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May 11, 2014

GMAT or GRE? Both?

While I have had very few clients apply to MBA programs with a GRE rather than a GMAT score,  as Poets & Quants’ John Byrne reports in “GRE Gaining Ground On The GMAT“, it is clear that is GRE becoming a real alternative to the GMAT. GRE is now important enough that US News & World Report’s Rankings now include the category “Entrants providing GMAT scores.”  Since all of the top programs require GMAT or GRE, this an indirect reporting on the number of those enrolled (Not admitted, which would be a bigger number) who provided GRE rather than GMAT.  BusinessWeek has yet to incorporate GRE into its reporting, but this would seem likely when it posts new rankings for 2014.  Given that BusinessWeek only ranks once every two years,  US News provides much more current data and rankings that reflect changes taking place at a school (Selectivity, Placement success,  etc).

A GRE Advantage?  
Before addressing, whether one should take GRE instead of GMAT, I think it is important to ask whether there is a GRE advantage. While Byrne’s article does include reported data suggesting that relatively lower GRE scores are being accepted than GMAT scores,  or those applying to top schools, I would be cautious about that data for a couple of reasons:
1.  Even for schools that are reporting GRE, the reported data is very incomplete for Columbia, Wharton, NYU,  MIT, and Darden.  To be fair, Cornell, Yale, and Michigan provide more complete data.
2. HBS, Stanford, Booth, Berkeley Haas  and Tuck are not included in this score analysis.  If you are targeting top ten, you want to know what is going on with these schools in terms of taking a relatively lower GRE.

As always, one needs to get school specific, so depending on where you apply there might be relative advantage to taking GRE based on the data. However, the most common  previous strategic rationale for submitting GRE instead of GMAT was that GRE data was not impacting school ranking, however this is no longer true. US News & World Report makes full use of GRE when calculating ranking:
Mean GMAT and GRE scores (0.1625): This is the average Graduate Management Admission Test score and average GRE quantitative and verbal scores of full-time MBA students entering in fall 2013. For the second consecutive year, we have used both GMAT and GRE scores in the ranking model for MBA programs that reported both scores. Using the GRE scores allows us to take into account the admissions test scores of the entire entering full-time MBA class.”
Given that test scores count for 16.25% of the rankings calculation, you can bet that schools  are going to pay increasingly close attention to GRE scores, especially if a large percentage of their admits consists of those who took GRE.  I suspect that at the moment, any relative advantage that taking the GRE has over GMAT will be lost as schools adjust more accurately for any real distinctions.  Maybe there is some present advantage in taking GRE over GMAT, but I would not bet on it lasting very long.  And unless BusinessWeek wants to look irrelevant, they will also have to include GRE into their calculations.  At that point, schools will be highly incentivized to make sure that their GRE score based admits are not damaging their rankings.

 Justifications for Taking GRE over GMAT or visa versa 
While GMAT costs $250 and you can save $55 by taking GRE,  in the scheme of things for most of those applying to top programs, it is really a drop in the bucket and hence not a real factor for deciding which test to take.  I understand for some low income applicants, the price difference is more significant, still given the overall costs involved in going for an MBA, this is a small price difference.

A minor justification for taking GMAT over GRE is that GMAT scores are particularly easy to benchmark against reported school data.  However this justification is losing validity based on the reported data as mentioned in the P&Q article above.  While the reported data for GRE is not as good as that for GMAT, if one uses the reported data and GRE® Comparison Tool for Business Schools, it is relatively easy to figure out what kind of GRE score one needs to target for any MBA program.

The only real reason to prefer one test over the other is because you think you will do better relatively on one test over the other.  I’m not a test expert, but these are different tests and so it is reasonable to assume that performance will not necessarily be the same.  It is said that GRE is better to take if you have superior verbal abilities and inferior quantitative abilities  and that GMAT is for the opposite.  I think that is something each applicant should determine for themselves by taking a look at both tests and possibly even taking both a GRE and GMAT practice or diagnostic test.

If one has the time, it would be possible to prepare and study for both tests and simply compare the results and then report the scores for one of the tests.   Needless to say, if you are considering this both option, only report scores when it is to your advantage.

The both strategy is one that I have seen some clients use previously for TOEFL and IELTS.  As these two English tests are quite different, it is indeed possible that the same person will do better on IELTS or on TOEFL.  Especially for those who studied British English,  IELTS can be an advantage. A few Japanese test takers I have worked with  found it easier to score an IELTS 7.0  rather than the TOEFL equivalent of 100. Again, this appears to be a matter of individual performance and prior experience.

While this both strategy is a particularly time consuming option and therefore not realistic for most applicants, a small number will find that taking both tests produces the best result.  Beyond simply comparing scores and reporting on one test or the other, two situations where the both strategy could be useful would be:
1. If you reported your GMAT (or GRE) score and then were waitlisted, if you submitted a GRE  (or GMAT) score that was superior, that could help you get off the waitlist.  Since you might be afraid of your GMAT (or GRE) going down if you took it again, taking a GRE (or GMAT) while on the waitlist would allow you to decide to report the score only if it improved.
2. This both strategy could be used by a reapplicant. For example if a reapplicant  was afraid of their GMAT going down or had maxed out on the 5 times in 12 months limit on taking the test, taking a GRE would be way to show improvement for schools being reapplied to and for getting a fresh start with schools that the applicant had not previously applied to.

Again, I think most applicants will only have the time to study for one or other of these tests, but having the choice to do both is really new advantage that applicants in the past did not have.

Finally, I think that it is great that GRE is now offering competition to GMAT because it gives applicants more options.  I think it is just a matter of time before GRE data reporting catches up with GMAT, which will further enhance the competition between these two tests.

-Adam Markus
I am a graduate admissions consultant who works with clients worldwide. If you would like to arrange an initial consultation, please complete my intake form. Please don't email me any essays, other admissions consultant's intake forms, your life story, or any long email asking for a written profile assessment. The only profiles I assess are those with people who I offer initial consultations to. Please note that initial consultations are not offered when I have reached full capacity or when I determine that I am not a good fit with an applicant.
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