At the beginning of your MBA application journey, you might hit a common fork in the road: which exam should you take—the GMAT, GRE, or possibly even the Executive Assessment (EA)? In this post, we outline the differences and similarities among these exams, help you determine which test to take, and discuss what a competitive score is for each one.
Test Basics – Comparing the Exams
All three exams test roughly the same quant facts, rules, and skills. The GMAT and EA are more likely to write questions in a way that tests your number sense and ability to think logically about quant concepts. Quant questions on the GRE tend to be more textbook-like math. The exams also differ in some ways with respect to question frequency. For instance, the GRE generally has more geometry than the GMAT. On the verbal side, the GRE tests vocabulary, while the GMAT and EA test grammar. They are all currently offered both in testing centers and online, and you will have to grapple with time management issues across the board. In addition, all three exams are adaptive, meaning that the questions will actually become easier or more difficult depending on how well you are doing as you take it.
|Time||187 minutes||225 minutes||90 minutes|
|Number of Questions||80||42||40|
|Highest Possible Score||800||170 Quant/170 Verbal||200|
Deciding Which Exam to Take
Virtually all business schools accept the GMAT and the GRE. The EA was originally created for executive MBA programs, but now some full-time MBA and specialized master’s programs also accept it as well. We expect the list of schools that do so to grow each year.
For now, all top business schools treat the GMAT and GRE as equal; the programs have no preference for one over the other. However, business schools are “protective” of their GMAT averages because having a high average score gives them bragging rights, and the statistic even factors into some rankings. So, if you are a natural test taker and think you could score well enough on the GMAT to help lift an MBA program’s GMAT average, you might want to start with that exam. It could give you a small advantage in the admissions process. Alternatively, if you are not a strong test taker, you might want to avoid the GMAT because you could risk bringing down your target program’s average. Instead, pursue the GRE. Most top programs are, on a relative basis, less concerned with protecting their average GRE scores. Still, you should strive to perform near their GRE averages if they are published.
Because the EA is accepted by the smallest number of schools, you will want to first check whether your target program accepts it before making plans to take that exam. If a school you are interested in does not accept the EA for its full-time program, you will have to focus on the GMAT or GRE instead. If the school does accept the EA, know that it offers some pretty great advantages—it is a shorter exam, and for now, at least, EA scores are not typically being reported by the schools and are not factored into a school’s averages like the GMAT and GRE are. So, you only need to earn a “good enough” score, which we will discuss in more detail later in this post.
So, if your target MBA programs accept all three exams, how do you decide which one would be best for you? Take a practice exam for each and see how you do. Make sure you take the tests at least a few days apart, if not a full week, so you are not burnt out. Afterward, think about which exam felt the easiest for you and which you performed the best on. That is the one you should focus on to start, keeping in mind that you can always change to a different one later if you want or need to.
One thing to note is that if you tend to experience significant performance anxiety on standardized tests, you might find the GRE and EA less stressful than the GMAT. On these tests, you can move around among a small block of questions and decide the order in which you want to answer them, but on the GMAT, you must answer each question in the order in which it appears. So, the flexibility of the GRE and EA can make them a bit less intimidating for some candidates.
Whichever test you choose to take, give yourself three to six months to study. Our partners at Manhattan Prep, Powered by Kaplan, have some great, high-quality study materials, courses, and private tutoring you can access for the GMAT, GRE, and EA.
As we have noted, most schools publish the average or median GMAT and/or GRE scores for their students. At a minimum, you want your test scores to at least be within the school’s 80% range, if they publish that range, but you should ideally strive to match or exceed the school’s average. For most top business schools, this would be a score of 700–730 on the GMAT and of 160–165V and 160–165Q on the GRE.
MBA programs also pay attention to subscores, and what they want to see can differ from applicant to applicant. For example, if your current job does not focus on quant topics and you did not take quant-based classes as an undergraduate, the admissions committees will use your quant score to gauge whether you seem ready to handle the quant-focused courses you will need to take in business school. Generally speaking, a 45-46Q GMAT subscore or a 163Q GRE subscore is enough to establish your quantitative competencies.
Or perhaps English is not your first language and you did not complete your undergrad degree in English. In that case, you will need to show the schools that you are prepared to handle graduate-level academics in English. Your Verbal score and performance on the Integrated Reasoning sections can help substantiate this. A 36-37V subscore on the GMAT or a 162V subscore on the GRE should sufficiently attest to your verbal abilities with top MBA programs.
Note, however, that if you score at the minimum end of these subscores, your total score will not exceed 700, which is not ideal if you are aiming to attend a top MBA program. You will therefore need to max out your score in your stronger section, whether quant or verbal, to ensure that your total score is high enough for serious consideration.
So, what about the EA? Because schools are not yet publishing their averages for this exam, the EA is used more to establish and mark a kind of threshold. As long as you score above a certain level—approximately 155 for a full-time MBA program and a 150 for an executive MBA program—you should be good.
Once you have decided which test to take and have achieved a score you are happy with, please reach out to us at mbaMission to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with one of our experts. We will be happy to answer your initial questions about applying to business school and give you our honest opinion on the strength of your candidacy.