GMAT vs GRE for MBA Admission (2018)

GMAT vs GRE

With many full time MBA programs embracing the GRE and with the percentage of people accepted to top universities using only GRE scores climbing, many MBA hopefuls are considering which test to take: the GMAT or the GRE. Which test is harder for you? Which test will make it easier for you to get into your desired MBA program? The following is an in depth GMAT vs. GRE comparison updated for 2018 packed to the gills with the nitty gritty details and expert analysis to answer the question: GMAT or GRE?

Summary (quick answer)

The GMAT is the standard entrance exam for MBA admission and still in 2018 an overwhelming number of people accepted to MBA programs apply with the GMAT especially those applying to elite programs (88% at Harvard admitted with GMAT score). It is also considered more difficult than the GRE. All things being equal, a great GMAT score beats a great GRE score. Done!

Well, not really. In considering whether to take the GMAT or the GRE we need to account for your strengths. Will you shine on the GRE but sink on the GMAT? Actually, you would be relatively safe in assuming that you would perform similarly on each test as they cover roughly the same content and are built to evaluate the same set of skills. Of course, there are exceptions and you might be one of them. Take an official GMAT and an official GRE practice test. Doing much better on one test vs the other? Yes? Great, go with that one. Are the results within 10-15% of each other? Hmmm. The decision isn’t as clear but it is likely you'd be better served starting off with the GMAT.

GMAT vs GRE GMAT GRE
What’s it for? The GMAT is the definitive test for MBA admissions (88% of Harvard’s 2019 class was admitted with a GMAT score) The GRE is the definitive test for admission to general masters programs
What does it test? Verbal and quantitative reasoning skills. Same thing.
Which is better for MBA? All things equal: the GMAT
# of test takers for MBA 250,884 (2017) 35,704 (2016)
GMAT, GRE scores for top MBA programs Class of 2019 Stanford GSB GMAT: 737

Class of 2019 Yale SOM GMAT: 730

Class of 2019 Stanford GRE: Quant 164 Verbal 165. Equivalent to a GMAT 710 using the GRE to GMAT conversion tool.

Class of 2019 Yale GRE: Quant 164 Verbal 166. Equivalent to a GMAT 720 using the GRE to GMAT conversion tool.

Which is harder? For most people: the GMAT.
Which has tougher quant? GMAT quant is harder than GRE Quant.
Which has tougher verbal? Have great reasoning skills? The GMAT verbal might be easier. Have great vocab skills? The GRE verbal might be easier.
Which is easier to study for? There are far more official study resources for the GMAT. There are relatively few official GRE questions. The GRE is less puzzle-y so one could make the argument that the studying is more straightforward.
Tell me which test to take!!!!!! Most people would benefit from starting their test preparation focused on the GMAT. It is the standard for MBA admissions, there is a well worn path for studying, and it is better understood by MBA admissions committees. Beyond that, if you’re looking to put your best foot forward with the “rolls royce” of MBA admissions tests the GMAT is it. Great academic profile and really special application that would make it so a school was looking for a way to admit you even with lower test scores. With this very specific profile you might start with the GRE. Also, if you have an amazing vocab but are terrible at grammar. Solid reader but shaky reasoning skills. You may do much better on the GRE. And: are you applying to other masters programs besides an MBA? You may need to take the GRE.

 

Want more GRE vs GMAT details? The following paragraphs shine a light on both tests with admissions statistics updated for 2018. We'll compare test structure, quant, verbal, and essay's and provide some analysis on how MBA programs handle the GMAT vs GRE.

Structure: GRE = Somewhat Familiar  GMAT = Foreign

The GMAT CAT can feel very threatening. You can’t navigate through the questions (no skipping questions and then going back later). Once you confirm an answer it’s written in stone. This presents a couple of issues:

  1. An epiphany later on in the exam won't help you on a question that you've already passed.
  2. You can't do the easy ones first and then tackle the tough ones.

Without some solid strategy this GMAT fog of war can tempt you into some bad decisions. Most GMAT newbies tend to spend way too much time contemplating questions for which they don’t have a great plan sacrificing time that could be well applied elsewhere. And let’s remember the “A” in the GMAT CAT stands for adaptive. As you answer questions correctly the test keeps getting harder. So, as you’re getting potentially more fatigued, stressed, and time starved you may be seeing the toughest questions (if you’re doing well). If you’re not doing so hot then the questions do get easier leading people to try to guess how they are progressing based on what they think the difficulty level is. Not a good thing. There is much more strategy involved in mastering the GMAT structure. It can be tamed and used to your advantage but it does take practice. For a broader discussion on the GMAT CAT take a look here: GMAT CAT.

