GMAT vs GRE (for MBA)

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In general, an MBA is great for anyone that is looking to increase their marketability for higher-level career leadership roles. It’s also a good fit for anyone that is tired of working in their current career industry. The term MBA stands for Master of Business Administration, a general graduate-level business degree. It teaches the managerial, leadership and technical skills students need in order to reach their career goals.

However, as the demand for MBA level employees has grown, colleges and universities alike have begun offering a wide variety of MBA concentrations to consider. Some examples of the concentrations available include the following:

  • Finance
  • International business
  • Media management
  • Supply chain management and operations,
  • Innovation management or entrepreneurship

There are many things that you will need to consider when thinking about getting an MBA beyond what concentration you’ll pick. You will need to consider how you want to obtain this degree. Do you want to be a full or part-time student? You can choose to study online or in person. And you should consider how taking the GMAT or the GRE can help you to get accepted into the program that you want.

What is the GMAT?

GMAT is an acronym that stands for Graduate Management Admission Test. It is a standardized exam that is multiple-choice and computer-based and computer-adaptive. In layman’s terms, it is a multiple-choice test taken on the computer. It adjusts the exam difficulty level based on the question responses. The results of the exam allow the admission boards and committees to understand your preparedness for the challenges that the MBA degree offers. 

The GMAT plays a major role in a university’s decision process when comparing candidates for their MBA programs. But it is not only criteria looked at. The boards and committees also look at the work experience, academic records, references, an admissions essay, and Official English Language Proficiency Exam score (international students only) of each applicant. If you are able to score high on the GMAT, it can overshadow other blemishes from your application if there are any weak spots. This can give you a leg up on other applicants with similar backgrounds.

The GMAT exam takes a total of 3 hours and 7 mins to complete. Each individual section is designated a time limit as well.

Parts of the GMAT

There are four separate section types in the GMAT. Each is designed to force the test taker to use their critical thinking and analysis skills to their maximum ability. They are:

  1. Analytical Writing Assessment
  2. Integrated Reasoning
  3. Quantitative
  4. Verbal

Each of these four sections is scored individually. However, after being scored separately, the Quantitative and Verbal scores are combined to calculate a score on the scale between 200 and 800. But we will cover how they are scored in more detail as we discuss each section individually.

Analytical Writing Assessment

The Analytical Writing Assessment is an essay portion of the GMAT that consists of only 1 question. You will be given a short argument presented in paragraph form. You have 30 minutes to critique the author’s argument and determine how strongly the author’s evidence and reasoning are presented.

It is important to note that this question is not asking for your point of view. They’re looking for an objective, unbiased analysis of the author’s argument. In other words, the graders are not looking to see if you agree or disagree with the author’s point of view, but if you are able to identify the different parts of the argument and analyze them clearly and logically.

This portion is scored with a range from 0 to 6. Each essay is read and scored twice once by a computer grading system and once by a human grader. The scores are then added together and divided by 2 to get the final average score.

It should be noted, however, that if the human and computer scores are too different say a 1 and a 5 then a new human grader is selected to read the essay and provide their scoring.

Integrated Reasoning

The Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT consists of 12 questions. They require the exam takers to evaluate and answer 4 varying question types. Like in the Analytical Writing Assessment portion you have 30 minutes to complete this portion of the GMAT.

Throughout the 4 question types, you as the test taker will have to combine and analyze data from multiple sources and formats. The question types are:

  • Graphic Interpretation
    • The test taker is presented with some sort of graphic and then will be asked to answer a multi-part question. Here is a link to several sample problems.
  • Two-Part Analysis
    • The easiest way to think of these questions is like the story problems from math courses. But in order to answer, you must perform an analysis in two parts as the name suggests. Here are several practice problems as examples.
  • Table Analysis
    • The test taker is shown a table. They must decide whether or not a set of questions can be answered using that table. Here are some practice problems.
  • Multi-Source Reasoning
    • The test taker is presented information from multiple sources, such as email, texts, books, etc. They must answer questions using information from all of the sources. Here is a link to a few sample problems.

The scoring of the Integrated Reasoning section is on a score range from 1-8.

Quantitative

The Quantitative portion of the GMAT consists of 31 questions that test the exam taker’s ability to reason quantitatively as well as being able to solve problems that involve arithmetic, basic algebra, and common geometry. You will also be required to interpret graphic data and evaluate how much information is necessary to solve problems. You as the test taker is allotted 62 minutes to complete this portion of the GMAT exam. 

