Should You Take the GMAT, GRE or Executive Assessment (EA)?

There are a growing number of admissions exams to pick from. The choice could be significant

The GMAT has long been the route to business school. The Graduate Management Admission Test is used widely by MBA course providers as it measures the quantitative skills that can predict success in the classroom and in a wide range of careers. 

However, in recent years a rival test, the GRE, has gained significant market share. The Graduate Record Examination is accepted by more than 1,200 MBA programs. Some business schools see it as a similar indicator of applicant quality as the GMAT, and others are finding that it can help diversify their classrooms. 

Now, the Executive Assessment (EA) is the newest arrival on the standardized testing scene. It is used primarily for admission to Executive MBA programs, but a few full-time MBAs accept it in lieu of the GMAT or GRE. 

New York’s Stern School of Business started accepting the EA for its MBA in August. Lisa Rios, executive director of MBA admissions, notes that the EA was specifically designed to be short in duration (it lasts 90 minutes) and requires a modest time commitment to prepare. Admissions consultants recommend about 40 hours of study. 

Exam length is a concern for prospective students, who are undoubtedly busy. The education consultancy CarringtonCrisp claims a fifth of MBA applications will only apply to schools without a formal entrance test, mainly because they do not want to take the time to study for one. 

Admissions advisors say the GMAT requires around 120 hours of study for a top score – at the highest ranking schools, the class average last year was above 720. Total scores range from 200 to 800. 

This concern is reflected in the move to shorten the GMAT by 40 minutes to three hours and 45 minutes. The test’s owner, the Graduate Management Admission Council, did this in April 2018. 

Is the EA a viable alternative to the GMAT or GRE?

Given the EA’s relatively limited audience and acceptance, most prospective MBA students should be considering the GMAT or GRE, says Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, which advises MBA aspirants on their applications. 

The GRE was introduced more than 80 years ago, but “up until just about 15 years ago, the GMAT was pretty much the only game in town in business school admissions”, says Dennis Yim, director of academics for Kaplan Test Prep. 

Now over 95 percent of MBA programs allow applicants to submit GRE scores, according to Kaplan’s annual admissions officer survey. 

Yim says this reflects business schools’ desire to enroll more diverse student bodies, in terms of academic and professional backgrounds, and combat a decline in applications to the US. This is a priority because diversity enriches learning through group discussion, a key part of MBA programs.  

The age-old MBA application debate: GMAT vs. GRE

The GRE is the most widely taken exam for graduate programs, not just business courses but education, engineering, public administration and veterinary medicine too. This means accepting the GRE can help to enroll people who may otherwise not apply to business school. 

“Some schools that accept the GRE can now boast about more diverse student bodies,” says Yim, in terms of the range of professional backgrounds. 

Indeed, INSEAD, a business school in France, Singapore and Abu Dhabi, began accepting the GRE a few years ago because the GMAT is not offered in all countries where it recruits. 

Virginie Fougea, global director of admissions and financial aid for degree programs, says: “Prospective applicants who are not certain about an MBA may favor the GRE, which opens doors to other degrees.”  

However, as a result, GRE takers may be perceived to be less committed to pursuing an MBA, even if they are committed, says Min. This helps to explain why in Kaplan’s annual surveys, between 15 percent and 25 percent of admissions officers believe GMAT takers have an edge each year.

Min adds that some banks and consulting firms also prefer the GMAT as it’s the more established test. “Those going into these fields should go with the GMAT,” he says. 

Fougea agrees that applicants should go for the test that best fits their needs and future goals. Conventional wisdom is the quantitative questions on the GMAT are more challenging than GRE, so applicants with weaker math skills “should lean towards the GRE”, says Min. 

Yet business schools with a quant-centric curriculum “may have an admissions preference for above-average GMAT takers”, he says. 

Consultants also say that the GRE’s verbal section is tougher than the GMAT’s, which emphasizes vocabulary. So non-native English speakers “might want to go with the GMAT”, says Min. 

Yim advises prospective students to take a practice test to see which exam suits their skills. “I’ve had many students go into a practice exam thinking they’ll do better on one test and come out surprised.” 

Picking the right test could be crucial to your chances of admission. According to James Spitalny of The MBA Exchange, a licensed psychologist who has coached anxious MBA applicants since 1996: “Any reduction of nervousness and anxiety can increase the chances of a higher score. Selecting the right standardized test up front can make a significant difference.” 


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