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GMAT vs. GRE: Differences, How Scores Are Used and the Trend Toward Test Waivers in MBA Admissions

Anyone who has ever considered going to graduate school is likely familiar with the GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test) and the GRE (Graduate Record Exam). Designed to assess an individual’s potential to achieve academic success in graduate school, both tests are widely accepted by MBA programs nationwide. However, there are differences between the two. 

To determine what those differences are, how scores are used by MBA admissions teams and how one can best prepare for these exams, we spoke with admissions officers at two Consortium member schools. They shared insight into the role these tests play in MBA admissions and discussed the growth of test waivers. 

GMAT vs. GRE

Historically relied on for MBA programs, the GMAT, similar to the GRE, is used to assess certain analytical, quantitative, verbal, reading and writing skills. However, as more of a general test, the GRE is accepted by a range of graduate programs, as well as those at business and law schools. While both exams rely heavily on high-school-level math and reading comprehension, the GRE is considered better for those who are more left-brained — those who are more mathematically inclined — whereas the GMAT is said to be better for more creative, right-brained thinkers, according to test prep company Kaplan.

In all, the cost to take the GMAT is $250, which includes sending score reports to up to five programs, while the GRE, in most places, costs $205 to take. Recent numbers indicate that more than 90 percent of MBA programs accept the GRE. However, some admissions committees may prefer the GMAT, and certain industries and functional areas require GMAT scores when applying to jobs, so be sure to do your research.

How Scores Are Used

“Test scores aren’t everything, but it is a starting point of the application,” says Danielle Richie, director of MBA admissions & student recruitment at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) Kenan-Flagler Business School.

Danielle Richie
Danielle Richie

The school has no preference for either test and allows candidates to submit either GMAT or GRE scores. Admissions officers will accept the highest score but will not super score — when you take the highest score from one section of the test then another score from another test taken at a different time. Kenan-Flagler does not have a minimum score required to be admitted and, instead, conducts a holistic review of applications.

Similar to Kenan-Flagler, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Wisconsin School of Business uses the tests to gauge where students are academically. 

“GMAT and GRE scores are important because it helps the admission team better understand a candidate’s academic ability to be successful in the first year of an MBA program,” says Betsy Kacizak, director of MBA admissions and recruitment at Wisconsin. “When used alongside a person’s undergraduate transcripts, it provides the admission committee a more holistic academic view of the candidate.”

Test Waivers

A recent trend in MBA admissions — largely attributed to the pandemic — is the waiving of standardized test scores altogether. “This came about when testing centers had to close and the at-home option had not launched,” Kacizak says. “Today, test waivers are still a part of the application process at many schools.”

Betsy Kacizak
Betsy Kacizak

While some schools may still require the GMAT or GRE, often, applicants who choose not to submit test scores are not penalized for doing so; this is the case at Kenan-Flagler. 

“While scores from standardized tests such as the GMAT or GRE are a beneficial way for our admissions committee to evaluate the likelihood of academic success in our full-time MBA program, we recognize that some candidates can build a strong case for admission,” says Richie. “All applications will be considered holistically, and you will not be at a disadvantage without a standardized test score.” Depending on a candidate’s future career goals, however, she says her team may advise an applicant to take the GMAT or GRE to strengthen their application for recruiting processes.

Kacizak recommends that students research the schools they are interested in to determine if they offer test waivers and who is eligible, as every school may handle requests differently. 

Test Prep

For those who plan to take either test, preparing is key to achieving a good score — and may even help you decide which test is best for you. 

“Both the GRE and the GMAT are adaptive, meaning the questions at the beginning of each section start out at an average level of difficulty,” Richie says. “Practice exams are a great way to understand the breakdown of each test and determine what is the best test for you to take.”

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