You Should Not Take The GRE

by on December 9th, 2010

Please take this article with a grain of salt, since I am the founder of a website tailored toward GMAT prep.  But last week, The Financial Times reported on a study conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, which investigated whether MBA programs prefer applicants to submit a GMAT score vs. a GRE score.

Here’s the fascinating main takeaway from the survey:

Submitting a GMAT test score rather than a GRE score gives you an advantage in almost a third of the US business schools which accept both tests…

I believe these data present MBA applicants with a Prisoner’s Dilemma-like situation.

The quoted statement above is quite awkward, but from my interpretation I draw three implications:

  • The Obvious: One-third of US business schools (from this sample) say that an MBA applicant will have an admissions advantage by submitting a GMAT score instead of a GRE score
  • Less Obvious: Two-thirds of business schools in this sample report that a GMAT score submission is no more favorable to an applicant than a GRE score submission
  • Not Obvious: Finally, I am assuming that there is no school today that would view a GRE score submission more favorably than a GMAT score submission—this wasn’t a survey data point I could detect, but more of a strong gut feeling

Synthesizing these implications together: today it is in the best interest of every MBA applicant to submit a GMAT score vs. a GRE score.

The reason why is that we do not have public information about WHICH schools prefer the GMAT over the GRE (at least I can’t find this information).  Furthermore, I can’t imagine a scenario today where the GRE is more favorable (my assumption).  Therefore, if you play the admissions game conservatively, you should always assume that the school you are applying to falls into the category of a school that prefers the GMAT over the GRE.  Thus, the GMAT is your safest bet as an MBA applicant.

Please let me know what you think about my Prisoner’s Dilemma logic.  Is there anything that I am missing?  Are my assumptions flawed?


  • How about PhD candidates?

    • Great question Alenka. Unfortunately, I can't speak to PhD candidates since I wrote this article with MBA candidates specifically in mind, and I'm not an expert on PhD programs.

  • The other factor is whether the GRE or the GMAT is better suited as a test to a particular candidate. Even if some schools prefer the GMAT, this assumes that a person's scores are roughly equivalent on the two tests. If someone has a strong vocabulary, for example, then his GRE score might show him to better advantage than his GMAT score. But generally I agree that b-school applicants should take the GMAT.

    • Good point, David. I think if you were a stellar GRE test taker and a poor GMAT test taker, then you're probably better off going with the GRE for any b-school that accepts both.

  • At the moment i also think GMAT is more business school friendly. But after ETS brings out some changes to GRE in 2011, i guess GRE will also be a good option. I have heard ETS is making the changes to make GRE more business school friendly.

    • I agree, I think that it would be good to see this survey done after the GRE changes over. Although, the GMAT is answering by modifying its test in 2012 as well.

  • I agree,I think GMAT is the best option for a student to take before applying to any business school rather than the GRE score.

  • A good analysis. A 'somewhat' similar analogy I can think is that of waiving the right to your letter of recommendation. Waiving your right to the view the recommendation is like taking the GMAT, which instills confidence in the adcom that you trust your recommeder's perspective. Whereas NOT waiving the right to view is like taking the GRE, in which you're kind-of open to attack that you doubt your decision-making skills.

    • Really great point Ashish. It seems like many elements of the MBA application process can be boiled down to various forms of Prisoner's Dilemma-like scenarios. Waiving your right to view the recommendation is a good example.

  • I probably have a different perception toward the statement in the survey.

    It appears that GMAT is going down in popularity, and GRE is taking a leap.

    Let's go back to what the survey says. Only a third of US b-schools that accept both GMAT and GRE believe that applicants are better off submitting GMAT score than submitting GRE score. What happens to the other two thirds?

    All I can think of is that those two thirds are probably indifferent to whether an applicant submits his/her GMAT score or GRE score. In this case, we can safely imply that GRE is quickly gaining acknowledgement among US b-schools as a comparable admission test to GMAT ever since those schools include GRE as an option in the admission requirements. Ten years ago, no schools ever dreamed of having candidates submit their GRE score, instead of GMAT score.

    I cannot further assume that some of the other two thirds prefer GRE to GMAT as such information would have been stated in the survey, had it been true.

    My point is, although the survey does not indicate a strong preference of GRE to GMAT, the fact that only a third of schools accepting both tests are in favor of GMAT suggests that those schools start looking at other test besides GMAT, which was once considered the only test acceptable for admission purpose.

    • That's an interesting take on the data, definitely more of a 'glass is half full' approach. Thanks for that!

  • Not sure how this qualifies as a "Prisoner's Dilemma" like situation. There's no dilemma if no school prefers the GRE.

  • 1) When do you think avg GRE scores for accepted students will be published by the schools?

    2) I did bad on my GMAT (mid 500s). But did better on my GREs (above 1300). Will the schools know that I took the GMAT, failed, and then took the GREs? Hopefully it's all self submission so they will only know what I submit.

    • The average GRE scores for schools might already be published on the school websites--you may want to check there first.

      With regard to your second question, I *think* that if you only submit your GRE scores to the schools, they will not have any record of your GMAT scores to review in your application. I would actually call each school you plan to apply to (that accepts both) to confirm--and you can be an anonymous caller in case you're worried about being identified.

  • Actually, I think that in some cases for less conventional candidates, a school might be more likely to take someone interesting w/ a low GRE, which doesn't factor into their GMAT mean/median/range information (and is thus not a factor in school rankings). A low GMAT is less appealing for schools that are trying to claw their way into the top 10 or 15.

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