In short, this section of the GMAT is designed to test your problem solving and data sufficiency skills.

The scoring for this section is between 0 and 60 with most people scoring between a 7 and 50

Verbal

The Verbal portion of the GMAT is the longest portion both in terms of questions and length of time given to complete it. This portion consists of 36 questions that have to be completed within the 65-minute time limit. 

Throughout this portion of the exam, you will be presented with multiple-choice questions that will test your ability to read written material and fully comprehend it’s subject matter, correct written sentences so they comply with standard English rules of writing, and evaluate arguments using reason and logic.

The scoring for the Verbal portion of the GMAT is on a range from 0 to 60 with few people scoring below 9 and above 44.

Top MBA Programs that Accept GMAT

This is the list of the top 5 MBA programs in the United States that accept applicants using the GMAT. According to usnews.com, the average score on the GMAT was 560 so you can see from the chart below that in order to get into one of the top 5 business schools in the United States you have to do exceptionally well on the GMAT.

Business SchoolAverage GMAT Score
Stanford GSB733
Wharton732
Chicago Booth726
Harvard Business School725
Kellogg (Northwestern)724

If you feel that a score in the 700’s is out of your reach don’t think that you won’t be able to go to a great school with a highly ranked program. Schools in the top 20 are attainable with scores of 650 or higher. And if you can score in the 600’s at all you have a shot at being accepted by a top 50 school.

Obviously, the better you score the more likely it is that you will get into the program of your choice, and if you happen to be able to get a perfect score of 800 it would negate virtually any perceived weak point on your application.

Now that we have covered the GMAT in-depth let’s look at the GRE so you can determine which test is right for you.

What is the GRE?

GRE stands for Graduate Record Examination. It is a multiple-choice standardized test that is computer-based, but unlike the GMAT is not computer-adaptive. Meaning that the test does not adjust the difficulty of questions based on the test taker’s previous answers. 

The GRE can play a big role in the decision process of universities and colleges that offer graduate degree or MBA programs globally. The admission boards and committees will look at your GRE score, academic history, references, and other support materials when making their decision. A higher score on the GRE will have a significant impact on this decision.

Parts of the GRE

The GRE consists of three separate scored sections and a fourth unscored section that is referred to as the experimental section. In total, the GRE takes around 3.5 to 4 hours to complete. The total timing varies because of the unscored section of the test where the allotted time is based on the subject matter for that test.

Each section of the GRE is designed to test and measure your ability to think critically in order to solve problems and analyze written material. The sections are:

  1. Analytical Writing
  2. Verbal Reasoning
  3. Quantitative Reasoning
  4. Experimental Unscored
    • Additional Verbal or Quantitative reasoning 
    • Research questions

Each of the first three sections is scored individually which are then combined to calculate the final GRE score that is on a scale-out of 200 points. We will cover each sections scoring in more detail below.

Analytical Writing

The Analytical Writing portion of the GRE consists of 2 essay questions. You are given 30 minutes to write each essay for a total of 60 minutes on this section.

While the subject matter of the essays varies and maybe a topic that you are unfamiliar with the point of the essays is to see how well you can analyze and evaluate written English. The first essay will require you to “Analyze an Issue” and the second essay requires you to “Analyze an Argument”. In both of these essays, the graders want to see how logical you as the test taker can be when evaluating and analyzing the topics.

This section of the GRE is scored on a scale from 0 to 6 with half points available.

Verbal Reasoning

The Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE is broken into 2 blocks of questions. For each of the blocks, you as the test taker will be given 30 minutes to complete the 20 questions within the block.

The purpose of the Verbal Reasoning section is to further test your ability to analyze written material, including parts of sentences and how the words and concepts given in the question relate to one another.

Each of the question blocks follows the same format for the type of questions asked. There will be questions regarding Text Completion, Sentence Equivalence, and Reading Comprehension. 

The Text Completion questions will ask you to fill in the blank portions of a sentence so that it makes the most sense. Each sentence may have only 1 blank or up to 3 blank sections for you to fill.

The questions on Sentence Equivalence are formatted so you need to fill in 1 blank part with 2 choices that make each of the 2 sentences easily understood and contextually similar.

For the Reading Comprehension skills questions, you as the test taker will be presented one or more paragraphs per question that explain a topic and you are required to make inferences from the passages that show you are able to think critically and analyze the ideas presented in the paragraphs from context.

