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Admissions for graduate business programs often require entrance exam scores for either the graduate management admissions test (GMAT) or the graduate record examinations (GRE).
These exams help admission boards determine whether a student would succeed in a graduate business program. The tests' verbal, quantitative, and analytical sections test crucial skills for any business student. The GMAT closely aligns with business school expectations, while the GRE tests broader skills that are useful in any graduate program.
Exam requirements vary among universities. Some business schools only accept the GMAT for master's in business programs, such as MBA or MAcc degrees. However, a growing number of business schools also accept the GRE. Some institutions have even made exams optional, emphasizing experience over standardized tests.
Still, business school entrance exams remain a vital part of most admissions processes. Students applying to a business degree program should consider the differences between the GMAT and the GRE to decide which best fits their academic and professional goals.
Are Business School Exams Required?
When did the GMAT and GRE come into existence?
The GMAT began almost 70 years ago. The admissions boards from nine reputable universities, including Harvard and Northwestern, saw a need to further evaluate business school candidates. The exam started as a test for business schools, and it remains the most prevalent business school entrance exam.The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching partnered with several universities to create the GRE in 1936. The exam first became an admission requirement in 1938. The Educational Testing Service (ETS) began in 1947 to oversee and improve the GRE.
Can business programs require both the GMAT and GRE?
Business programs do not require both exams. If a program asks for exam results, it usually expects GMAT scores. The GMAT is more widely accepted than the GRE among business schools. The ETS provides a complete list of MBA programs that accept the GRE.
Was the GRE always accepted by business schools?
No, business schools did not always accept GRE scores. The Harvard Business School became one of the first institutions to accept the GRE in 2009.
When did business programs start making the GMAT optional? Why?
The COVID-19 pandemic limited students' access to testing centers, so many business schools removed the exam requirement to encourage learners to apply anyway. Even after testing centers began to reopen, some institutions left them optional. This increases application numbers and creates a more holistic admissions approach.
Can the GMAT be optional for a business school but required by a specific program within the school?
Some schools may list specific requirements — including GMAT scores — for each program. Review both the business school and the particular program's admission requirements before applying.
What are GMAT waivers, and how can prospective students qualify?
Waivers nullify any requirement to present GMAT scores. Eligibility varies by school. In most cases, students may request a waiver if they hold years of professional experience, a separate master's degree, or a particular GPA.
Are programs that don't require entrance exams less rigorous or prestigious?
Not necessarily. Many of the most prestigious MBA programs — including those at MIT, Carnegie Mellon, and Cornell — currently offer waiver options for applicants affected by the pandemic.
Learn more about graduate business programs:
Difference Between GRE and GMAT
The GRE and GMAT entail similar sections but assess different abilities. As a general graduate school entrance exam, the GRE focuses on verbal reasoning skills, which degree-seekers need for any master's degree.
The GMAT examines specific abilities needed for business school, particularly quantitative and analytical skills. In addition to its quantitative section, which includes problem-solving and data sufficiency questions, the GMAT has an integrated reasoning portion that further tests quantitative skills.
A variety of master's programs, including education and law degrees, require GRE scores. Only business schools expect the GMAT. Keep in mind that each school may weigh exam scores differently. For example, some schools might prioritize verbal sections over quantitative or vice versa, depending on what the admissions board seeks in a student. Likewise, some institutions might consider professional experience to be more important than exam scores.
Comparing the GRE and the GMAT
|Exam||Sections and Score Ranges||Formats||Timing||Cost|
|GRE||Analytical Writing: 2 questions, 0-6 points | Verbal Reasoning: 2 sections of 20 questions, 130-170 points | Quantitative Reasoning: 2 sections of 20 questions, 130-170 points | Unscored and Research: questions vary and do not count towards the score||Essay, numeric entry, and multiple-choice questions regarding quantitative comparison, text completion, sentence equivalence, and reading comprehension||About 3 hours and 45 minutes with breaks: 1 hour for analytical writing (30 minutes per section), 1 hour for verbal reasoning (30 minutes per section), 70 minutes for quantitative reasoning (35 minutes per section)||$205|
|GMAT||Analytical Writing: 1 question, 0-6 points | Verbal Reasoning: 36 questions, 6-51 points | Quantitative Reasoning: 31 questions, 6-51 points | Integrated Reasoning: 12 questions, 1-8 points||Essay and multiple-choice questions about table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning, and two-part analysis||About 3.5 hours with breaks: 30 minutes for analytical writing, 65 minutes for verbal reasoning, 62 minutes for quantitative reasoning, 30 minutes for integrated reasoning||$250|
GMAT or GRE? How to Decide
Before investing time and money into an exam, choose carefully between the GMAT and the GRE. Applicants should be strategic with their choice to avoid taking a second exam at a later date.
