Decide Between GMAT, GRE

Use this advice to determine which test suits you better.

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Competition between the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT) and the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is bound to intensify with the GRE revised General Test poised to launch on August 1. According to ETS, creator and administrator of the exam, another 100 business schools have jumped on the GRE bandwagon in the past few months, swelling the number of M.B.A. programs accepting this alternative test to more than 600.

But how can you determine which test you should take? The GMAT, long considered the gold standard for the specific academic skills needed in graduate business school, is more expensive and offered in fewer locations worldwide. Prospective grad students of the arts and sciences have typically submitted GRE scores, and ETS believes applicants deciding between business school and other graduate programs will appreciate having one less test to study—and pay—for. Many elite schools say they hope to diversify their applicant pool by accepting the GRE as an alternative in the admissions process. Another favorable aspect for business schools: it creates a more competitive enrollment rate; the number of available spots stays the same but the volume of applications goes up.

[Learn more about the differences between the GMAT and GRE.]

Dan Gonzales, managing director of Manhattan GRE, tells M.B.A. Podcaster that in terms of content, the GRE verbal is much more focused on vocabulary and vocabulary recall whereas the GMAT is more focused on grammar, logic, and reasoning skills. However, your background in math may play a bigger role in your decision of which test to take. Math in the GRE is more focused on quick number sense, Gonzales says, while the GMAT is all about the classic word problem and having a systematic approach for solving this type of problem.

ETS confirms that the revised test still requires basic math skills such as arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis; however, it will focus more on questions involving data interpretation and real-life scenarios. It's worth noting that both exams were designed for native English speakers, so foreign applicants might find the GMAT's verbal component easier than the GRE—particularly where vocabulary and writing skills are concerned.

[Weigh the pros and cons of taking the GMAT in college.]

In general, top business schools will be looking for fairly high percentile scores on the GRE, especially on the quantitative section. I had one client this year who, while phenomenal in many ways, could not achieve a GMAT score above 600. Her quantitative percentile came in around 40—half of the target score. Although I've seen applicants admitted with very low GMAT scores in the past, we decided to take advantage of this new option and submit her application to Harvard Business School with the GRE instead. Despite a lower overall performance, her GRE results boasted a much higher quant score, and in the end, she was admitted to HBS.

[See how changes in the GMAT could affect you.]

Keep in mind that anyone taking the GRE after August 1 will miss round one deadlines at most schools, as scores won't become available until after November. In my view, the GRE is a viable option for many candidates and should be considered a perfectly reasonable choice for any school that accepts it.

However, if you are a great test-taker and it's all the same to you, I would stick with GMAT for now. It's more of a known entity and "tried and true" for the schools—no questions asked about why you chose it. This time next year we'll have a clearer picture of things as the GRE becomes more common in the context of b-school admissions, and once the so-called Next Generation GMAT—with its new integrated reasoning section—debuts in June 2012.