The GRE allows you complete freedom to move around, is barely adaptive, and even provides a calculator. It is only “section adaptive” meaning if you do well on the first quantitative section then the next quantitative section will have a tougher pool of questions. But this tougher pool isn’t spawned from your results. There isn’t a gradient of easy, medium, difficult, very difficult, brain melting... If you don’t do so well on the first Quant or Verbal you get set A if you nailed it you get set B. Most people are more comfortable with the GRE structure than the GMAT’s.

Here is a breakdown of the structure and administrative details of the GMAT and GRE including basic info on the number of questions, timing, adaptivity, score reporting, cancellation, rescheduling, and cost.

GMAT vs GRE Basic Info GMAT: 78 q | 1 essay | 3 hours 7 minutes GRE: 80 q | 2 essays | 3 hours 10 minutes
Quant 31q/62 min

Format

5 answer multiple choice.

Question Adaptive CAT.

Question Types

Problem Solving

Data Sufficiency

40q/70 min (2 sections)

Format

5 answer multiple choice (select one and select multiple)

Numeric Entry

Section Adaptive CAT

Question Types

Problem Solving

Quantitative Comparison

Verbal 35 q/65 min

Format

5 answer multiple choice. Question Adaptive CAT.

Question Types

Reading Comprehension

Critical Reasoning

Sentence Correction

40 q//60 minutes (2 sections)

Format

5 answer multiple choice. Section Adaptive CAT.

Question Types

Text Completion (vocabulary)

Sentence Equivalence (vocabulary)

Reading Comprehension (includes Critical Reasoning)

Essay 1 Essay/30 min

Analyze the argument

2 Essays/1h

Analyze the Argument

Analyze the issue

Integrated Reasoning 12 questions/30 minutes N/A
Structure Test taker selects the order of sections. Order of sections is random.
Scoring Quant: 0-60 (51 is as high as you can achieve in practice)

Verbal: 0-60 (51 is as high as you can achieve in practice)

Composite Score (Quant + Verbal) 0-800

Essay: 0-6 (Not Included in Composite Score)

Integrated reasoning: 0-8 (Not Included in Composite Score)

Quant: 130-170

Verbal: 130-170

Essay: 0-6

The GRE has no composite score.

Cost $250 $205 (USA)
# of times per year 5 per rolling 12 months. Max 8 per lifetime. 16 day gap between tests. 5 times per rolling 12 months. 21 day gap between test. Unlimited per lifetime.
Cancelling Must be done at least 7 days in advance. $80 refund (of $250) Must be done at least 4 days in advance. 50% refund ($102.50).
Rescheduling Must be done at least 7 days in advance. $60 fee. Must be done at least 4 days in advance. $50 fee.
Score reporting Scores can be previewed and then cancelled if desired. Cancelled scores can reinstated within 4 years and 11 months for a $50 fee. Non-cancelled scores can be cancelled within 72 hours via mba.com for a $25 fee. Cancelled scores do not appear in any form on your score report. GRE score select allows you to report any or all GRE scores. No fees apply.

 

GMAT math is harder than GRE math but does it matter?

The fundamentals of each test are nearly identical. And from easy to medium level questions the tests are somewhat similar in difficulty. Yes, the GMAT presents more puzzles on all levels and the GRE presents more of a straightforward "math test" but the big divergence is in the top shelf questions of the GMAT. The GMAT could hit you with a question that regardless of how much time you have leaves you completely stunned. For most people who are “good” at math this deer in headlights moment is unlikely to happen on the GRE. The GRE flattens out rather quickly. The other thing to consider is that the group of people taking the GMAT probably has better quant skills than the group of people taking the GRE. So a person with weaker quantitative skills could achieve a better quantitative percentile on the GRE than on the GMAT. While this better percentile isn't necessarily meaningful it might look better on an application. Here’s an overview of the the GMAT and GRE quantitative sections. Below we’ll compare GMAT and GRE questions types.

GMAT vs GRE Quant GMAT GRE
# of Questions 31 40 (2x20 minute sections)
Timing 62 minutes 70 minutes
Format 5 Question Multiple Choice

Question Types

Problem Solving

Data Sufficiency

Question Adaptive CAT.