Prospective students may consider not taking either exam, if their desired program allows. Either way, establishing priorities and goals for the future can help students decide whether to take the GRE, the GMAT, or neither.
When choosing between the GMAT and the GRE, consider your prospective school's requirements, your strengths and career path, and potential scholarship opportunities.
Research Admission Requirements
Students aiming for a particular school or program should explore that institution's admission requirements. School websites usually outline expectations, but students can contact the admissions department to speak with an advisor for further details.
Even when schools list the GMAT and GRE as optional, students may still take one exam to set themselves apart from other applicants. An admissions counselor may provide more insight into schools' priorities during the admissions process and whether your prospective school prefers one exam over the other. Moreover, exam waivers may save time and money for qualifying students.
Review Your Strengths and Goals
Prospective students should examine their own strengths and goals in addition to schools' admission requirements. Learners gifted in math might receive higher GMAT scores, for example, while those who excel in verbal reasoning may prefer the GRE. Likewise, individuals with a background in mathematics and analytics may gravitate toward the GMAT.
Learners who take an entrance exam that caters to their skills may spend significantly less time preparing for the test. However, degree-seekers who know which degree they want to attend must consider common preferences and requirements for that credential. For example, someone pursuing an MAcc might opt for the GMAT to showcase their quantitative skills.
Entrance exam scores can also impact scholarship and fellowship opportunities. Learners hoping to fund their studies through financial aid should consider how GMAT or GRE scores would affect their eligibility.
Many fellowships and merit-based scholarships use GMAT or GRE scores to select beneficiaries. Even if a business school offers an exam waiver or doesn't require test scores, students may still need to submit exam results for scholarship applications. Instead of being caught off guard by financial aid stipulations, explore funding requirements before applying to a business school. Allow ample time to schedule and take any necessary exams.
Tips When Studying for Business School Exams
With the right preparation, degree-seekers can face business school exams with confidence. Familiarize yourself with your exam of choice and test your abilities early with free GMAT or GRE practice exams.
MBA.com offers two full-length GMAT practice tests and 90 additional sample questions. Likewise, the ETS provides a GRE sample packet and two complete tests. Students can also access practice exams for either the GMAT or the GRE on The Princeton Review's website.
For the best results on your exams, follow these study tips:
- Start Early: Don’t wait until the last minute to study. Business school exams involve much more than standard college tests, requiring several months of preparation. Allow at least one month — but preferably 4-6 — for consistent study sessions.
- Establish Your Baseline Score: Take a practice test before studying to assess your initial abilities and knowledge. Use that baseline score to determine how often and what topics you need to review in the following weeks.
- Set Goals: Establish weekly goals for yourself. Depending on your baseline score, decide what areas and questions to practice daily or weekly. Periodically take additional practice tests to track your improvement.
- Time Yourself: Working at your own pace might produce different results than testing under pressure. Prepare for the strict time constraints by timing your practice tests and questions. If you cannot complete the exam sections within the allotted time, make that one of your goals.
- Sharpen Your Mind: Develop strong mental math abilities to complete equations quickly, without losing time working on a calculator or writing out equations. Practice skimming texts for pertinent information and improving your visual literacy to easily comprehend graphs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between GRE and GMAT?
While both exams test similar areas and have comparable prices and lengths, they differ in structure, scoring, and purpose. Students pursuing an MBA usually take the GMAT, while those uncertain of their master's degree goals may take the more generic GRE.
Which is easier, GMAT or GRE?
It depends on the individual sections. The GRE includes straightforward math questions and allows calculators, while the GMAT uses simpler vocabulary in the verbal portion.
Is it better to take the GMAT or GRE for an MBA?
Students certain about pursuing an MBA often take the GMAT, an exam designed for business applicants. Of business schools, 2,300 accept the GMAT, while only 1,200 take the GRE. Those pursuing an MBA may enjoy diverse college options with a GMAT score.
Is the GMAT test hard?
A popular choice for aspiring MBA students, the GMAT can be difficult with tight competition. However, it only includes one essay, and the verbal section does not prioritize intricate vocabulary.
Is the GRE exam hard?
As a graduate school entrance exam, the GRE might challenge applicants, especially with its verbal reasoning section. Still, with the proper preparation, students can excel.
Krystal Covington, MBA
Krystal Covington, MBA, is a business growth strategist with 15 years of experience in marketing and public relations. Her company, Go Lead Consulting, provides clients with foundational tools to build new client and customer relationships.
Covington founded Women of Denver, one of the largest privately held membership organizations in Denver, Colorado. Her program helps women increase their business acumen, sharpen leadership skills, and connect with other high-achieving women. Covington received her MBA from Western Governors University in 2012.
Krystal Covington is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network.
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