GRE or GMAT: The Test-Taker's Dilemma

GRE or GMAT: The Test-Taker's Dilemma

GRE or GMAT: The Test-Taker's Dilemma

More business schools are accepting both the GRE and the GMAT, so which test should an MBA applicant take? A lot of factors go into the decision. MBA applicants are stumped. They don't know which of the entrance exams—the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) or the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)—will better serve them and increase their chances of getting into a top-tier business school. The schools that have agreed to accept both exams are toeing the line and saying that either score should be fine.

"Good people always manage to shine whether they take the GMAT or GRE," says Rod Garcia, director of MBA admissions at the MIT Sloan School of Management (Sloan Full-Time MBA Profile), which was among the first B-schools to accept both tests. But admissions consultants, who help aspiring MBAs prepare their applications, are not so sure that's the case. They're advising their clients a bit differently than you'd expect. This business school version of the Coke-or-Pepsi debate is raging everywhere—from the BusinessWeek.com Business School Forum to B-school campuses around the world."It's the wonderful, natural competition of two companies trying to get greater shares of the test market," says Rosemaria Martinelli, associate dean of student recruitment and admissions at University of Chicago's Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile).

Test-Service Rivalry

Admissions directors and counselors alike are keeping a close eye on the unfolding soap opera in which Educational Testing Service, the publisher of the GRE, is trying to win over schools and give the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the GMAT, a run for its money after it's had a virtual monopoly on the graduate business school admissions market for many years. More than 250 business schools, including Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile), the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford Full-Time MBA Profile), and University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile), have agreed to accept either GRE or GMAT scores from applicants.

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How will you perform on each exam? Your business school application is meant to provide proof to schools that you will succeed and make a significant contribution should you matriculate and graduate from that program.

The standardized test scores are usually used in tandem with GPA and other academic records to determine whether you can handle the rigor of a particular MBA program. Having a high score on the standardized test, especially if your GPA is lackluster, is a necessity for admission to top-tier programs. Admissions consultant Linda Abraham suggests applicants take practice tests to see on which test they'll score better. Their goal, she adds, should be the 85th percentile or higher on at least one of the tests. Indeed, Kaplan Test Prep agrees that you should work with your strengths. "If you have a liberal arts degree—and your background is in education or writing or the arts, and you're much stronger in vocabulary than in probability and statistics—there's a reasonable chance you'll do better on the GRE, which is more heavily focused on vocabulary than the GMAT," according to an e-mail from Kaplan spokesperson Carina Wong.

What are your post-MBA plans? Recruiters from investment banks and management consulting firms continue to rely on GMAT scores when considering job applicants. If those fields are the ones you hope to enter, you should take the GMAT, say experts.When do you plan to apply to business school? If your answer to that question is "in the next few years," then the GRE and GMAT may be on more even footing with admissions committees by then. Kenan-Flagler's Wallace believes the GRE will continue to gain traction at graduate business schools as more schools accept it. "The future is already here," she says. "More schools are using the exams interchangeably and the marketing of both exams will be increasing, as we're already seeing." But if your answer is "this year or next," then the GMAT is almost certainly the best choice. It is considered by many to be a rigorous, well-respected exam that provides a clear link between achievement on the test and success in business school, something the GRE can't claim, at least not yet.

Graham Richmond, co-founder and CEO of Clear Admit, a Philadelphia admissions consultant, says less than 10% of his clients have taken only the GRE to apply to business school. "The GMAT is still the gold standard," adds Richmond. He has been telling clients to take the GMAT, unless they are dual-degree candidates who are applying to graduate schools that require the GRE. Jose Ferreira, founder and CEO of Knewton test prep in New York, also weighs in on the side of the GMAT. "Schools don't really want to see GRE scores," says Ferreira, whose company offers GMAT prep only. "They'll accept your GREs just in case you're the next Steve Jobs. The problem is that you're not the next Steve Jobs, so all you've done by submitting GREs is taken an easier and less relevant exam."

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