Many business schools, including Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton, accept either the GMAT or the GRE. Which one should you take, and how can you decide?
There are two aspects to consider: whether you would have a significant scoring advantage on one test versus the other, and whether certain schools have shown a preference for one exam over the other. We’re going to address the first aspect in this article; we’ll leave the second consideration for the admissions consultants.
Both exams consist of multiple-choice quantitative and verbal sections, as well as an essay-writing section. Both tests are also scheduled to be revamped significantly: the GRE in August of this year (2011) and the GMAT in June of 2012.
So let’s take a look at the structures of all “four” tests (the current and the planned versions). (Note: I participate here at Beat the GMAT as a GMAT instructor, but I’m also a GRE instructor.)
The two exams test high-school level math (including number properties, algebra, geometry, and statistics) and currently use fairly similar question types. Both tests have standard “problem-solving” questions – the basic math multiple choice questions that appear on any multiple-choice math test. The tests also have questions that combine elements of quant content and mathematical logic; on the GMAT, these are called Data Sufficiency and, on the GRE, these are called Quantitative Comparisons. The GRE also includes a small number of Data Interpretation questions, where we’re given a table or graph and we have to answer several questions about the presented data.
The general consensus is that GRE math is easier than GMAT math. I’ve taken both exams and agree; GRE math is markedly easier than GMAT math. If math is a weakness for you, and you plan to take the test prior to August of 2011, then put a “plus” in the GRE column.
In August, the GRE will change. Instead of one 45-minute quant section, we’ll be given two 35-minute quant sections. The quant sections will still test high-school level math, but the proportion of questions involving data interpretation and quantitative reasoning will increase. In addition, new question formats will be introduced, including “fill in the blank” answers (no multiple choice options) and multiple choice questions that can have more than one right answer (you must select all of the correct answers in order to earn any credit).
When I took the GRE in December, I was offered an experimental section of the new quant question types. I can’t tell you any details as the actual data is strictly confidential, but I can tell you what I think the general effect of the new test will be: the quant will be more challenging than it is on the current GRE. I’m not sure whether it will be comparable to the GMAT, or whether the GMAT quant will still be harder.
In June 2012, the GMAT will also launch its revised CAT. It appears that the quant section will not change; rather, a new Integrated Reasoning section will be added to the exam (and one of the two essays will be cut). This section will combine math content, data interpretation, and logic. The question forms have not yet been finalized, but the samples I have seen were either on a par with the current GMAT quant section or, in some cases, more challenging.
I would guess that, after the revisions, GMAT quant will continue to be more challenging in general than GRE quant, though there is no way to know for sure until after both revisions have actually launched.
The two exams currently differ more on the verbal side. Both tests contain Reading Comprehension questions, but the similarities end there.
In addition to reading comp, the GMAT tests grammar (via sentence correction questions) and logical reasoning (via critical reasoning questions). The GRE, on the other hand, tests vocabulary – lots and lots of vocabulary. Three of the four question types on the current GRE test our vocabulary (these three types are analogies, antonyms, and sentence completions).
Are you better at reading and thinking your way through something you read? Is your grammar great? The GMAT may be easier for you. Is your vocabulary so awesome that your friends regard you as their personal dictionary? The GRE is for you.
Well, if you’re a vocab fiend, the GRE is for you until August, anyway. After that, antonyms and analogies will be dropped entirely. The current single 30-minute section will expand to two 30-minute sections. The test will tilt more towards reading and comprehension at that point, with new text completion and sentence equivalence question types.
Text completions will be similar to the current sentence completions but may involve several sentences or an entire paragraph with some missing words or phrases (with multiple-choice options). Sentence equivalence questions will require us to complete a sentence based upon understanding the meaning of the entire text presented. In addition, there will be more reading comprehension questions.
After the GRE revision, it appears that the two tests will be more similar in terms of their emphasis on comprehension-type questions, though the GRE will also include components of vocabulary while the GMAT will include components of grammar. Generally speaking, then, if you are better with vocab, you may prefer the GRE; if you’re better with grammar, then you may prefer the GMAT.
Of course, nobody cares as much about the essays (because the schools don’t). Currently, both tests require us to write two essays. After the GMAT revision, that test will require only one. Other than that, the only thing I have to say about the essays is this: you aren’t going to base your decision (about which test to take) on the essays, so there’s nothing else for us to discuss!
First, if you are applying this fall and need your scores before mid-November, then you must take either the old version of the GRE or the GMAT. The new version of the GRE will have a several month delay in score reporting when it launches; students taking the revised test from August to early November will not receive their scores until mid-November.
As a general rule, GRE quant is easier than GMAT quant. After the revised GRE launches in August, the two will be more comparable, but the GMAT quant is likely still to be more challenging (and this will almost certainly be the case after the revised GMAT launches in June 2012).
On the verbal side, the current GRE is better for those with a strong vocabulary, while the current GMAT is better for those with strong reading comprehension and/or grammar skills. If you don’t have a decent vocabulary, the current GRE is not a great option for you. Once the revised GRE is introduced in August, the two tests will be more similar in terms of reading comprehension skills, so the “tip” should be given to whether you’re somewhat stronger in vocab (GRE) or grammar (GMAT).
Still not sure what to do? Take a practice test! Two, actually. Take both a GMAT and a GRE under 100% official conditions, including the essays. Take them several days apart; don’t give yourself an artificial handicap on one by taking it later in the same day.
Ideally, take the official practice tests provided by the official test writers. (Yes, I know we normally save those for later in our study, but this decision is important enough that you want to make sure you’re basing it on the best data that you can get. Just don’t review the tests in much depth afterwards; then you can repeat the test in a few months after you’ve forgotten all of the questions.) If there’s a significant difference in your starting percentile ranking, your question has been answered.
Let us know what you decide and how you decided; your fellow students will appreciate your insight. Good luck!