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Preparing for the GMAT and GRE: Which Exam Is Right for You?

Despite the decision by some MBA programs to go test-optional in recent years, many top-tier business schools still require either the GMAT or GRE to gain admission. But which test should you choose — and, more importantly, which one does your program of choice require? And what do you need to do to prepare?

The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management hosted a webinar on April 26 in partnership with MyGuru, an organization that specializes in online tutoring for students and professionals, to provide answers to those questions and more. During a live hour-long session, MyGuru’s Director of Instruction Stefan Maisnier discussed the two exams and what people should know in his presentation, titled “How to Turn GMAT Focus and GRE Obligations Into Application Opportunity.”

If you missed the webinar, below we break down Maisnier’s presentation, including some of the differences between the two exams and how you can best prepare for and excel on either.

How are the GMAT and GRE different from before?

Over the past year, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), the organization that administers the GMAT, and the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization overseeing the GRE, updated the format, scoring and requirements for both exams. Considering the role these exams play in MBA admissions, it’s important to know how they’ve changed, and what you may or may not need to study to excel.

The new GMAT Focus exam format is broken down into three sections — quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning and data insights — with each section taking 45 minutes to complete and one optional 10-minute break. The main difference between the new and old formats is the ability to skip questions and come back to them, as well as the ability to go back and change up to three answers per section. Additionally, the GMAT no longer includes geometry or sentence corrections, where you have to correct grammar mistakes. You can now complete sections in any order as well, enabling people to play to their individual strengths — something that, Maisnier said, could prove especially beneficial “if you are a slow starter or start to fade by the end of an exam.”

Scoring has also shifted under the new GMAT Focus exam, which now adheres to a 205 to 805 composite score scale, where the 50th percentile is 555 instead of 600. This means that scores may initially seem lower than expected, with the 90th percentile now around 655, compared to the previous exam’s 700 composite.

The new short-form GRE looks a little different as well. With a faster pace than the GMAT, test takers will complete a series of sections in two hours: one analytical writing section and two quantitative and verbal sections. Unlike the GMAT, the GRE includes geometry and vocabulary, resulting in more content to study than with the GMAT.

As for GRE scoring, you receive individual quantitative and verbal scores on a scale ranging from 130 to 170, with the 50th percentile falling between 152 and 157.

Maisnier’s most significant takeaway was that for the GRE, it’s more difficult to score in the highest percentile, since 6 percent of students get perfect scores on the quantitative section. “It’s harder to get an excellent GRE score because there is a limited margin for error,” he said.

Why do the GRE and GMAT matter for MBA students?

Supplemental to other application materials, GMAT and GRE scores provide MBA applicants one of the only other means with which to improve their applications. According to Maisnier, while resumes and transcripts are more set in stone, you can always improve and change your GMAT and GRE scores with more practice.

Not only do these tests demonstrate an applicant’s skills and capabilities, but they can also showcase academic grit. Maisnier encourages applicants to report their GRE and GMAT scores to institutions as they take them — even if their initial scores were low — to demonstrate their commitment to studying and improving over time. “It’s far more compelling to admissions to see that level of dedication than to see a 625 on the GMAT from someone who achieved it the first time,” he said.

Studying and taking the tests can also build valuable skills for business school and beyond, demonstrating your ability to use logic and problem solve. For example, not being able to use a calculator on the GMAT can show that you have invaluable processing skills that also apply to the business world, Maisnier notes.

So, what exam is best for you?

According to Maisnier, both the GMAT Focus and the short-form GRE have their pros and cons, depending on a person’s strengths.

While the GRE’s verbal section is more difficult — due to the addition of vocabulary testing — its math problems are often considered easier, as you can use a calculator. However, the duration of the exam is shorter, meaning you have less time to think through answers.

Conversely, the GMAT is known for having an easier verbal section, with no vocabulary or grammar testing. However, the math section is much more difficult without the ability to use a calculator, and the quantitative problems are more creatively and cleverly phrased than the straightforward nature of those on the GRE, Maisnier says. The GMAT also has a slightly stronger focus on data analytics.

If your MBA program of choice doesn’t require a specific exam, you can take diagnostic tests — available on GMAC’s and ETS’s websites — to get an idea which exam may be a better fit for you.

What are the best ways to prepare for the GRE or GMAT?

How you prepare for either exam depends on how much you are willing to pay and the score you’d like to achieve.

Self-preparation using official practice exams and self-guided resources or classes is the least expensive option for test prep. Another option is group classes — which Maisnier says are best for candidates seeking an above-average score but below the 90th percentile — that use pre-set material and guide students through a regimented course with other students.

The most specialized training you can get is from individual tutoring, which Maisnier says is the most effective option for raising your scores to your desired level. Hiring an instructor can be more expensive, he notes, but it can also give you the unique attention and assistance needed to thrive. “Unlike group classes, they are going to teach you [in a] way that [helps] you specifically understand the lesson,” he says.

If you are interested in preparing for the GMAT or GRE exam and want to discover what studying options might be right for you, visit MyGuru’s website to learn more.

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