers were leery of the GRE, now there’s simply no argument for a student not to consider that test — if that is the test that shows the student in the best light.”


About those at-home versions of the GMAT and GRE. The latter test may be able to build on its growing popularity, and not only because GRE test-takers have been able to take the test in their homes since March 27, while GMAT at-home testers got their first crack at the test on today (April 20). Of three substantial differences between the exams, two favor the GRE:

1) The at-home GMAT lacks the analytical writing section of the test, making the GMAT test shorter. It can be completed in just two hours and 37 minutes versus the three hours and 45 minutes for the GRE at home.

2) The at-home GMAT test has a virtual whiteboard and does not allow test-takers the use of either a physical whiteboard with an erasable marker or paper with a transparent sheet protector and erasable marker, which are allowed for the GRE test.

3) The at-home GRE allows test-takers to access unofficial scores at the end of the test and to cancel scores at that time if preferred. Official scores would then be available online from the company that administers the test, Educational Testing Service, within 10 to 15 days. The at-home GMAT, administered as always by the Graduate Management Admission Council, does not allow test-takers to preview or cancel scores right after taking the test; instead, they get their official score report by email within seven days.

Will the at-home tests change the game? Will tests scores go up now that test-takers are working from the comfort of home?

“Theoretically, and in a perfect world, scores could go up because the students would be used to their own keyboards and setup,” Massar tells Poets&Quants. “They should be more comfortable than in test centers, which are kind of creepy.

“But we are not in a perfect world, and there are a lot of unknowns about, for example, doing calculations on paper versus the app’s whiteboard.
And it’s still a stressful test with a lot on the line, no matter how flexible admissions officers are acting about Round 4.”


At UNC Kenan-Flagler, Brad Staats, associate dean of MBA programs, says the admissions team has no preference between the GMAT and GRE. “We’re indifferent in what tests folks take, so we don’t encourage one versus the other,” he tells P&Q. “We have taken a look at the data through the years and based on our analysis of the available data, we don’t see a significant difference in academic or career outcomes between GMAT and GRE test-takers. And so, as a result, they are just one of the many inputs that we look at in putting the class together.”

UNC and Georgetown may have the smallest differential between the percentage of entrants who submitted GMAT scores and those who submitted GRE scores, but they are not the only top-25 schools where the GRE has gained huge market share. The University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business has a 63%-33% GMAT-GRE split, similar to the differential at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business (66%-34%).

However, the norm at the upper echelons remains a strong preference for the GMAT: In the top 10, the average differential between the two tests is more than 60%. The biggest gap is at UC-Davis Graduate School of Management, with 91% submitting GMAT scores and only 9% submitting GREs, but huge divides exist at much larger programs as well, including UCLA Anderson School of Management (90%-10%) and Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business (90%-14%, reflecting entrants who submitted scores from both tests). The University of Chicago Booth School of Business has one of the lowest GRE percentages: 13%.

Yet 25 of the top 51 schools in the U.S. News ranking reported 70% GMAT submissions by 2019 enrollees. Near the middle of the pack, the University of Florida Warrington College of Business shows a 50-50 split, while Washington University at St. Louis Olin Business School is 51-49; the first school in the ranking to have less than 50% of entrants submit a GMAT score is the University of Georgia Terry College of Business, at No. 33: The Terry School reports a 42%-34% differential. The low-end GMAT percentages range from Yale School of Management’s 74% in the top 10 to UNC and Indiana University Kelley School of Business’ 52% in the top 25, to 28% at the University of Arizona Eller College of Management and, at the every bottom, 20% at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Haslam College of Business. Conversely, the highest share of GRE test-takers is 67% at Tennessee Haslam, followed by 62% at the University of Texas-Dallas Jindal School of Management.

See the next pages for a side-by-side comparison of GMAT and GRE scores at the U.S. News top 50 business schools. 


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