The GMAT and the GRE are the most common standardized tests used to assess how you are going to perform in an MBA or a PhD in Business Program. The GMAT is specific to Business School Applications and the GRE is more generic, but it is used in most graduate programs. You are likely wondering what test you should take for your MBA or PhD in a Business School. What test is going to net you the best return for your effort? If you are have already have a few business courses, you understand the value of acting strategically and prioritizing your resources. So, what standardized graduate test is easier? Here is the answer: It does not matter. If you are thinking about what graduate test is easier, you are thinking about the problem completely wrong. You are thinking about only one side of the equation – your skills and capabilities to take the test. This is only the supply-side of the entrance to the Business School equation. How do I know this? I am a Professor of Innovation, Strategy, and Entrepreneurship, and know the market for PhDs in Business (and as well, the market for MBAs) pretty well. You should be thinking about the standardized tests within a marketplace of other candidates for Business School education. This means that there are both the supply-side and the demand-side of the equation. In other words, it is not only how well you perform on the GMAT and GRE, but also how well others in your cohort of applicants perform. For example, let’s say you get a 600 on the GMAT. This is an OK score, but in most situations, this score would not be high enough for a PhD in Business. However, if for some reason, the average score of all other applicants in the same year that you are applying is 550, you appear to outperform other applicants. In that rare situation, you might get into a PhD program.

Is The GMAT And GRE Different?

The questions on the GMAT and GRE may be different, and some years one may be more difficult than the other. Every so often, the tests change, and one may be qualitatively different than the other. I have heard that the GMAT Math section is more difficult than the GRE Math section. However, these differences, and the changes over time does not matter if you take a market perspective. First of all, admissions offices normalize each test. What does this normalization between the GMAT and the GRE mean? If one test is easier, the graduate admissions office simply makes an adjustment to account for the ease of test over the other. Indeed, some universities and colleges even do this normalization with high school grades – they normalize the grades based on the high school one attends. How does this normalization between the GMAT and GRE occur? Many programs and business schools will compare how students with a specific GMAT / GRE scores compared to how their students perform in the graduate program in the following year. If they do well at the GRE, and perform poorly in their program, they will adjust the weightings on the GRE downward. If the Business School students do well on the GMAT, and perform poorly in their program, they will adjust the weightings on the GMAT downward. The explicit technique to do this calculation is rather easy – you just have to perform an ordinary least squares regression on student grades. But, you do not even need to be explicit and detailed on adjusting for differences in GMAT and GRE scores. People are smart. They will adjust based on how they perceive the students are performing. If there is a marked difference between the two scores, the admissions teams will simply just up the cut-off for the least rigorous test. Second, how well you perform on the GMAT or GRE score really just depends on how well other people in your cohort perform. You simply just have to have a test score that higher than other people in your cohort. Of course, this cohort varies dramatically depending on the program you are applying to, and the year in which you are applying to the program. In some years, Business School programs have many great candidates, and there is an embarrassment of riches, and in other years, not so much. When the applicant pool is much larger than the number of PhD positions, then the GMAT score that is required for a PhD increases in that given year increases. In other years, when the applicant pool is smaller, the GMAT score required for a PhD may decrease. It just really depends on what is happening in the marketplace.

Do You Have To Perform On The GMAT Or GRE?

I am not saying that you can slack on your GMAT or your GRE. It is important to just to do well on either test, rather than worrying about gaming the system. Both the GRE and the GMAT are suitable, however you have to check with the program where you are applying too. But, if you are thinking of doing a MBA or a PhD in a Business School, I would just make your life easier, and just focus on acing one of the scores, and then move on with your life. You should spend more time thinking about how you can study for either one of the tests. You can watch the video below for additional details about the GMAT and the GRE for doing a PhD. I believe the video will be very helpful for you, and you will also get to see me in action. 🙂

Should You Study The GMAT Rather Than The GRE?

The basic reason why Universities use these tests is because they are trying to have a standardize quality metric across many schools around the world. Because the test scores are probably the only metric that is standardized for potential candidates around the world, they can use the test scores to better find people that are outstanding and dedicated to doing a PhD. Standardized metrics, like the GMAT and the GRE, makes easy to compare applicants based on this one score. Of course, there are benefits for Business Schools, because it is easier to identify outstanding candidates from remote places. However, it also presents a challenge because many Business Schools know that people try to game these metrics, and because it creates competition based on GMAT / GRE scores. Nonetheless, if you are applying for any graduate program in a Business School, I would study the GMAT. However, if you are thinking about doing graduate work in other fields like Economics or Sociology, then it makes more sense to study the GRE. Why? I think it simplifies your life to focus on only one thing. If you do not have a good sense of what you want to do as a research career, I would not apply to any program just yet. You should wait and really think about what you want to study, and then work backwards to get you there.

What If You Did Not Meet The GRE Or GMAT Cut-off For A PhD Program?

Let’s say you stank up the GMAT Test. Like, really stank it up. What should you do? First of all, I would retake the test until you get a good score. I would also take any and all test prep courses you can find. Yes, these test prep courses cost money, but it they can help you increase your GMAT or GRE score, they are well worth it. Indeed, I studied straight from the books when I took my GMAT Test, and it was the one main thing that I regret with my PhD application. This YouTube video on the GMAT Cut-Off provides additional details about what you should do with low GMAT or GRE scores. At the end of the day, the key thing is for you show that you are outstanding in many other areas related to research. The GMAT or GRE score doesn’t necessarily matter if this is your core objective. The GMAT / GRE is a right of passage. It is also a matter of pride to get a high GMAT score, but what PhD programs are really looking for is whether you can do research. A high GMAT / GRE score also matters in terms of external validation for a particular Business School. Professors impute that you will do well as a researcher based on your standardized test scores, and every professor knows that this is an extremely rough imputation. How can you demonstrate that are amazing at doing research? I would actually do research – create some new research tool, are passionate about doing research, or have publications in other areas. It is not uncommon to find lawyers, engineers, or scientists with publications in their fields apply to PhD programs. While these publications do not count towards tenure (generally), they do show that you are going to take the PhD program much more seriously then just being able to score well on your GMAT. If you know of people that can vouch for your research ability, than this matters a lot more than a single score. If you get a letter of recommendation from a Noble Laureate, people are going to look at your application, even if your test scores are low. You can get to know the people that you are likely to work with. This post details information in how to have meetings with potential PhD supervisors. You should also work on your statement of purpose. You really ought to read this detailed post on writing a statement of purpose. I have a lot of detailed information on how to do well at your statement of purpose that actually do matter for your application. I also have another post on tips that you should consider for applying for a PhD, and these tips are things that took me 15 years to figure out.

Summary

Most people try to game standardized tests, and spend far too much time thinking about what standardized test is easier to take. My point is that it does not matter whether the GMAT or GRE is easier, you will likely perform as well as you should, once you normalize the test scores and account for the marketplace of other candidates. In the end, what matters is that you show that you are willing and able to do research. The GRE and the GMAT are just used to impute your capabilities, and there are many other ways to impute research capabilities. For example, you can actually try to do research. Yes, you might not know what doing research is at the moment, but you can start by reading academic articles in your area of interest and reading this ultimate guide on writing research papers that I created. This is part of my r3ciprocity.com project, where I wanted to help out others excel in grad school. I created a sharing economy proofreading platform so you can get feedback on your writing, and I have a bunch of YouTube videos that detail what it is like being a PhD or becoming a professor (just search for r3ciprocity on YouTube).

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David Maslach

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