Opinion: Screw the GMAT, Take the GRE

I am currently in the process of applying to business school via the deferred admission route, and would like to give my $0.02 on the decision of whether to take the GMAT or GRE.

When I first decided on whether to really focus on the GRE or GMAT for business school I looked at a bunch of posts on here as well as read articles online and saw (assumed) that the GMAT was pretty much the norm and - being strong in math - I opted to vigorously start studying for the GMAT. However, the plan to take the GMAT kinda blew up when (1) my in-person test got cancelled because of freaking COVID and (2) the at home version of the GMAT would not enable me to use pen and paper. Screw that, I didn't want to use the online whiteboard. So I came back to the GRE and will explain why it is probably a better test for a lot of us.

The GRE is an easier test (and, thus, an easier test to look good at) for a couple reasons. Firstly, the math is WAY easier. I was scoring ~80th percentile on the GMAT quant in all of my practice tests and data sufficiency questions were always tripping me up (badly). On my first practice test for the GRE? I didn't miss a single question and got a 170. While the GRE quant section is less forgiving when you get a question wrong, I can't stress enough how much easier the math is as long as you know the basics.

For verbal it is more of a mixed bag. Yes, GRE Verbal has a bunch of arcane words that nobody uses on a daily basis, but they are also fairly predictable and easy to study. I ended up using a list online of 357 vocab and doing about 15 a day for 3 weeks and I was set w/ regard to GRE vocab. It is definitely a grind, but I would much rather memorize 300+ words than whip myself trying to ace GMAT quant.

Lastly, it is also important to consider who actually takes the GRE and GMAT. Since the GMAT is all over-achievers bent on business school, the curve is TOUGH. Meanwhile the GRE (w/ about 4x the number of testtakers each year) encompasses a broader array of people, which helps out. This also helps for admission to b school - it is easier to shine and help their averages w/ higher GRE scores!

I consistently scored between 700-730 on the GMAT official practice tests and I think it is fair to assume I wouldn't have scored much higher than 730 on the actual exam. On the flipside, I did better comparatively with the FIRST practice test I took w/ the GRE across the board. So make sure when you are deciding to take both tests you look at each and take a practice test for each. I ended up getting a 167 Verbal, 165 Quant on the GRE on my first official exam and don't really feel the need to take it again.

The GMAT can be a real grind and so can the GRE, but I would like to point out to play to your strengths and if you are struggling with the GMAT, give the GRE a shot.

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Comments (11)

Most Helpful
May 19, 2020 - 8:15am

well...it depends. TLDR: The GRE will check a box, the GMAT can be a difference maker.

The GRE has a ceiling , the GMAT does not.

The main difference from the MBA perspective is that it is harder to differentiate yourself with GRE, precisely because of what you mentioned- Every year people with perfect 170/170 get rejected from schools they thought they were a shoein because they BELIEVED they had equivalent of an 800 GMAT.

If you are 3.7 from HYPSM and 2+2/FAANG/MBB/Similar- sure, bang out an acceptable GRE score.

But if you are, like most people, coming from a tougher position, e.g. a white guy in FP&A or B4 consulting with a lower 3, you NEED a big GMAT score to make the difference and set you apart.

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May 19, 2020 - 2:02pm

To play Devil's Advocate, you also have to consider the % of students who apply with a GRE vs GMAT too. Since most b schools nowadays only have 10-20% of their students submitting with the GRE, a perfect GRE score is much more likely to influence their GRE stats than a perfect GMAT score. Statistically, even if a GMAT perfect score is more "impressive" than a GRE perfect score, a GRE perfect score helps their stats more.

For example, look at HBS. They only have 200 people in their class who get in off of GRE. So being 5-7 points above their mean stats will help considerably. Especially considering that some "weaker" candidates might get in with a subpar GRE score, Harvard might even be more willing to accept those with a good GRE because there are less of them to choose from. So standing out on the GRE could be a double bump.

May 19, 2020 - 3:25pm

Well, if that's how you want to strategize-baseless assumptions about how an admissions committee thinks - be my guest. One look at the admitted profiles on P&Q or clearadmit will show otherwise.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 19, 2020 - 1:15pm

I agree - the GMAT questions are fucking idiotic. I got a 750 so I shouldn't complain, but some of their "advanced" questions, especially for verbal, use completely arbitrary logic.

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  • Analyst 1 in IB-M&A
May 19, 2020 - 8:41pm

I used Manhattan prep books which were okay, they have some good strategies in there but it's kind of basic

I think the most useful thing for me was just doing every single practice problem I could and getting used to the type of questions being asked. I used the official guides and bought extra retired questions, drilled on those and eventually started noticing patterns and getting better

May 21, 2020 - 11:28am

Great post, I was looking for exactly that. Can I throw a few questions?

1: As you dealt with Manhattan guides, can you say how much difference there is between the concepts (not the questions) taught in the GMAT Manhattan Quant guides and the GRE Manhattan Quant guides? I've covered the former and don't know whether it's worthwhile covering the GRE ones too?

2: Can you share which words list did you used and if learning just these 357 words were enough, as some people suggest learning 1,000-2,000 words?

3: Do the Quant questions in the Quant official guides actually cover the level on the GRE, as I've read that they tend to be somewhat easier?

Thank you!

May 22, 2020 - 11:21am
  1. I actually didn't use any of the practice tests/guides other than the Official Practice Material. I got all of the online PowerPrep practice tests (there are 5 total). Those were super helpful and I took 4 out of the 5. I also got the Official Practice Guide which has 4 tests included (2 paper, 2 online). So that is a combined 9 tests, all from the official source. So I can't really say anything about Manhattan, other than I have heard that they are harder than the actual thing

  2. I used PrepScholar's list of 357 words. Those were really helpful. I made flashcards out of all of the ones I didn't know using index cards. I also would make flashcards on the words I found on the exams I didn't know. Between those two sources, I felt like I was in pretty good shape. Sure you can get guides with much more words, but I think it is better to be focused than trying to learn wayyyy too many. I also downloaded an app from Varsity Tutors that has a ton of practice vocab as well

  3. Hm. I think my GRE Quant on the actual test was a bit harder, yes. I think I scored 170/167/165/166 on all of my practice tests, so a 165 is a bit lower than that average, idk. All of the content is the same, it is just some of the types of questions get harder (i.e. the geometry questions get more advanced). But overall I'd say the official practice tests are a bit easier than the actual, but not by terribly much

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