Scoring for the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE is done on a scale from 130 to 170 in 1 point increments.

Quantitative Reasoning

Like the Verbal Reasoning section, the Quantitative Reasoning portion consists of 2 question blocks each containing 20 questions of varying types. You are allotted 35 minutes per section for a total time limit of 75 minutes to complete the section.

The Quantitative Reasoning portion of the GRE is designed to test your problem-solving skills using basic quantitative skills like algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and analysis of data. The questions will be presented in one of two formats; either a quantitative comparison or a problem-solving format.

For the quantitative comparison questions, you will be presented with 2 quantities that you must compare and find their relationship.

The problem-solving format of questions on this portion of the GRE can be presented in a variety of methods. You will be presented a problem and then asked to answer the question with either multiple-choice, select all that apply, or enter your own number into the answer box. You will also need to be familiar with interpreting data from different chart styles to answer a few of the questions in this section.

Like the Verbal Reasoning section, the Quantitative Reasoning section is also scored from a range of 130 to 170 in 1 point increments. 

Experimental Unscored section   

This is the unscored portion of the exam and has no impact on your overall final score.  Depending on the test given you, you will either see a “Research” section at the end of the exam or the “Experimental” section questions will be scattered throughout the scored section and you will not be able to tell which are which.

This provides a way for the GRE to continue evolving as the test maker uses the unscored section and questions to try out different question formats or to present new items in a format that is familiar to test takers already.

If your test has the “Research” section at the end of the exam, you can choose whether or not you want to complete the portion, but it is recommended that you do. If you choose not to complete it remember that it is un-scored and won’t impact your final score.

Top MBA Programs that Accept GRE  

This is a list of the top 5 business school MBA programs that accept applicants that have taken the GRE and what the average accepted student received on the individual section. 

Business School QuantitativeVerbalWriting 
Stanford GSB1651654.9
Yale SOM1641654.9
Harvard Business School163163N/A
UCLA, Anderson1631634.7
Penn, Wharton1621624.8

As you can see if your goal is to get into a top 5 MBA program by taking the GRE you will need to do nearly perfect on both the quantitative and verbal sections. Answering at least 95% of the questions correctly in each section.

If you feel that a score that high is beyond your reach but still want to go to a top-rated program scores the mid to upper 150’s are acceptable for most top 25 programs and a score in the low 150’s will still be in the top 50 programs in the United States. 

The higher your overall score the better as a higher score on the GRE, just like the GMAT can outshine any perceived weak spots on your application.

How to Choose Between GMAT and GRE

As many schools will accept either the GMAT or the GRE, how do you know which exam is best for you?

According to usnews.com as of 2019 93% of MBA programs will accept either the GMAT or GRE and 88% of the programs that accept either give equal weight to both exams. 

The real deciding factor for you when deciding will be if the program that you are applying to has a preference. If not then you can choose the exam that fits into your schedule or seems more doable to you personally.

Take the time to look up your local test dates and locations so you can register and have plenty of time to study and prepare for the test.

How to Prepare for the GMAT or GRE

There are several options available to prepare for either the GMAT or the GRE test. 

You can get a study book that will cover all the materials to study and prepare on your own. 

If online learning is more your speed, you can take online GMAT or GRE prep courses similar to the study book. However, you will have the added advantage of an online community to answer your questions and offer explanations on topics you struggle with. 

There are also personal tutors available to help you prepare. The tutoring can take place in person or online depending on your circumstances. 

Whichever option you choose the most important step is to take the preparation seriously and you can track your progress with practice tests along the way. By taking the practice test, you will become familiar with the stress of being timed while taking the GMAT or GRE. 

The more familiar and relaxed you are on the actual day of your examination the better you will be able to perform.

Conclusion

Getting an MBA would be beneficial to your career going forward, whether it be so you can change career paths, get a promotion, or get a job at a specific company. If this is you, then you need to start preparing to take either the GMAT or the GRE.

Unless the MBA program that you want to attend is one of the few that doesn’t accept the GRE, or gives more weight to the GMAT, the choice of the exam is entirely up to you. 

Do some research on each test’s average score for accepted applicants to the MBA program. This way, you’ll be able to have a benchmark to achieve throughout your studies. Set aside ample time to study and prepare for the test with whichever study option works best for you. Then on exam day go in and feel confident that you can do your best. Good luck.