The GMAT Or The GRE?

by on September 30th, 2009

You may have heard that some business schools* have started accepting GRE scores in place of GMAT scores. And you may be thinking: “Awesome! I hear the GRE is easier. I’m taking that!”

After all—there’s no Data Sufficiency on the GRE. Sounds great, right?

The problem is: There’s no Data Sufficiency on the GRE.

The GMAT has been designed and perfected for business school students. GMAT questions mirror the tasks you will perform every day in business school. Reading Comprehension—because you’ll be reading 50 -100 pages in case studies every day. And Data Sufficiency—because you’ll be skimming each case’s exhibits and financials to determine which numbers are key to cracking the case and which are irrelevant. What about Critical Reasoning? Well, every day in class you will comment on other students’ arguments. And they will comment on yours, sometimes in pretty snarky ways. So you need some facility in arguments, if only to protect yourself from that loudmouth ex-banker in the Skydeck.

In fact, the GMAT is a great test. By that I don’t mean that it will bring peace to the world, or spiritual enlightenment, or that a good time will be had by all. I mean it’s extremely well-constructed, with very high scoring consistency. In short, the GMAT does an excellent job of testing the skills you need to excel in business school.

In contrast, the GRE General Test is, well, general. It is designed to provide a sense of the fitness of a student for graduate-level work, whether one is interested in pursuing a PhD in English or a Masters in Psych. But the aptitudes needed to succeed in one discipline are very different from those of other disciplines, and no single test can measure them all well. Success in business, and success in business school, requires very specific skills that the GRE measures poorly, and the GMAT measures very well.

Furthermore, the GRE has been a rather troubled test. (ETS might claim that I’m the one who caused their troubles; in fact, I merely shed light on them.) In the 1990s, I developed a strategy for one question type called Pattern Identification that was so devastating that ETS had to discard hundreds of thousands of printed test booklets, admitting that I “broke the code, so we are removing the questions from the test.” Later on, I reverse-engineered the security protocols and scoring algorithm of the early GRE computerized test, forcing them to pull the exam for months to fix problems I uncovered. They sued us, and took to calling me the “antichrist.” (Umm, do I at least get Connie Nielsen with that?) Later still, they had serious scoring problems with the GRE analytical section, and consequently did away with that section entirely.

So then why do any business schools accept the GRE? Ok, well for one thing the GRE is slowly but surely getting better, and it’s about to be significantly revised so it will probably improve still further. But mostly, it’s about access, especially internationally. The GMAT isn’t available in as many locations, especially overseas. So business schools figure, “Hey, if we accept the GRE, we’ll find some great candidates who might not have been able to apply to business school, or who might add an MBA application or two along with their Masters applications.”

Bottom line: if you can take the GMAT, you should. The GMAT tests skills specific to business school. While admissions officers at schools accepting the GRE will accept a GRE score in lieu of a GMAT score, they doesn’t mean that they’ll will trust GRE scores.  And if you give them a GRE score when it’s clear you could just as easily have taken the GMAT, it could hurt your application.

Besides, Data Sufficiency is fun! Well, here at Knewton we think it’s fun. (Though we also think puns about transfinite cardinality** are hilarious.) More importantly for you, Data Sufficiency is equally hard for everybody. It is also highly coachable, and Knewton’s Test Experts have developed the most powerful Data Sufficiency strategies there are. Stay tuned and maybe I’ll blog about them…

*MBA programs accepting GRE scores include Harvard, MIT, NYU, Stanford, Virginia, Yale, U Penn, Chicago and Berkeley.

**One of our math guys’ last name is Naul. And his middle name is Alan. Like I said—hilarious!


  • Very interesting article, Jose. It's refreshing to see a clear position on the GMAT vs GRE debate in the context of people who are interested in attending b-school specifically. One question I have though is whether your perspective--that the GMAT tests b-school related skills better than the GRE--is widely shared by the AdComs you've spoken to?

    Since the debate has started, my gut was telling me that the GMAT is still the better test for b-school as well, but the schools that are accepting both tests are obviously taking a publicly neutral role to this issue.

    Just wondering whether you've heard business schools sharing your sentiments as well. If that's the case, that could be the deal breaker for most of our community against taking the GRE!

