For many years, the GMAT was the king of MBA testing. About a decade ago, MBA programs started accepting the GRE as a way to broaden the applicant pool by capturing those who had taken the test for other graduate programs but later decided to apply to business school. Now, applicants can also consider taking the Executive Assessment (EA). Traditionally only accepted by executive MBA programs, the EA is now accepted at such full-time MBA programs as Columbia, NYU Stern, MIT Sloan, UVA Darden, Georgetown McDonough, Duke Fuqua, and Vanderbilt Owen—and many more. Check out the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) website for a complete list of programs that accept the EA. Yet another option is to look at business schools that allow applicants to apply for a test waiver, such as UVA Darden and Michigan Ross.
The good news for applicants is that there are more choices than ever before in terms of how to approach the testing requirements. For example, if an applicant bombs the GMAT after several attempts, the GRE is always waiting in the wings as the back-up plan—and the EA can now be the back-up to the back-up plan. However, old habits die hard, and it is difficult for applicants to believe that MBA programs will consider all these exams equally in the application process.
Susan Cera, director of MBA admissions for Stratus Admissions Counseling and a former member of Duke Fuqua’s admissions team, mentions that several of her clients “felt obligated to take the GMAT despite the fact that they struggled with the test format.” She advises clients: “Don’t worry. Admissions committees truly don’t care which test you take. They simply want to ensure that students they admit and enroll are prepared to take on the quantitative rigor of their MBA program.”
So, how can you determine which test is right for you?
Take a test drive.
If you have misgivings about your test-taking abilities, try taking practice tests for both the GMAT and the GRE. At that point, the answer may be obvious; whichever test will paint a better picture of your quantitative and verbal prowess should be your choice. If you still don’t have a competitive score, consider taking the EA.
Recognize if you don’t test well.
A core driver of business school rankings is the GMAT average. Therefore, if your GMAT score is low, the entire class’s average is dragged down. However, if you take the GRE or the EA, this is less of an issue because these scores are not under quite the same microscope as the GMAT. In other words, if you need to hide a bad test score, the GRE or the EA may be a better option.
Consider the GMAT’s value to future jobs.
In some industries—particularly consulting—potential employers ask applicants for their GMAT score, and earning a high score could help you in post-MBA recruiting. This may become less of an issue in recruiting as more people take alternative tests, but do consider how employers in your post-MBA recruiting industry view MBA test scores before you make your final choice.
Remember that better is best.
After being an admissions officer myself, and knowing many, I would rather see a strong GRE score than a lower GMAT score. If I saw neither of those, I would be glad to see a strong EA score. It is that simple—and maybe that’s the answer to the question of which is the best test to take.