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GMAT or GRE: What to Take? What Are the Differences?

If you’re ambitious, focused, and hoping to get ahead in life, enrolling in a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program or any other related post-graduate degree after completing your undergrad would be your best bet. But before you dip your toes into the water that is the application process (or dive head-first without much consideration), you may be faced with one of the most pressing internal dialogues: “Should I take the GMAT or GRE?”

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Today, we will be taking out all of the guesswork for you and giving you all the important details about the GMAT and GRE, essential tips and tricks to remember, as well as possible career pathways with their corresponding examination/s.

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The Business of Teaching Business

While we are on the subject of choosing the right one, the decision to take either the GMAT or GRE usually comes up when we talk about MBAs or graduate business degrees. It is vital to note that the examinations (particularly the GRE) may be used for other post-graduate programs (should you decide to enroll in another pathway in the future).

Business schools have been around since the turn of the century, evolving from simple trade schools up to the enigmatic figures that they are known today. They are defined as specialized educational institutions that teach business, finance, and management. To put it simply, business students are expected to graduate with a good grasp of the ins and outs of starting, maintaining, and developing businesses and specific enterprises. This ever-evolving discipline hinges more on experience and resilience rather than textbook knowledge.

Information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that people who have careers in business earned a lot more than those who worked in other industries. Moreover, the BLS encourages workers to earn advanced credentials (like an MBA) even though their present position does not require it, as it would open a lot of opportunities and raise one’s qualifications in terms of getting a higher-paid position. The cost of getting into business school may be increasing. Still, an article by the Wall Street Journal may make you consider it – a whopping 75% of those who earn MBAs have easily switched careers and doubled their salaries in the process.

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Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT): Good for Business

The Graduate Management Admission Test, also widely called GMAT, is a standardized, computerized test offered year-round that is administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC). This international non-profit agency is the leading authority in the provision of products and services to post-graduate business institutions. It is used by more than 6,000 graduate programs in more than 2,000 universities and higher-learning institutions around the world. It is a computer-adaptive test, tailored to meet the examinee’s abilities, and delivering highly-accurate results that measure specific components of one’s competencies.

It is backed by decades of research and testing methods to perfect a valid and cohesive way to screen applicants of various graduate management programs. In a nutshell, it performs as a comprehensive assessment tool, specifically designed to test essential skills needed in business and management programs, such as verbal reasoning, mathematical aptitude, analytical thinking, and problem-solving approaches.

Exam Structure

The GMAT has four different sections: analytical writing assessment, integrated reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. It would take more than three hours to complete the whole exam (3 hours and 7 minutes to be exact), with two optional breaks in between.

The four different sections include:

  • The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA; 0-6 points, scored in 0.5 increments) is used to test one’s critical thinking abilities, as well as how well the examinee can convey his/her ideas through writing (in English). You will be given a writing task – an analysis of an argument – which you will be working on for 30 minutes. Argument topics can range from different aspects of business and other general interest themes. This will be checked by professional essay evaluators and a highly-intelligent electronic system that will ensure consistency, quality, and accuracy of the final scores.
  • A few things to remember:
    • You don’t have to possess specific knowledge of the topic at hand because your ability to write a systematic and analytical output is measured.
    • Before starting with the actual writing process, you may want to take a few minutes to re-group and organize all of your ideas in one concise and cohesive body of work. Evaluate the argument as many times as you can, and plan your responses accordingly.
    • Make sure to provide consistent and relevant supporting details and examples within your work.
  • The Integrated Reasoning section (IR; 1-8 points, scored in 1 point increments) is meant to test one’s ability in data analysis and evaluation in different formats, synthesizing information from multiple sources to get around problems of greater complexity. There are four different types of questions under the IR:
  • Multi-source Reasoning (examination of data, such as tables, graphics, and text passages, with corresponding multiple-choice questions)
    • Table analysis (analysis of data usually arranged in spreadsheet form, and determining what kind of information is needed or being asked)
    • Graphics interpretation (interpretation of graphs, denoting relationships and citing implications based on the data presented)
    • Two-part analysis (solving complex quantitative and verbal problems)
  • The Quantitative Reasoning section (6-51 points, scored in 1 point increments) banks on the examinee’s ability to draw out conclusions from a set of data, using analytical and reasoning skills to solve a series of 31 multiple choice questions in under 62 minutes. It will require basic arithmetic knowledge, interspersed with elementary algebra, and known geometry concepts, but without the use of calculators. It has two parts:
  • Problem-solving section (choosing the best of five answers based on a set of quantitative problems)
    • Data sufficiency section (analyzing a quantitative problem and deciding if each statement or a combination is sufficient to answer the said problem)
  • The Verbal Reasoning section (6-51 points, scored in 1 point increments) consists of 36 multiple-choice questions that take 65 minutes to complete. This part of the exam will test your ability to digest and analyze what a particular text is trying to convey, and ultimately, draw inferences out of the text in question. It has three main parts:
  • Reading Comprehension (interpreting written material, drawing inferences based on the message of the text)
    • Critical Reasoning (making and evaluating arguments, answering questions about the strengths and flaws of an argument)
    • Sentence Correction (choosing the most effective sentence based on grammar, appropriate vocabulary and sentence construction)