  • Just to clarify, I meant business schools that accept both the GMAT or GRE--whether they have stated that they prefer one or the other.

    By the way, love the 'Devil's Advocate' pic. Hilarious!

  • that is what schools are telling us off the record.

    • NICE. :)

  • Interestingly, I was chatting recently with Hima Bindu, an admissions officer at the Indian School of Business. She tells me they won’t even look at the GRE – GMAT only. And they have no plans to change. And over 90% of their students were living in India when they applied. So obviously ISB is comfortable that candidates across India can take the GMAT. Cheers,


    PS—ISB was recently ranked #15 by FT. As Knewton students know, I don’t think much of the FT rankings Still, it’s impressive for a school that was founded in the last ten years. We have a full video interview with Hima posted at for those who wish to learn more.

  • Thanks for such a wonderful article. It's amazing to know that GRE changed their test patterns because of you and that "antichrist" thing is hilarious :-)

  • actually, we are still in the process of putting the great interview with hima on our site.

    for now it lives here.

  • Thanks for this very helpful article.

    With all due respect, though, you have approached this from the perspective of: what test is most accurate? Personally, not to sound opportunistic, I approach it as: what test will I best be able to get into b-school with?

    • Hey Jason,

      I'm interested in hearing Jose's response to your question too, but I picked up another message from this article: that taking the GRE potentially could be perceived unfavorably by AdComs if you are a person who's specifically trying to go to b-school. Perhaps an AdCom would look at the MBA-minded GRE test taker and think that this guy is trying to game the sytem with an 'easier' test?

  • Simply Awesome!
    I am delighted to know that GMAT is still the best B-School testing exam.

    Great analysis Jose.

  • Hi Jason,

    Thanks for asking; it's a good point to clarify. You'll have an easier time getting into B-school with a GMAT score. MBA admissions depts don't really trust the GRE's applicability to B-school, and they think the GRE is an easier test. So they don't weigh your GRE score nearly as highly if you do well. But they weigh it very highly if you do badly.

    And, as Eric says, they may think less of you if you submit a GRE score when you can just as easily submit a GMAT score. Because, if you're American/European and you're doing that, you're either:
    i) dodging the system/afraid of the GMAT (and, as a rule, top B-school students aren't afraid of ANYTHING).
    ii) not that serious about B-school (more focused on getting a different degree -- hence the GRE).

    Hope this helps,


    • Jose,

      Thanks for the response! I can somewhat see what you are saying, but I just find it hard to believe that they would accept GRE if it a priori disadvantaged an applicant and they "don't really trust" the GRE.

      As you recall, in 1985 Harvard Business School eliminated the GMAT from its admissions process. Admissions Director John Lynch gave several compelling reasons for this choice. In a blind test, Harvard found that admissions decisions made with and without the GMAT were essentially the same. Looking at undergraduate grade-point average (UGPA), ethics, leadership, community activities, prior work experience and the interview made GMAT scores "superfluous" (his words about the GMAT-- not mine). Lynch also noted that an "artificial barrier to the admission of qualified but poorer students is unacceptable."

      Eleven years later Harvard reinstated the GMAT, saying the decision "reflects the fact that there have been significant improvements to the structure of the test". The only serious changes made since 1954 have been the addition of the AWA, which is used only sporadically and the change to CAT.


    What should i go for?

    I am not applying anywhere, just doing it cuz i m nt working rite now and have time so why not use it to add to my academices or even brain. lol.

    I have graduated in textile design and want to do masters in fashion but since here in pakistan no good institutes r offering it, so that holds till i either go abroad or just drop the plan. Hah. Anyway, ...

    MBA? hmm not sure but i think its not a bad idea to do that either cuz i have studied business in secondary level and it was interesting. Plus you can always put mba to good use in your own work and/or business.

    So what do you guys think i should opt for? I'm so confused.

  • I am a software developer.I have 4yr exp.Currently I am not working.I am planning to give Exam but not able to decide.
    Please suggest me..which one will be better?

  • Hi,
    I have one important question.I am pursuing my B.E(final year) at MIT, Manipal, India. I have decided to give either GRE or GMAT very soon. But I will be joining any post graduation course only after 2 years ie after I get some work experience. My query is which examination is likely to have more weightage three years down the line. Plus both GRE n GMAT patterns are changing this year. Please help me asap.

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