Why The GRE Could Become The Preferred Exam For MBA Admissions

Ever since Educational Testing Service began promoting the use of the Graduate Record Examination as an alternative to the GMAT in 2011, the GRE had largely played second fiddle to its more widely accepted cousin. Slowly but steadily, however, the GRE has been gaining market share and acceptance by both test-takers and MBA admission directors.

At first, business schools began embracing the GRE as a way to attract more young women and non-traditional students to MBA programs. Some hold-out schools once openly expressed a preference for the GMAT. It was only three years ago, in 2017, that Harvard Business School began publishing median GRE scores in its published class profiles. Then, just 12% of the students in the Class of 2019 entered with a GRE score report. This year, 20% got into HBS with a GRE.

Today, applicants to business schools get no advantage by taking the GMAT as they once did. Business schools treat the exams equally in their admission decisions, giving no preference to either test. The upshot: Over the past five years, the percentage of entrants submitting GRE scores have climbed at 42 of the top 50 full-time MBA programs in the United States, from Harvard to Stanford.


At both the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas-Austin, GRE test takers now represent a third or more of the latest entering MBA classes. At Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill, MBAs who turned in GRE scores now represent nearly half (48%) of the entering MBA class. 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. Meanwhile, at the lower end of the top 50, six schools had incoming classes last fall with 50% or more GRE submitters.

The GRE’s market share will get an even biggest boost this year as test centers were forced to close all over the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic. ETS responded first with an at-home exam, getting to market nearly a month before GMAT. When the at-home GMAT was rushed to market last week, it was put into the marketplace with a ban on any physical whiteboards or scratch pads to allow test takers to work through test problems. Instead, the test had a new feature, a virtual whiteboard, that was launched without a tutorial or a way to practice using the tool before sitting down for the test. GMAC has since published both an explanation of the tool and made available a practice version of it but only after receiving harsh criticism from test-takers.

As of today, more than 1,800 prospective test-takers have signed a petition demanding that test-takers be allowed to take the at-home GMAT as they would at a test center, with a traditional whiteboard and marker to jot down calculations and notes for the test.


Arseniy Pentsak, who lives in North Vancouver, Canada, and has signed the petition, doesn’t believe the at-home GMAT is worth the time and money. “I won’t be taking the exam unless the change is made,” he wrote. “Instead of focusing on solving a problem, you have to focus on how to sketch in the tool you’ve never used! How much time will take to do a simple math calculation?! Absolute nonsense and extremely unfair to the candidates!”

Benjamin Arinze, of Voorhees, N.J., agrees. “I’m nervous enough taking this serious exam on my at-home WIFI, but if my connection begins to lag….AND I’m drawing a parallelogram with my mouse, that’s the end of me,” adds Arinze, who also signed the petition. “If people plan on cheating they’ll cheat regardless, don’t punish those who sincerely want to chase their dreams and have been studying for this for months.”

This is not a matter of protecting the integrity and security of the test. ETS found a way to do that by allowing at-home test-takers of its GRE exam to take notes during the at-home exam on either a physical whiteboard with an erasable marker or on paper with a transparent sheet protector and erasable marker.


And it is not a matter of convenience, either. After sitting for the at-home GMAT on the first day it was made available on April 20, one of the foremost professional test-takers in the world believed that using GMAC’s virtual whiteboard tool without practice would have cost her 100 or more points on the exam. She ultimately concluded that a test-taker would need to spend at minimum a week, possibly two, to practice with the tool for it not to hurt their ultimate score on the test.

That is simply unacceptable. Why should any test-taker waste a week or more of study time to practice on an online tool so it doesn’t get in the way of the score you should be able to achieve? Most test-takers spend between 100 to 170 prepping for the GMAT and the majority who score in the top 10% with a 690 or above studied for one to three months. That week or two weeks to merely prep for a tool would be much better spent working out practice problems to improve your score, not playing with an awkward tool so you don’t lose valuable points.

“That is the most significant downside of the test,” agrees Noodle Pro GMAT expert Dan Edmonds. “That is something I would practice pretty significantly. Their online whiteboard allows you to do shapes and texts and that is going to make solving math problems a little more difficult. Mouse drawing is terrible. It is slower and it is just not as satisfying. It is harder to do than writing by hand by a significant margin.”
It’s also not the only advantage GRE now has over the GMAT at-home. Students who opt for the GRE also get to immediately know their scores at the end of the test. They also can cancel the score at that time. Those who take the at-home GMAT must wait up to seven business days to find out their scores. You also get an optional break that is twice as long–10 minutes vs. five minutes–than the GMAT allows.

Also unlike the GMAT, the GRE allows test-takers to save and return to questions during each section so they can skip difficult questions and come back to them later. Repeat GRE test-takers, meantime, also can choose which of their GRE scores to report to schools.

All of these advantages are making the GRE the preferred test for MBA hopefuls.


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