MBA Entrance Exams: GMAT vs. GRE

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Prospective MBA students have to research business schools, MBA concentrations, and admission requirements before even applying to business school. In addition, they must decide whether to take the GMAT or the GRE, both of which meet the requirements for many business schools. Understanding key differences between the GMAT and GRE, including test requirements, scoring systems, and the strengths tested by each can help prospective MBA applicants choose which test to take.

In this guide, learn which questions to ask before choosing an MBA entrance exam and how to find MBA programs with no GMAT requirement.

GMAT vs. GRE: Which Test Should You Take?

Which MBA entrance exam should you take? It depends on multiple factors, including your prospective MBA program’s admission requirements, your strengths, and opportunities like scholarships or fellowships that require test scores. The GMAT and GRE measure many of the same skills. Both test analytical writing and verbal reasoning, and both include a quantitative section. The tests both take around 3.5 hours, and scores from both remain valid for five years. The tests require different strengths; however, with the GRE asking more challenging vocabulary questions and the GMAT requiring more complex data-based problem-solving.

The GMAT and GRE measure many of the same skills. Both test analytical writing and verbal reasoning, and both include a quantitative section.

Before choosing an MBA entrance exam, prospective students can review both tests, answer practice questions, and take free practice GMAT and GRE tests to decide which exam to take. Considering the following questions can also help prospective MBA students narrow their choice.

Which Schools Are You Applying To?

Since the mid-20th century, most business schools have required the GMAT for MBA admissions. Designed by the Graduate Management Admission Council specifically to test for skills required in a graduate-level business program, the GMAT measures analytical reasoning, data analysis, and verbal reasoning. However, a growing number of business schools also accept the GRE for MBA admissions. While schools may accept either the GMAT or GRE, prospective students should research whether the school has a preference for one exam over the other. Because the GMAT specifically tests business skills and the GRE offers a broader assessment of verbal and quantitative abilities, some business schools may prefer the GMAT.

Even if the business school states a preference, other factors may still influence a student’s choice between the GMAT vs. GRE for MBA admissions. Factors such as an applicant’s strengths, native language, and scholarship requirements can push students toward one entrance exam over the other.

What Programs Are You Applying To?

Each MBA program sets its own admission requirements, including whether to require the GMAT or GRE. Many programs accept either the GMAT or GRE, but some only accept the GMAT. Before taking one of the exams, students need to research each of their prospective programs to ensure they meet the MBA entrance exam requirements. Taking the GMAT or GRE represents a substantial investment in time and money, researching program requirements helps students make an informed, strategic decision.

MBA programs generally list the standardized test requirements on their websites. Prospective students can also contact admission advisors to ask about substituting the GRE for the GMAT or applying for a GMAT waiver. Some programs, for instance, provide a GMAT waiver for students who meet a GPA minimum or professional experience requirements. An admissions advisor can provide more information about the entrance exam requirements and waivers.

What Are Your Strengths?

If your prospective MBA programs accept either the GMAT or the GRE, prospective students can choose the test that best matches their personal strengths. The GMAT has a tougher quantitative section, for example, so applicants who haven’t recently taken classes or are not as strong with mathematical reasoning may prefer the GRE. MBA programs consider the quant score important in admissions, since the analytical reasoning and data analysis skills closely match critical MBA skills. Programs may weigh the quantitative sections differently for students who take the GMAT instead of the GRE, since admissions committees know the GMAT quantitative section typically contains more challenging material.

Similarly, the GRE verbal section generally requires stronger vocabulary skills. Applicants who want to show off their verbal strengths may prefer the GRE, while non-native English speakers might find the GMAT more straightforward. Students weighing the two tests can take a few practice exams to see which plays to their strengths.

How Does the GMAT or GRE Impact Scholarships?

Some MBA scholarships require GMAT or GRE scores from applicants as part of their review process, and they may only accept scores from a specific test. Students considering scholarship funding need to carefully research the requirements for all prospective scholarships to make sure they take the correct exam.

Before scheduling a standardized test simply to meet scholarship requirements, prospective students should reach out to the scholarship organization to ask about an MBA entrance exam waiver.

Understanding the GMAT

The GMAT may seem complicated at first. With multiple sections, strict rules about calculator use, and varying section lengths, it is easy to get confused. If you want to learn more about the most common MBA entrance exam, this online MBA GMAT guide offers information about the structure of the exam, the skill areas tested, and the exam format. It also provides sample questions, tips to improve your score, and common pitfalls to avoid when taking the GMAT.

GRE Guide

The GRE may contain fewer sections than the GMAT, but mastering the format, structure, and skills areas still takes commitment. This GRE guide provides an overview of what to expect on test day, including materials to leave at home; the process for requesting testing accommodations; and suggestions to master different GRE sections like analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. It also emphasizes taking the GRE for MBA programs.

Preparing for the GMAT and GRE

Very few students succeed on the GMAT or GRE without devoting time to prepare for the exam. Standardized tests represent a substantial investment, with many costing several hundred dollars. Failing to prepare for the exam not only costs students money, but it might also affect their ability to gain admission to an MBA program. Prospective students should give themselves several months to prepare for the GMAT or GRE. Self-motivated learners can rely on resources like test prep books, study apps, and practice exams. Others may prefer the structure of a GMAT test prep course or a tutor. The Graduate Management Admission Council provides some free study materials, and students can find additional resources available from Kaplan, the Princeton Review, and other test prep companies. Similarly, students studying for the GRE can find test prep materials and practice exams online.

