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How the GRE Became a GMAT Alternative

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How the GRE Became a GMAT Alternative

The GRE exam has been encroaching on GMAT territory for more than a decade now and doesn’t show any signs of letting up. But how did the test manage to position itself as the most obvious GMAT alternative?

The GRE General Test, created and administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), is the world’s most widely accepted admission test for graduate and business school. It measures the skills that are important for success at graduate level: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing. In addition to the thousands of graduate schools around the world, more than 1,300 business schools worldwide accept GRE scores for admission to MBA, specialised Master’s and other graduate business programmes.

Why is the GRE competing with the GMAT?

Prior to 2006, the GMAT was the unchallenged exam for business school admission. For many years, ETS offered both the GRE and the GMAT, but in 2006, GMAC, the owner of the GMAT, moved the exam to new vendors, Pearson VUE and ACT, Inc. Freed from the contractual obligation not to compete with GMAC, ETS started actively pushing the GRE on to GMAT territory, marketing it as a viable alternative.

Business schools welcomed the GRE because it helped diversify the applicant pool by including younger applicants and international students, among others.

The major revision of 2011

In 2011, the GRE was subjected to a major overhaul that changed the specific material in the exam, the delivery method, and the scoring. The aim of the revision was to better test the skills needed in contemporary graduate — and business — school programmes, to enable admissions officers to determine the level of performance of candidates more easily, and to improve the experience for test takers.

The scoring system was changed to a scale of 130-170 from a scale of 200-800. Also, the test became adaptive by section, which means that the difficulty level of the second quantitative and verbal sections depends on how the test taker performs in the first quantitative and verbal sections. In comparison, the GMAT adapts its difficulty level after each question.

Check out: Average GRE Scores at the Top US B-Schools

Advantages of the GRE 

ETS has been actively highlighting what it perceives are GRE’s advantages over the GMAT. Whereas the GMAT is considered the de facto entry exam to business schools, ETS points out that GRE scores are accepted at graduate and business schools, which makes it the only graduate admissions test that can be used for both. This enables candidates to apply for a wider range of programmes all over the world.

Another advantage is that test takers can approach the test in the way that works best for them. Unlike the GMAT, the GRE lets test takers preview and skip questions and go back to review and change answers within each section. Yet another GRE feature worth mentioning is the ScoreSelect option, which lets candidates decide which scores schools will see. With the GRE General Test, candidates have the option to test again and send only their best set of scores to their preferred school.

ETS markets the GRE as a more flexible alternative to the GMAT that allows test takers to decide what methods they want to use on test day. Maria Victoria Calabrese, Academic and Government Relations Director at ETS Global, says:

The test features a flexible, test-taker-friendly design that gives test takers the freedom to use more of their own personal test-taking styles and strategies. They can preview questions, skip questions and go back to them, change their answers, and more, all within a section.

Test takers surely appreciate this flexibility but there are other aspects of the exam that may prompt some applicants, depending on their strengths and weaknesses, to pick the GRE over the GMAT. Generally, the GMAT has more challenging Quantitative Reasoning sections, whereas the GRE has more difficult Analytical Writing and Verbal Reasoning sections.

Your checklist for choosing between GRE and GMAT

Here is a breakdown of the key differences between the GMAT and the GRE that each test taker should consider before picking an exam:

  • If grammar and logic are not your strong suit, maybe the GRE is the better option. Of course, logical arguments still exist in the GRE, but not to the extent they do in the GMAT. However, it should be pointed out that the vocabulary in the GRE is more advanced.
  • The Integrated Reasoning, or IR, section was added to the GMAT in 2012. It analyses the ability to critically interpret and synthesise information. There is no such section on the GRE. On the other hand, those who don’t like essays may be disappointed to learn that the GRE has two essays instead of one.
  • Being a standardised test for many disciplines in graduate schools, the GRE doesn’t place as much emphasis on quantitative skills as the GMAT, which is designed specifically for business schools. This doesn’t mean that the maths in the GRE is easy-peasy. No, it’s just less intimidating.

Check out: 12 Free GRE Preparation Resources

The GRE has established itself as a GMAT alternative and that’s good news for test takers. Gone are the days when the GMAT was the only accepted entrance exam for business school admission. And despite claims that the GMAT and GRE have more in common than they have differences, having a choice is always a good thing.

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