The GMAT has for decades been viewed as the de facto business school entrance exam. However, over the last years the GRE, an entrance exam used mainly for admission to graduate programs, has gained traction and is now widely deemed to be the main alternative to the GMAT. More than 1,200 MBA programs now accept it for applications.
But maybe because the GMAT has been around for so long or maybe because it is specifically tailored to business schools, there is a perception that the GMAT is the exam to take if you seek admission to an MBA program. Is this really the case?
The majority of business schools claim that they are neutral. In fact, many business schools express gratitude for the existence of the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT because it helps them attract a broader array of young professionals from backgrounds outside the traditional pre-MBA tracks of Consulting, Finance, and other business-related fields.
Check out: How to Choose GRE and GMAT Test Dates
Allison Grant, who took the GRE and landed a place at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told the Financial Times:
People said that five years ago it really mattered that you took the GMAT, but that is no longer the case.
Firmly in the GMAT camp
Although most business schools declare they have no favorite exam, some avow a preference for the GMAT. INSEAD (France) for instance, used to allow candidates to submit GRE or GMAT scores, but now only accepts GRE scores if it is not possible for the aspirant to sit the GMAT in their home country. The business school told the Financial Times:
The long history of the GMAT test means that it is our preferred option.
According to Stacy Blackman, an admissions consultant, this preference for the GMAT is common among top schools as they view it as more rigorous and serious.
Another reason for some schools to prefer the GMAT is due to the nature of their scholarship distribution system. EDHEC Business School (France) uses GMAT results to calculate eligibility for MBA scholarships. Nikki Harle, admissions manager at EDHEC, told BusinessBecause:
We do prefer GMAT. If we get sent a GRE score we have to do a conversion online.
EDHEC, unlike INSEAD, accepts results from either exam unconditionally.
In yet another signal to applicants that the GMAT may give them an edge over the GRE, a survey of business school admissions officers in 2017 by Kaplan Test Prep found that the GMAT was preferred by 21% of those who accept both exams for MBA applications. Just 1% said those who sit the GRE would have an advantage over those who submit GMAT scores.
Battling it out
Although the scales seem slightly tipped in favor of the GMAT, the owner of the GRE exam, ETS, is determined to further encroach on GMAT territory. Prior to 2006, the GMAT faced no competition as the principal exam for business school admission. For many years, ETS offered both the GRE and the GMAT, but in 2006, GMAC, the owner of the GMAT, moved the exam to new vendors, Pearson VUE and ACT. Freed from the contractual obligation not to compete with GMAC, ETS started actively marketing the GRE as a viable alternative to the GMAT.
Competition has heated up significantly since 2006, with both the GRE and GMAT introducing changes to make themselves more appealing to applicants.
In 2011, the GRE was subjected to a major overhaul that changed the specific material in the exam, the delivery method, and the scoring. The scoring system was changed to a scale of 130-170 from a scale of 200-800. Also, the test became adaptive by section, meaning that the difficulty level of the second Quantitative and Verbal sections depends on how the test taker performs in the first sections. In comparison, the GMAT adapts its difficulty level after each question.
In 2017, GMAT enabled test-takers to choose the order in which they take each section of the exam. In addition, GMAC earlier in 2018 cut the length of the GMAT by 30 minutes. The exam now lasts for three and a half hours instead of four, with the time savings mostly being on the Quantitative and Verbal sections.
Making the choice
Considering all this, the decision about which exam to take appears to be a tricky one. Most schools say on their websites that they weigh the GRE and GMAT equally, but there could be more to it than meets the eye. Prospective MBAs are therefore advised to get in touch with a representative of the school to which they seek admission and ask if one exam is viewed more favorably than the other. Checking how many of the admitted students took the GMAT and how many the GRE may also help give you a general idea of the school’s preferences. To put it short, try to glean information about the school’s preferences by using all possible sources. Good research always pays off, and in this case may pave your way to your dream MBA program.