Tips to Keep in Mind When Studying for the GMAT or GRE

  • Focus on Your Weaknesses: If you do not already know your weaknesses, take a practice exam to find out, and then focus on those areas. For example, students with strong verbal reasoning but weak quantitative skills should spend more time improving their quant knowledge.
  • Learn How to Pace Yourself: Students often run out of time while taking standardized tests. Time yourself while taking practice tests throughout the study process to learn how to pace yourself and stay within the allotted time frames.
  • Get Help If You Need It: Test preparation courses and tutors can help you improve your scores. If you are unable to understand a topic on your own, you should consider seeking outside expert help.
  • Create a Study Schedule: Three to six months may seem like a long time to study, but it can go by quickly. Before you start studying, create a schedule to help you balance work, school, family commitments, and regular study sessions.

Understanding GMAT Scores

The following section explores what goes into GMAT scores, and what score you will need to earn to be considered by one of the top business schools.

Composite GMAT scores range between 200-800, with approximately 56% of all examinees scoring between 400-600. As of 2018, the average GMAT score is 561.27. While the GMAT tests for verbal and quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and integrated reasoning, only scores from the first two are factored into the final score.

To better understand what your score means in terms of being competitive against other applications, Kaplan breaks them down into the following sections:

Percentile RankingGMAT Score
Top Scores (Top 10%)710-800
Competitive Scores (Top 25%)650-700
Good Enough Scores (Top 50%)550-640
Below Average Scores (Bottom 50%)Below a 550

In order to get into one of the top-ranked MBA programs in the nation, your score should be at least within the top 10%, though your chances are even better if you place within the top 5%.

Students can view their unofficial scores immediately after taking the exam, but official scores typically take 20 days to arrive. The analytical writing section of the exam takes longer to score since students do not answer questions in a multiple-choice format.

GMAT Score800750700650600550500
Percentile Ranking99%98%88%73%56%39%27%
GMAT Score450400350300250200
Percentile Ranking17%10%6%3%2%0%


Understanding GRE Scores

Students who take the GRE will notice that scoring is figured differently compared to the GMAT. Test takers can score 130-170 on both the verbal and quantitative reasoning sections and 0-6 on the analytical writing section. Kaplan provides the following look at what a good GRE score looks like and how it compares to other scores.

Percentile RankingVerbalQuantitativeWriting
Top Scores (Top 10%)163-170165-1705-6
Competitive Scores (Top 25%)158-162159-1644.5
Good Enough Scores (Top 50%)152-158153-1584.0
Below Average Scores (Bottom 50%)<151<152<3.5

Students who take the computer-generated GRE exam typically receive scores about 10-15 days after their test day in their ETS Accounts, while those who take the paper version receive them in about five weeks. Within the report, students see a breakdown of scores for individual sections along with how they placed within percentile rankings against other examinees.

Average GRE Score for Intended Business Majors

Verbal Reasoning150
Quantitative Reasoning154
Analytical Writing3.5


MBA Programs That Do Not Require the GMAT

A growing number of business schools no longer require GMAT scores or make standardized test scores optional for prospective students. Many programs see little correlation between GMAT scores and performance in business school. Some programs that emphasize prior business experience, such as many Executive MBA programs, prefer to evaluate applicants based on their professional experience rather than an exam score. Other admissions materials, such as professional letters of recommendation, college transcripts, and admission essays, provide more valuable information than GMAT scores, according to these programs.

Some of the top MBA programs in the country no longer require GMAT scores. The Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, for example, no longer requires exam scores. Many of these programs make GMAT scores optional, letting applicants decide whether submitting scores will help their chances. In addition, MBA programs may provide an entrance exam waiver for students who meet certain minimum qualifications for entry, such as a minimum GPA. Applicants who fall below the minimum must submit GMAT scores to make up for areas of concern in their transcript, while those above the minimum GPA receive a GMAT waiver.

GMAT waivers also exist for students who meet professional experience requirements. Some programs prefer GMAT scores from applicants with little professional experience, such as recent graduates. Candidates with a record of professional success can apply for an entrance exam waiver based on their experience.

10 Most Affordable MBA Programs: No GMAT Required

Some students looking for an online MBA with no GMAT option prefer to save the money spent on the GMAT, which includes the cost of the exam, expenses for test prep materials or courses, and the cost of prep tests. Budget-conscious students can visit this list of the 10 most affordable MBA programs without a GMAT option to learn more about less expensive programs that waive the GMAT requirement.

Top Online MBA Programs: No GMAT Required

Many of the top online MBA programs no longer require GMAT scores or other standardized test scores. The GMAT does not have to keep business students out of MBA programs. Prospective students who want to avoid taking the GMAT or who earned a low score on the exam may prefer programs that do not consider GMAT scores during the admission process. This page ranks the top online MBA programs that do not require GMAT scores.

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Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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