Switching from GMAT to GRE

Switching from GMAT to GRE

Over the past year you haven’t left a test prep stone unturned in pursuit of the holy grail GMAT score to support your MBA application. Bewilderingly, given the amount of work committed, 5 times over you’ve tasted bitter defeat.  Retake? Nope. GMAC only grants 5 GMATs per year. Is it over? Is your application headed toward the dustbin of history? Will you reluctantly fire it out for an almost certain ding or commit to a program that you’re not happy with? 

Wait! Is that a light at the end of the tunnel? I see some words lit up in the distance. I see a “G”. GMAT? No! I don’t want to hear that word again!!! Oh wait, an “R”. Hmmm. an “E”. GRE!!! Yes – you still have a shot! The GRE is a viable option for business school admission, and, guess what? Much of what you’ve done for GMAT studying has prepared you for the GRE! And, depending on your profile, the GRE could be the easier exam. Jackpot! 

Considering switching from GMAT to GRE? Here is guide to the overlap between the tests and some GRE differences that you’ll need to get acquainted with. The good news is: there’s a lot of overlap between the GMAT and GRE.

Benefit from the GRE format

The GMAT and GRE are incredibly similar but differ notably in format. While the GMAT is a computer adaptive test that presents questions based on your previous responses the GRE is only section adaptive meaning: the second quant or verbal section is either easy or hard based on your performance on the first respective section. Sounds techy – why does that matter? 

It ends up mattering a lot as the GRE format allows you to skip around a section. Practicing picking off the easy questions first and your GRE score will improve. This is highly connected to the next big difference between the tests.

GRE Scoring is much simpler

GMAT scoring is a black box. You might earn a superior score with a greater number of questions wrong if the general difficulty of the test is higher. Forget all about that on the GRE! Every GRE question is worth the same independent of difficulty level. So the scoring is strictly based on how many questions you get right. So back to point 1 about skipping: Be light on your feet. The toughest questions may be in the beginning. The easier ones at the end.

Yes, I am oversimplifying GRE scoring. It is slightly more nuanced in that if you don’t do well on the first verbal or quant section and subsequently are served up the “easier” second section your score will suffer. So there is a little itty bit of adaptivity in the scoring but, in practice, nothing to think too hard about as there’s no real strategy associated with getting the tougher second section. It’s just about doing well on that first one.

GRE Vocab not present on GMAT

About half of the GRE verbal section is vocab based. You’ll certainly need to familiarize yourself with the vocab questions types. There are some basic strategies that you can use to help eliminate answer choices even if you don’t know all of the words. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to build up a great vocab from scratch and that’s probably not something you’ll be able to do in a short time. However, it still may be worth investing in a set of GRE vocab flashcards (there are some free ones as well). Avoid binging on these. Do a little each day. If you want to get fancy go ahead and download a spaced learning app like Anki and load your words into there. There are also public anki GRE decks you can try.

GRE Quantitative Comparisons = different but not difficult

Quant comps are a breeze compared to GMAT Data Sufficiency. So If you’ve done a solid DS prep you should be AOK on these. 

The GRE calculator isn’t a game changer but practice using it

Most of what’s challenging on the GRE isn’t made easier with the calculator. That said, there will be some arithmetic here and there for which the calculator is very appropriate. It’s important to have a sense for when to use it. Again, not everything that could be calculable with a calculator will be calculable with the dinky thing you get on the GRE. So again, figure out what the limitations are. 

GRE is Statistics and Geometry heavy

It’s my feeling that the GRE has more statistics and geometry questions and, in general, focuses on the application of rules rather than on more conceptual thinking. You should see plenty of these in official GRE practice but just wanted to mention it for those transitioning from GMAT on which it’s possible to get very little of a certain content type.

Problem Solving/Reading Comprehension/Essay are all similar

Everything else is similar to GMAT. So if you’re somewhat solid on Problem Solving and Reading Comp there shouldn’t be much to do strategy-wise. Of course, blast through all of the official GRE materials so you’re comfortable with the slight flavor difference.

What materials should I use switching over the GRE?

The GRE has an Official guide and two separate quant and verbal guides. You can also buy three practice exams to add on to the two free ones. I would buy all of these materials as they don’t have that many questions. In addition you can still use GMAT problem solving, reading comprehension, and critical reasoning for extra practice. If you want more test practice the Manhattan GRE quant is OK to use and, although I wouldn’t recommend any third party verbal on GMAT, on GRE, again, if you need the extra test practice, Manhattan GRE tests are useable.

Are you sure you need to switch to the GRE?

If you’ve put in a real effort on the GMAT but haven’t taken your 5 tests allowed in a year then I’d strongly consider exercising those options before moving on to the GRE. After consistent GMAT frustration I know it’s tempting to hit the easy button and eject to the safety GRE but it’s just not that simple. You may still have to put in some real effort studying for the GRE and, if you don’t have a great vocab, the GRE might not be easier than the GMAT. 

On the bright side: you may be much closer than you think on the GMAT. So before jumping ship try to take an honest inventory. There are some signals that there still may be some gas in the GMAT tank:

Are your practice test scores far higher than test day ones? 

Have you had very obvious timing issues on test day? 

On your enhanced score report are you bombing a content type on which you normally excel?

Basically, are test day results very different from practice results? If so, you might be severely underperforming and it’s really worth taking your 5 GMATs. You might just nail it. We’ve had several students make it happen at the 11th hour on their last GMAT attempt. And, if you come up short: GRE!

A GMAT to GRE Conclusion

The GRE is accepted just about everywhere and, for the most part, admissions committees don’t seem to exhibit a strong preference. If you’ve had a hard run with the GMAT, and are at the end of your rope, it may be time to look at the other MBA admissions test. Follow up with any questions or comments!