Should I Take the GRE or the GMAT for Business School?

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This guest post is written by Trevor Klee, a Boston-based GMAT, GRE, and LSAT instructor. Trevor has 99th percentile scores in all the tests he teaches and is currently the official GRE instructor for MIT.

Recently, a GMAT tutoring client told me that she was considering not going to business school.

“Why?” I asked.

I was confused because she seemed to have an excellent profile. She had done well so far in her career in private equity, and it was clear that an MBA would help her take her career to the next level.

“The GMAT,” she said. “Work’s really stressing me out, and I don’t feel like I have the time or the mental capacity to really study. If I can’t score well on the GMAT, I can’t get into a good business school. Then what’s the point of even going?”

“Have you considered the GRE?” I asked.

“The what?”

The GRE

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is like the GMAT — in a basic sense. It’s a computer adaptive test, consists of an essay, quantitative, and verbal portion, and is overly long. Recently, it’s begun to be accepted at most business schools, including at Harvard Business School and Stanford Business School, as an alternative to the GMAT. As such, it’s worth considering the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT.

However, before you do, you have to know that the GRE and GMAT are in reality quite different. Therefore, preparing for and taking either exam requires quite different emphases.

There are two main differences in the content of the GRE and the GMAT:

1. The GRE is (generally) easier than the GMAT

The GRE is essentially a hopped-up version of the SAT or ACT. It covers a lot of the same vocabulary, reading comprehension, and basic high school mathematics as your college admissions test. It’s just a bit harder and covers a bit more material. If you did well on those tests, the GRE should be quite easy to study for.

The GMAT, on the other hand, is quite different from any exam you’ve taken. The sentence correction and logical sections of the GMAT aren’t that comparable to the SAT equivalents, the quantitative section’s focus on mental math is unlike any part of the SAT, and the reading comprehension, which should be the most similar, is complex enough on the GMAT to render most SAT or ACT strategies unhelpful.

2. The GRE is harder to study for

The GMAT’s sections are hard, but it is possible for anyone to get a good score if they’re willing to put in the work. Even reading comprehension, which many consider just a test of reading speed, is possible for anyone to get a good score on. Again, they just need to put in the work and study the right techniques.

The GRE, on the other hand, has one section that is almost impossible to study for. That’s the vocabulary section. While I’m sure you can find unscrupulous instructors online who promise that you can master the vocabulary with just their one simple trick, don’t be fooled! All the tricks in the world can only earn you a small improvement in your vocabulary score. There’s no way around it: you have to know the vocabulary.

Bottom line

Any candidate for business school should consider the GRE. It’s always a viable option. However, as the GRE is an easier exam, it will give you less of a chance to show off your academic aptitude to the admissions office. Furthermore, if you are not a native English speaker, you may have trouble with the vocabulary section, which is a difficult fact to work around.

Native English speakers who are having trouble with the GMAT, however, should choose the GRE. You’ll save yourself a lot of headaches, and you won’t have to worry about your poor GMAT score sinking your chances at admission to your top-choice business school.

Trevor Klee’s website is www.trevorkleetutor.com.

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