Choosing Between GMAT and GRE

Manhattan Prep’s Stacey Koprince helps guide potential MBA applicants on the important decision between these two admissions tests

Stacey Koprince, content and curriculum lead for Manhattan Prep, has been a GMAT and GRE teacher for more than 20 years and has taught thousands of MBA students. She recently spoke with FIND MBA about the differences between the GMAT and the GRE; see excerpts of the conversation below.

You can also contact Manhattan Prep and other test preparation firms through FIND MBA’s new MBA Admissions Consultants Directory.

What are the key differences between GMAT vs GRE?

The biggest pure content difference is that the GMAT tests grammar, while the GRE tests vocabulary. On the quant side, while the pool of content is largely the same, there are some differences in how the material is tested. For example, the two exams have some different question types and there are some differences in frequency for certain topics (for instance, geometry tends to show up a bit more frequently on the GRE than on the GMAT).

Both exams are adaptive but the scoring mechanism is quite different. The GMAT is question-adaptive — that is, based on your performance, it’s deciding question-by-question what to give you next. The GRE is section-adaptive; it gives you an entire block of questions, then evaluates your performance and decides what block of questions to give you next.

They have some important things in common: both involve early high school-level math (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and statistics); both exams test reading comprehension and critical analysis; and both the GMAT and GRE require essay-writing (one on the GMAT, two on the GRE).

Is GRE easier than GMAT?

A lot of people say that the GRE is easier than the GMAT, but it’s more complex than that. The fact that the GMAT is question-adaptive while the GRE is section-adaptive means that the GMAT feels a lot harder if you’re doing well, because the GMAT can ramp up your difficulty level much more quickly. But the scoring algorithm is also more forgiving on the GMAT — you can get a lot of questions wrong and still get a strong score.

On the GRE, by contrast, the test difficulty won’t ramp up in the same way, but the scoring is less forgiving — if you’re going for a top score, you have to get almost everything right.

In other words, it’s true that the GRE can feel easier to take than the GMAT, but it’s not actually objectively easier for anyone to get a top score. Rather, some people may find one test easier than the other, based on their own strengths and weaknesses.

The takeaway here is to focus on factors that affect only you, not everybody. If one test is easier for everybody who takes it, that really doesn’t matter (and can even be a problem, if it means that careless mistakes have more impact). However, if one test is easier for you, that could and probably should influence your decision.

Which test should I take?

First, do your research. Most schools accept the GMAT and GRE equally but some schools may have a preference for one test or they may steer certain candidates to one test over the other based on that candidate’s background. Attend an info session or talk to an admissions officer and simply ask whether they think one test would help to make your application more competitive. Even if you don’t get a straightforward answer, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to read between the lines.

If you’re not sure which exam to choose, take both a GMAT and GRE practice test to see what your starting point is. Give yourself about two weeks to do this. In the first week, learn the basics about one exam — what the questions types are, how time management works on that test, and so on. Then take that practice test. In your second week, repeat the process for the other test.

When you’re done, examine two things. First, how does your starting score compare to the kind of score you would need to be competitive at your desired programs? Second, dive into the test itself and take a look at what you got wrong, or what took you a long time to do, even if you eventually got it right. How hard do you think it will be for you to improve on those areas? It might turn out that you’re more confident in your ability to improve on the test that has a somewhat lower starting score.

Is there any bias towards either test?

For more than a decade, we have asked MBA programs if prospective students who submit a GMAT score have an admissions edge over prospective students who submit a GRE score. Historically, a significant percentage of admissions officers have told us that GMAT-takers have the advantage, but it’s notable that in our 2021 survey, that advantage has all but vanished. Most schools really do view the two exams equally.

Any other things to consider when applying to an MBA?

A majority of the content on the two tests is the same or very similar, so if you’re really not sure which test to take, go with your gut and start studying. If you later decide to switch tests, it’s true that you will have to make some changes, but most of what you learned will still be applicable to the other test.

And one last tip: did you know there’s now a third exam, the Executive Assessment (EA)? The EA was originally created for Executive MBA programs but a number of regular MBA programs now accept it. It’s half the length of the GMAT and GRE and it feels easier, like the GRE, while having the cachet of the GMAT (it’s made by the same organization that makes the GMAT). And you don’t need the same crazy-high performance that has come to be the norm on the GMAT and GRE. If your desired schools all accept the EA, I’d seriously consider taking that test.

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