5 answer multiple choice (select one and select multiple)

Numeric Entry

Section Adaptive CAT

Question Types

Problem Solving

Quantitative Comparison

Scoring 0-60 (51 is the highest achievable score in practice) 130-170

Plain Jane GMAT vs Look at Me GRE Problem Solving

The GMAT problem solving is a very standard five answer multiple choice the like of which you’ve seen on many standardized tests. Here the GRE is the oddball.

What’s different about the GRE problem solving?

  1. Multiple answer multiple choice. There are questions for which there is more than one correct answer. Oh no!!! Don’t worry, I don’t think this makes the questions inherently more difficult. It’s just something to be aware of and to practice in your GRE studies.
  2. No multiple choice/you have to provide the numbers. Runnnn!!!!! It’s OK. Come back from the ledge. Same deal as above. Not a problem. You just need to be prepared for the format.
  3. You get a calculator! Woohoo. Yes, there is less arithmetic to do.

GRE which pile is bigger (Quantitative Comparisons) vs GMAT do I have enough information (Data Sufficiency)

For most people beginning their GMAT saga the most foreign section is the Data Sufficiency. This makes a lot of sense as this question type is unique to the GMAT and can be as slippery as a salamander (at least for the uninitiated). Why? There are no values in the answer choices.  If you make a mistake it’s not as if you can see that your answer doesn’t match one of the options. It’s tough to detect rotten logic. Also, the idea that you’re solving for sufficiency can get your head spinning. Confused? Here are some Data Sufficiency samples to get you up to speed. And here’s a GMAT DS walkthrough explaining the question type and presenting a solution.

The GRE response to Data Sufficiency is the Quantitative Comparisons. I'm just going to come right out and say it: GRE Quantitative Comparison is easier than GMAT Data Sufficiency. What are Quant Comps about? You are presented with two piles and have to judge which is bigger. The other thing that makes GRE QCs easier is that you only have 4 answer choices. That’s right - 1/4 on a guess!

Is GMAT Quant harder?

Yeah, it is. The questions get thornier and Data Sufficiency can be challenging to get used to. Will you do far better on the GRE Quant given the same set of skills? Probably not. Will you have to study less for x% of improvement on the GRE Quant? Again, probably not. Does that mean the GRE is worthless? No. You could be an exception and for whatever reason be a GRE superstar. Take an official GRE practice test and find out!

Is GRE Verbal tougher?

That’s going to depend on you. If you have a terrible vocabulary then the GRE verbal will be hell. A majority of the questions are vocab based. If instead you have trouble evaluating arguments, the GMAT verbal will be harder as it has much more critical reasoning than does the GRE  and the reasoning on those questions is more challenging.

GMAT vs GRE Verbal Summary GMAT GRE
# of Questions 35 40 (in two sections)
Time 65 minutes 60 minutes (in two sections)
Format Format

5 answer multiple choice. Question Adaptive CAT.

Question Types

Reading Comprehension

Critical Reasoning

Sentence Correction

Format

5 answer multiple choice. Section Adaptive CAT.

Question Types

Text Completion (vocabulary)

Sentence Equivalence (vocabulary)

Reading Comprehension (includes Critical Reasoning)

Scoring 0-60 (51 is the highest achievable score in practice) 130-170
Which is harder? GMAT reasoning is tougher. How’s your vocab? Not so good? GRE verbal will be hard.

Man in the mirror: GMAT and GRE Reading Comprehension are very similar

In its newest iteration, the GRE has trended closer to the GMAT with shorter, less dense passages (the “old” GRE had much denser and longer passages. This makes sense considering that the GRE wants to appeal as an international entrance exam for business school and probably wants to avoid scaring off international candidates who might be put off by dense reading not in their mother tongue. So is there an easy way out for reading comprehension? I don't think so. Nowadays the difficulty level is very similar on both tests. The only real difference is that you can skip around on the GRE as opposed to the GMAT which only allows you to see one question at time. GRE also has some variations in the question types. This variation takes some getting used to but doesn’t add to the difficulty level of the GRE.

GRE Sentence Completion vs GMAT Sentence Correction

They both have “sentence” in the name and the same abbreviation (SC) but these sections are quite different. But, both being the odd man out in this GRE versus GMAT debate, I pitted them against each other. If you have a strong vocabulary the completions will be relatively simple. There isn't much critical thinking here - just regurgitating memorized words. If memorization isn’t your thing or if you do not already have a broad vocabulary you may have an easier time learning the “logic” of the GMAT sentence correction. For ESL students I’d say GMAT sentence correction is the better bet.