You can choose the order as to how you want to take the test, based on your strengths and weaknesses. According to Kaplan, these are the three possible orders of the appearance of each section:

  • Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
  • Quantitative Reasoning, Verbal Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment

In your assessment report, the most crucial score that you will have to take note of is the composite score ranging from 200-800, taken out of the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning Sections. Your AWA and IR scores will be reported separately and are not included under this computation.

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Graduate Record Examination (GRE): The Jack-of-All-Trades

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The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, is similar to the GMAT in a way that it is also a standardized and computer-based exam. It is a requirement for a lot of graduate education programs and business schools in the US and Canada that is developed and administered by Educational Testing Service (ETS), the world’s largest private non-profit testing and assessment organization. As mentioned, it is offered as a computerized examination, although there is a pen-and-paper version that’s offered in testing sites where computer-based testing would not be possible.

The GRE is essentially a test for one’s aptitude for competencies that are deemed essential in the academe, such as analytical writing, arithmetic, and vocabulary. The test also measures students’ abstract and critical thinking abilities, as well as their overall eligibility for a particular program. Most business schools prefer a GMAT result for the most part (especially for MBA applicants). Still, many of them will consider GRE scores as an equivalent, which is especially helpful for students who aren’t decided yet on business and finance pathways.

Exam Structure

The GRE has three main components: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning. Each section has two sub-units, adding up to a total of six components. The entire testing process takes around 3 hours and 45 minutes for the computer-based exam (3 and a half hours for the paper version), with one-minute breaks in between each section and a 10-minute break midway through the exam.

The three different sections include:

  • The Analytical Writing section, which is used to measure your critical and analytical thinking skills, and how well you can convey your ideas in a consistent and organized manner. This also measures how well you can take apart a certain issue or argument, evaluate their validity, and discuss pertinent points about the topic at hand. This section consists of two different essays that are each timed into 30-minute tasks:
    • The Issue Task (which require you to evaluate specific issues of general interest, and develop sound arguments filled with supporting details and examples to prove your point)
    • The Argument Task (which requires you to evaluate specific arguments and choose a stance – affirmative or negative – complete with supporting details and other essential concepts to maintain your side)
  • Verbal Reasoning section, which measures one’s critical thinking, reading comprehension skills, and English vocabulary (with proper usage). This section will analyze your ability to digest texts and other written material, studying different components and relationships between concepts. The type of tests usually come at random, with three different types of questions:
  • Reading Comprehension (tests a wide range of reading abilities, and how the examinee may understand certain words, sentences, and paragraphs as one cohesive unit)
    • Text Completion (requires examinees to evaluate specific texts and fill-out the missing words or group of words, relying on critical thinking to figure out what’s lacking)
    • Sentence Equivalence (similar to the Text Completion section; requires examinees to evaluate passages and determine how they should be completed, ultimately figuring out the actual meaning of the text as a whole)
  • Quantitative Reasoning section, comprising basic mathematical knowledge and analytical skills. It covers questions on basic Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, and Data analysis, with most items consisting of word problems that must be understood and translated correctly to arrive at an appropriate solution. Note that there are no high-order maths involved in this category, specifically there is nothing over second-level math in this part. The quantitative section usually contains eight quantitative comparisons, nine problem-solving questions, and three items related to interpreting data.
  • Bonus: The GRE’s Experimental Section is usually unidentified among the list of questions in the exam, and may come as verbal or quantitative items. These questions don’t count towards your final grade and may be used as part of GRE’s research and development initiatives for future examinations. Since you wouldn’t know exactly which parts are part of the experimental section, you must do your best with every single item and leave complacency out the door.

This is only seen in computer-based exams, not on the pen-and-paper exam.

The GRE is scored from a scale of 130 to 170 per section (in 1 point increments), where you will receive both Verbal and Quantitative scores. You will receive a separate grade for the Analytical Writing section, based on the holistic scale from 0-6 (in 0.5 point increments). You cannot score lower than 130, or score any higher than 170, because it is a scaled score system.

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GMAT and GRE Updates: COVID-19

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As a response to the global COVID-19 pandemic that has profoundly changed the way people work and study, the GMAC and ETS are actively working on other possible ways to help examinees take their exams in the easiest, safest way possible.

Although testing centers are slowly opening, examinees have the option to take the GMAT Online Exam, a remote and video-proctored version of the test that you can take at home. You can take three exam components except for the AWA. Appointments can be done 24/7, with waived reschedule fees and unlimited score reporting to different schools.

