With the GRE becoming more widely accepted at top MBA programs throughout the US, more MBA applicants see it as a viable business school admission test. In fact, Kaplan's 2015 admissions officers survey found that 90% of business schools across the US and Great Britain now accept both the GRE and the GMAT.
The situation has changed a lot over the last decade. As recently as 2009, another Kaplan survey indicated that the GRE test was accepted by less than a quarter of all business schools in the US and Great Britain.
Yet more and more schools have begun allowing applicants to submit GRE scores, particularly after an influential August 2014 post from Harvard Business School admissions director Dee Leopold: “not only do we accept both tests, but we are agnostic about our preference,” he said.
Of course, while increasing GRE acceptance is great news for applicants who had already taken that test, or who felt more comfortable with the GRE's format and content, it has also introduced another tricky question into the MBA application process: Should you take the GRE or the GMAT to get into business school?
Step 1: Know your scores
In order to decide which test will give you the greatest shot at getting in to your target b-schools, you have to get a sense of what your scores would be on each test.
To do that, you will need to take a full-length practice test for both the GMAT and the GRE. Yes, it is time-consuming. Yes, it can be mentally and emotionally exhausting working your way through two separate long, challenging exams. But it's a concrete way to get a complete picture of both what your score potential is, and how you react to the format of each test.
Step 2: Know the tests
The GMAT and the GRE are very similar in their broad details. Both tests take between 3.5 and 4 hours to complete, both are presented in a computer adaptive format, and both aim to assess your verbal, quantitative, and writing skills through a number of different question types.
However, there are also several important differences between the tests. Broadly speaking, the GRE tends to emphasize verbal and written analytical skills, whereas the GMAT places more emphasis on quantitative skills. The GRE requires two essays, where the GMAT requires only one. The GMAT also features a 12-question Integrated Reasoning section, focusing on data analysis, which is not present on the GRE. Finally, the GRE allows students to choose which test score they will send to an institution, while the GMAT sends all non-cancelled scores for the past five years.
Step 3: Know yourself
These two tests are very important in the evaluation of your candidacy so it is in your best interest to choose the test where you can perform at your best. The good news about how admissions committees evaluate these tests is that they take your unique circumstances into account.
Once you've taken a practice GMAT and GRE, consider your scores in the context of your full application: your resume, your undergraduate transcripts, your work experience and internships. Try to get a full perspective of the strengths and weaknesses of your MBA application. Then, consider which test seems like it will do the best job of minimizing your weaknesses and shoring up your strengths.
For example, the GRE verbal section is often considered to be very challenging for international students. If you are an international applicant who can show plenty of evidence of strong quantitative skills and background, managing to achieve a high GRE verbal score will go a long way toward demonstrating that you have the language skills needed to do well in an academically rigorous program.
The GRE is also a smart choice for students who are thinking about applying to dual-degree programs, many of which actually require the GRE over the GMAT.
Similarly, if you have been working in a field without much of a quantitative component, and especially if you received your undergraduate degree in humanities or another field without much of a quantitative aspect, a high GMAT quant score could boost your chances of being admitted.
And finally, if you are a very strong test-taker – one who is likely to score in the 95th percentile or higher on either test – I would ultimately recommend that you take the GMAT, particularly if you come from a more traditional business school background. Although for the most part the two tests are considered equally, at the highest score levels I think you are still more likely to see an acceptance bump with an excellent GMAT score.
She's also a former Harvard Business School admissions officer and the author of the Best Business Schools' Admissions Secrets.
Chioma publishes on the topics of personal branding, leadership development and business school admissions for college students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and executives.