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GMAT versus GRE Smackdown? Clearing Up the GRE's Role in Business School Admissions

Business schools that accept the GRE as an alternative to the GMAT from MBA applicants are growing in number, and the business press is sparing no hyperbole in reporting the trend. "There's a feud brewing in the graduate-school testing world" (Lagorio 2008). "One of the hot battles in standardized testing these days is over the M.B.A. market" (Inside Higher Ed 2009). "The battle between two of the largest graduate school testing giants," the GMAT and the GRE, "is heating up" (Damast 2009), and "this business school version of the Coke-or-Pepsi debate is raging everywhere" (Di Meglio 2009). "Now that so many schools are giving the applicants an option between the tests, it's important for business school candidates to know which exam is right for them" (Burnsed 2010).

However, those articles present conflicting points of view by admissions directors, admissions counselors, and administrators of the two tests, leaving MBA applicants more confused than ever about which exam is right for them. Business school forums are filled with questions from applicants such as, "Will admissions committees truly take my GRE results seriously, or will I be penalized for submitting them instead of the GMAT? Should I take the GRE since the math section is less rigorous, or will doing that actually count against me? Should I take both tests, or just one–and if just one, which one? What are the admissions committees really saying by accepting the GRE, and what should I do about it? How big a deal is this, anyway?"

Much of this confusion can be cleared up by addressing assertions made in those articles about the GRE's entry into the business school admissions process. That is the purpose of this report: to address the validity of those assertions and to correct them when necessary. What you read here may surprise you.

Assertion: Business schools will not take GRE scores as seriously as GMAT scores. This assertion has been made by a number of admissions counselors in the press, and it is simply not true. Business schools have taken the GRE seriously for years now–in their Ph.D. programs. Like most business schools, "Sloan has long accepted the GRE for our Ph.D. program," says Rod Garcia, Admissions Director of MIT Sloan (Garcia 2010). As a result, "accepting the GRE for MBA applicants, starting in 2006, required no real adjustment." Since 1988, Sloan has also accepted the GRE from candidates of its Leaders for Manufacturing program (now the Leaders for Global Operations program), a joint MBA program; other business schools have done the same for their own joint degree programs. In sum, the GRE is already accepted in the business school world. No school is going to waste its time accepting and considering a test score it doesn't take seriously.

Assertion: The GRE is not rigorous enough to assess an applicant's quantitative ability for business school. This concern is raised not only by admissions consulting firms but also by business schools holding back on accepting GRE scores–for example, Emory University's Goizueta Business School, which does not currently accept the GRE. "Our biggest concern is the validity of the GRE's quantitative section relative to performance in the first year of MBA studies," says Libby Livingston, Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions at Goizueta (Livingston 2010). "We have data showing a correlation between the GMAT quantitative section and MBA student grades, data which does not exist for the GRE quantitative section. We feel that the GMAT is a better indicator of quantitative ability." Rod Garcia of MIT Sloan, a business school with a reputation for quantitative rigor, has a different view: "Really, one does not need such high-level quantitative skills for business school; we don't buy the argument that the GRE isn't quantitative enough. We are absolutely comfortable with the quantitative ability measured by the GRE." As pointed out earlier, if the GRE is good enough to assess academic ability for a business school's Ph.D. program, then it is more than enough to assess academic ability for the school's MBA program–and were the GRE truly not rigorous enough, top business schools like MIT Sloan, Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, and Columbia would not be accepting it. If a school accepts the GRE, it considers the test rigorous enough.

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