Similarly, if you cannot take a physical exam at the nearest testing center due to stringent quarantine measures, the ETS is temporarily offering an option where you can take the GRE General Test at home. Like the GMAT Online Exam, examinees will be monitored by human proctors online, available round the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can even schedule an exam as early as the day after your register, depending on available slots.

Both online exam options require that each examinee has the necessary equipment and devices that meet the examination’s requirements, including web cameras, microphones, internet bandwidth, and the actual room that you will be using. Also, make sure that the at-home exam options are offered in the area that you are in.

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GMAT vs. GRE: Similarities and Differences

Here are a few of the most important similarities and differences between the two examinations, based on a few categories:

Your Postgraduate Options (Focusing vs. Keeping them Open)

We already discussed how taking the GMAT or the GRE is almost always used in the context of entering business school. According to US News Education, presenting a GMAT score with your application in business school would send a message about your commitment to move with an MBA or any post-graduate business pathway. Business schools are also more familiar with GMAT scores. Moreover, the examination is quant-heavy, which means that this may factor into your choices early on.

If you’re still undecided about your actual post-graduate pathway, or if you feel that you want to focus on another type of concentration, it also helps that you have a GRE score to show for. GMAT scores are usually accepted only by business schools, which doesn’t offer much flexibility for students who may wish to seek other opportunities. If you’re considering dual-degree programs, you may want to take the GRE instead of the GMAT.

Testing Centers and Exam Dates

Both the GMAT and GRE have testing centers all around the world, offering computer-based examinations as a standard modality. Otherwise, the GRE has a paper-version for testing centers where a computer-based approach wouldn’t be possible, so be sure to check with your testing center first beforehand.

The GMAT and GRE tests are conducted year-round, although there may be some changes in line with the COVID-19 pandemic, so you must coordinate with the nearest testing center for any updates about the schedules.

Score Validity

The test acceptance period for both exams is usually within five years since the test was taken. If possible, take any exams that you may have in mind a bit nearer towards your target application period. In any case, if you’re still in college with much free time on your hands, you may want to prepare earlier for the GMAT/GRE, or even enroll in prep courses to help boost your confidence during the test.

Some experts even suggest taking the GMAT/GRE while in college. Since the quant sections do tackle 10th to 11th-grade math concepts, you may need more time to study the farther away you are from high school. Additionally, you have more control over your free time in college, so you theoretically have more time to prepare for any examination that you may have.

The Test Structure (Your Strengths vs. Weaknesses)

If you’re reasonably confident about your mathematical skills, you’ll do well on the GMAT, as it is loaded with more difficult quantitative problems compared to the GRE. If you’re looking to demonstrate your math prowess, consider the GMAT by all means. Conversely, if you have serious vocabulary and language chops, you may feel that you will fare well with the GRE, considering that it has a more difficult verbal section, which may be difficult for nonnative speakers of English. The test contains more complex and obscure words, which may be a great way to showcase your writing abilities.

Other Important Considerations

Of course, before thinking about taking either exam, there are critical personal considerations that must be brought to light:

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Your target schools and their preference

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) advises applicants to take note of the preferences that their target schools and universities may have before taking any one exam.

Your career goals

If you’re eyeing an MBA in the hopes of a career in investment banking, finance, or management consulting, you may want to look at the GMAT as a more plausible option between the two exams. Some firms are reportedly looking at GMAT scores during the application process, so stick to this option in that case.

Your Test Anxiety Levels

Unlike the GMAT, which follows a rigid, time-bound process where you can’t skip questions and return to them, the GRE allows you to return to difficult questions once you have time left over to run through them. This may give a bit of leniency to examinees who suffer from crippling anxiety during tests, making it a better choice.

Your budget

The GRE costs $205, while the GMAT costs a bit more at $250. The testing fee covers the reporting of your score. You can report your test score to up to four universities and fellowship programs for the GRE, and up to five for the GMAT.

Your scores (and how they are reported)

If you feel unable to take the test or suffer from crippling test anxiety, the GRE offers a ScoreSelect option. This option allows students to take the test multiple times within five years, and send the test scores and test dates that you want your prospective schools to see. There will be no indication of a retake unless the program you’re applying for would require reports for multiple test dates.

You don’t have to take both exams

We will nip the assumption of having to take both examinations in the bud – no, you don’t have to get ready for both tests! You simply have to take free practice examinations on their official websites (GMAT and GRE Practice Tests), evaluate where you fared well, and prepare accordingly.

Of course, you can actually do this, but you’ll only spend double and not get much out of either test, should you consider other options than initially planned.

Your test scores aren’t the only basis for acceptance

Your test scores aren’t the only measure of your potential for an individual post-graduate program. Although it’s commendable to aim for higher test results, you have to comply with other equally essential requirements as well, such as cover letters, essays, recommendation letters, and your CV.