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MBA Applicants: Will The GRE Become The New GMAT?

The number of prospective MBAs who shifted to the GRE increased by 38%, while GMAT test-takers dropped nearly 17%. Which should MBA applicants take?

Hundreds of thousands of business school applicants took the GMAT last year, but the number of prospective MBAs who shifted to the GRE increased by 38%, according to ETS, the education body that administers the test.

“We have heard from schools that they are seeing anywhere from 10% to 30% of their MBA applicants presenting GRE scores, and we expect this number to continue to grow,” says David Payne, ETS’ vice president of global education.

A record number of MBA applicants are opting for the GRE revised General Test and ditching the GMAT, the staple of business school admissions.

There are 1,100 business schools that now accept GRE scores for MBA admissions, says Dawn Piacentino, director of communication and services for the GRE program at ETS. Still, that is a long way off the 5,400 programs worldwide that use GMAT scores, according to June data.

Yet about 238,000 applicants took the GMAT last year, a 17% drop on the year before.  

But the majority of the top MBA ranking business schools now use the GRE, says Mike McGary, a GMAT expert at Magoosh, the admissions consultancy. “The whole pack always follows the lead of the top dogs. I think it’s very likely that most business schools will move in this direction,” he adds.

Magoosh has seen an increase in MBA candidates coming to the firm for help taking the GRE. This includes students who think the GRE is better suited to their strengths. “These students are sure they want to go to business school, but based on their background, skills, or comfort level with the exam, they just prefer the GRE to the GMAT,” says Mike.

However, it is not clear how some business schools evaluate GRE scores. This has led to anxiety among MBA applicants, agrees Jon Fuller, a senior admissions consultant at Clear Admit.

But he adds that some schools are releasing more detailed information about how they assess GRE scores.

“[It] helps someone with a GRE score get an idea of how their standardized test performance stacks up relative to historical candidates,” says Jon.

One extremely obvious point of comparison is the percentile ranks, says Margarette Jung, director of marketing at Magoosh. “If [an applicant] compares percentile on the GRE to percentile on the GMAT, then they are comparing apples to apples,” she adds. There are several online comparison tools which allow applicants to do this.

Both exams should be able to point out a candidate’s quantitative, verbal, and analytical reasoning strengths. But the IR section of the GMAT can highlight a candidate’s ability to analyse data, which can be especially relevant to many traditional post-MBA career paths.

“If one has a particular affinity for reading graphs and interpreting complex bundles of data, then this section could be a place to shine,” says Margarette.

However, it is not clear how much this matters in the overall admissions decision. Jon says that the IR doesn’t get nearly as much emphasis as the overall GMAT score, nor the verbal or quantitative sub-scores.

Demonstrating quantitative ability is a very important part of the application process. But John also points out that there’s a general perception among admissions officers that the quant section of the GRE is easier than the quant section of the GMAT.

The result is that GRE quant expectations are often high. “This can be an especially important consideration for candidates who don’t have much or any concrete evidence of quant ability,” he adds.

There are further problems with the GRE. Ellen Skinner, a former executive director of Yale School of Management, says that the verbal section of the GMAT is not as difficult as with the GRE.

Annie Fulton, an MBA applicant of a several top US schools including Harvard, says: “I had taken the GRE in college and found the verbal section to be incredibly frustrating. I determined that the GMAT played to my strengths better… I was satisfied with my score and decided to not pursue taking it or the GRE again.”

Yet some candidates prefer that the GRE is offered in more locations throughout the world, and is slightly less expensive. And for MBA applicants taking multiple tests, GRE’s Score Select feature allows you to choose which set of scores is reported to a business school.

The GRE also makes it easier for many dual degree candidates, meaning they can submit the same test for multiple programs, says Jon from Clear Admit.

Ellen, who now works with InGenius Prep, says: “For individuals considering a joint degree such as an MBA and MPH then the GRE is preferable, as you will only need to take one test. Both tests are good for five years.”

But therein lies another problem with the GRE – it’s good for a range of unrelated subjects. The GMAT is a test designed for business school and it tests very specifically the kinds of skills one will need at school and in the business world, says Mike from Magoosh.

“The GRE is… a one-size-fits-all deal for chemists, poets, sociologists, and philosophers. It is not designed specifically for anything other than academics in general – and whatever business folks are, they are not academics,” he adds.

Some candidates will consider prepping for both the GMAT and the GRE. It affords applicants the chance to cherry-pick their highest score. But consultants warn against this: it is double the work-load.

Most admissions sources, who often prep candidates for both tests, said they recommend only taking the GMAT.

By investing time in the GMAT, you will be learning the very skills needed in a business function, argues Margarette from the Magoosh team. “If you invest in the GRE, you will get some of those skills, but also some skills that you won’t need because you are not pursuing an academic path,” she adds.

Others are more bullish. Ellen says: “The GMAT is the test of choice for evaluating the quantitative and analytical capability of applicants. While business schools may accept the GRE, it will never totally replace the GMAT.”

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