GMAT Critical Reasoning is much more difficult

You will most likely only have two pure critical reasoning questions on your GRE. Compared to the GMAT critical reasoning the GRE critical reasoning is lightweight. I would place the GRE critical reasoning questions somewhere around mid-level GMAT critical reasoning questions. If critical reasoning is a strength then go GMAT! Those CR skills will most likely translate to the reading comprehension as well and contribute to an excellent verbal score. If you abhor critical reasoning then the GRE might be a great way to avoid these guys. You can train critical reasoning but it can take some real  time and effort to see significant improvements.

Who cares about the GMAT or the GRE Writing?

The writing sections count for very little and shouldn’t factor into your decision making. They are very much pass/fail. But just for the sake of completion here’s the summary:

GMAT vs GRE Essay GMAT GRE
# of Essays 1 2
Time per Essay 30min 30min
Total Time 30min 1h
Essay Topics Analyze an Argument Analyze an Argument/Issue
Score 0-6 0-6
Relevance to MBA Admission Low Low

There are two essays on the GRE. I’d say that’s a negative. I’m not sure that it makes the test any tougher but it is extra work to slog through.

GMAT Integrated Reasoning

The GRE has no section which compares to the IR section of the GMAT. So how does the IR factor in to this GRE vs. GMAT discussion? I'd say not very much. Although it may be an important element at some point in the future in 2018 it still doesn't seem to be extremely relevant to admissions decisions.

How do MBA programs feel about the GRE in 2018?

In a 2014 study by Kaplan test prep, 74% of MBA programs claimed to have no GMAT or GRE preference. We don’t have those figures for 2018 but one can imagine that there are still a healthy chunk of schools that do have a preference. And among those “neutral” 74% it’s tough to judge how that “no preference” actually translates into admissions results. There are more applicants admitted with GRE scores than ever before but this GRE slice still only comprises a small percentage of the applicant pie and there are some schools for which GRE admits has dropped. As reported by Poets and Quants, At Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business although the percentage successful applicants with GRE scores skyrocketed from 2013 to 2015 (4% to 12%) in 2016 it dropped (11%). The overall trend is up for GRE but for top MBA programs GRE still lags: In 2017 top two GRE accepting elite MBA programs were the University of Michigan Ross School of Business with 19% GRE admits and MIT Sloan School of Management with 18%. Harvard HBS’s 2019 class had only 12% GRE test takers. As you go down the rankings GRE rates climb as high as 40% of the total.

As a potential boost to the GRE’s credibility, Harvard Business School has begun releasing GRE statistics. This may have been a reaction to Robert J. Morse, chief data strategist at U.S. News & World Report, which compiles the most respected MBA rankings list, speculating that schools may be punished for failing to report GRE numbers (as reported here by Poets and Quants). With that you may see any advantage of taking the GRE evaporate as schools clamor to increase their median GRE scores. Then you could see the same GMAT style arms race with median GRE scores creeping up and up and up.

Still here? Great. Here’s the conclusion of GMAT vs GRE the definitive guide for 2018

A top GMAT score is better than a top GRE score. Why? Since the GMAT is the de facto MBA exam most admissions officers are more comfortable judging GMAT scores (and some have stated that they still prefer seeing GMAT scores). It’s also well established that the GMAT is harder than the GRE. But just to play devil's advocate you could argue that schools might be willing to accept a lower GRE score because at least of now that score won't ding their prized GMAT averages which are used to calculate MBA rankings. However, don’t expect this loophole to:

  1. Apply to you unless you have a very compelling application.
  2. Last forever because more schools are reporting GRE stats and the GRE may start factoring into rankings.

My thinking is that getting a super score on either exam is going to take most people some real, solid effort. So given the same substantial time and cash investment I would bet on the safe choice (GMAT) and have the GRE as a backup. Once you have prepared for the GMAT it doesn't take much more effort to adjust for the slight differences presented in the GRE. One last thing to consider: as demented as it sounds, some jobs require that you submit standardized test scores. I've had students retake the GMAT after being accepted to business school just to improve post-MBA job opportunities. A low or non-existent GMAT score might make you a less competitive candidate (then again you may not be gunning for this type of job). It may be that things will change in a few years but for now the GMAT is still the reigning MBA entrance exam.

 

 

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