Thinking about applying to business school or another graduate degree program? Don’t know which standardized test to take? We encourage you to watch the following webinar recording: GMAT, GRE, or EA? Insider Insights to Help You Decide hosted by Senior Admissions Counselor Susan Cera and Inspirica Tutor Ryan Furiness.
For the last few years, MBA applicants have debated the merits of taking the GMAT versus the GRE. One big lesson we all learned in 2020 is that things are more complicated than they may seem. COVID-19’s impact has stretched into this testing debate; we saw even more options introduced last year including the Executive Assessment (EA) and in some cases the option to waive testing altogether.
Test selection is a recent dilemma, as most MBA programs started to accept GRE scores in addition to the GMAT only in roughly the past decade. Schools began accepting both tests to attract candidates who had taken the GRE for other graduate programs but later decided to apply to business school. Given the testing challenges last year as a result of lockdowns and social distancing concerns, some schools decided to waive the test requirement temporarily or offer more options. Traditionally only accepted for executive MBA programs, the EA is now accepted for full-time MBA programs at Columbia, Stern, Sloan, Darden, McDonough, Fuqua, and Vanderbilt. Check the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) website for a complete list of programs that accept the EA option.
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 is now available as 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.