As if the MBA admissions process didn’t have enough moving parts, the testing options for MBA applicants keep changing! Beyond just deciding between the GMAT, GRE, EA, or even skipping a test if it’s optional, now there is another level of nuance to consider with the GMAT Focus. For a few months in early 2024, test takers can decide between the standard GMAT and the GMAT Focus. However, for most people targeting matriculation in fall 2025 and beyond, the GMAT Focus will be the best GMAT option. On the plus side, if you don’t like geometry, you’ll love that this subject area is not included in the GMAT Focus. Instead, you’ll see more data insights questions. The test is also shorter and designed to target more of the skills you will need in business. There are also some candidate-friendly adjustments including being able to send your score to five schools for free AFTER you know what your score is instead of before. You can also bookmark and change up to three answers in a section. GMAT Ninja provides some great free resources about how to prepare for the GMAT Focus.
The area that many people could find a bit prickly is the new scoring methodology, as the test scale and the scale distribution have been changed. Instead of the old GMAT score of 200–800, the new GMAT Focus has a score range of 205–805. You will be able to identify a GMAT Focus score because it ends in “5.” With these changes, the “magic” 700 score that so many people chase is no longer relevant. However, MBA programs will be looking at the percentages instead of raw scores to interpret results. Even if your score seems low based on what you had in your head as the norm, a 655 on the GMAT Focus will actually be a very competitive score. These scores don’t directly translate from the old version to the new, but you can review the GMAT’s scoring information and look at percentage scores to see that a 655 on the GMAT Focus Edition is near the 93% range, as is the old GMAT score of 710.
If you don’t want to “focus” your MBA testing options on the GMAT Focus, there are many other options to consider. The GRE has been gaining ground as a popular test for MBA applicants, and it’s also useful for people considering other graduate degree programs beyond the MBA. For the Class of 2025, Harvard Business School reported that 34% of the class submitted a GRE score; for Chicago Booth, it was 31%, and for Stanford GSB, it was 39%. Beyond the GRE, many schools also will accept 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, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, UVA Darden, Georgetown McDonough, HEC Paris, Duke Fuqua, Texas McCombs, UCLA Anderson, 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 or allow for some other test to be accepted, such as UVA Darden, UNC Kenan-Flagler, 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 Focus after several attempts, the GRE is always waiting in the wings—and the EA is also a valid option for many programs. Several of my clients have had great success and have even secured impressive scholarship options when following the test-optional approach to applying.
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, take practice tests for both the GMAT (GMAT Focus—or the regular GMAT if prior to March 2024) and the GRE. The best test option might be obvious once you see your results. The test that paints a better picture of your quantitative and verbal prowess should be your choice. You can also discuss your options with a trusted test prep counselor such as the experts at GMAT Ninja, who can help you decide which test will best showcase your strengths. If you find you are still struggling with both the GMAT and the GRE, consider taking the EA.
Recognize if you don’t test well.
If none of the MBA testing options showcase your strengths, target MBA programs that offer a test waiver. Submit a compelling test waiver request using these Stratus tips.
Remember that better is best.
As an admissions officer, and knowing many, I would rather see a strong GRE score than a lower GMAT score. If I saw neither of those, I would look for a strong EA score or other compelling evidence of quantitative prowess submitted through a test-waiver request. It’s that simple—and maybe that’s the answer to the question of which is the best test to take.
If you’re looking for help in navigating the complex and competitive MBA application landscape, reach out to one of our counselors for a free 30-minute consultation. All of Stratus’s counselors have degrees from top MBA programs and would love to support you in your next phase in life!