GMAT VS GRE For PhD Or MBA: Which Is Easier?

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.


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 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).

How To Get A PhD In Strategy And Innovation

Getting a PhD in Strategy and Innovation is quite rewarding, however, it does have its complications. What I am going to write here is why you might consider getting a PhD in Strategy and Innovation (its not at all what you think it is), and what are the problems and complications you are going to find with a PhD that no one is likely to tell you about.

What Else Can You Call A PhD in Strategy and Innovation?

What you call a PhD in Strategy and Innovation can vary a lot depending on the university that you attend. However, there are tremendous overlap in the material that you will cover in a:
  1. PhD in Strategic Management, specializing in Innovation.
  2. PhD in Innovation.
  3. PhD in Innovation and Technology Management
  4. PhD In Innovation Management, or New Product Development
  5. PhD In General Management, Marketing, and among others.
  6. PhD in Business Strategy
  7. Doctorate in Strategy
  8. DBA (Harvard University only) In Strategy or Technology and Operations Management.
What is important with the PhD is not the name of the PhD, but rather the material that you read and understand, and the researchers that you meet during the program.

Why Should You Get A PhD In Strategy And Innovation?

What are the advantages of getting a PhD in Strategy and Innovation? The key reason why you might get a PhD in Strategy and Innovation is to get an academic understanding of how businesses work. In particular, when you get a PhD in Strategy and Innovation you are likely to try to get a focused understanding of how companies produce technologies, and as well as how technologies impact the value produced and is appropriated by companies. You might learn about any particular technology, such as machine learning, trains, or automobiles. You are unlikely to learn all of the specifics of the technology, but more likely to focus on why and how the technology is produced. This is not inclusive, but it does cover the majority of what people will study in this area. By the way, the vast majority of the work we do in academia is write papers, and you can look at this post if you want to know how to write a research paper.

Why is a PhD in Strategy and Innovation extremely interesting?

For me, the most interesting part of getting a PhD in Strategy and Innovation is that you get to study, at the 10,000 foot high prospective, why companies actually innovate, or why they might spend money on research and development (R&D). You also study things like company culture, or the impact of R&D on the economy. Actually, there are infinite number of combinations to study. My favorite work takes basic theoretical ideas and models them to explain complex patterns in technology or innovation. Many of the questions and answers that you find when you start digging into this are counterintuitive. If you are curious, you will love this about a PhD.

How Is a PhD in Strategy and Innovation different than a PhD in Engineering or the Natural Sciences?

When I was first thinking about doing a PhD, I had the choice to do a PhD in business or in engineering. I really did not know the difference. Now, I know a bit more. Of course, this is one person’s opinion, and I don’t have a PhD in Engineering, so I don’t have a counterfactual. Yet, I did do an engineering undergrad and a Master’s of Applied Science in Engineering. A PhD from a Business Administration program to study technology and innovation is a bit different than actually studying the technology from an engineering or natural sciences perspective. In a natural sciences perspective, you will learn to either build, make, or use the technology. In contrast, in a PhD from a Business Administration, you will learn to understand why or how people build, make, or use the technology, and how the technology impacts what they do. Notice, that the technology and innovation is a central factor in both of these studies, but it is how and what you study about the technology is different. Another really fun thing with a PhD in Strategy and Innovation is that you also get to study technology and innovation from a broad perspective. This is much different than using a engineering or natural sciences perspective which focuses on a key aspect of the technology. Probably, the closest people that study what you study in a business school would be focus that study systems design, human factors, critical safety designs, or industrial engineering. In contrast, you are much more of a social scientist when you do a PhD in Strategy and Innovation.

What Are The Careers You Can Have With A PhD In Strategy And Innovation?

Ok, this is where I had no clue when I first started my PhD. Almost all people that get a PhD in Strategy and Innovation end up being a Professor of some sort. What do I mean by this? People will end up as a research professor, a professor that teaches primarily, or a professor that does administration (like a Dean). There are differences, and all are equally valuable. The key differentiator is whether you have a preference to do research over the long-run, or whether you like to take on leadership roles in a university.

Going into Industry?

When I started the program, I thought that this would open up doors in consulting or senior management. Boy, I really did not do my research there. 🙂 And, secretly, I am quite happy having an academic career as a professor. The pay is not as good as industry, but I get to work on some really neat ideas. Every semester, students really surprise you too. The more I learn about this career, the more interesting it gets. While it is possible to go into consulting careers and the like, and people do go into industry, it is just not common and you are likely going to find the academic career more interesting. Moreover, you are likely to find it far more cost effective to do an MBA if you were to do this route. Although, I have heard in some countries (Germany, I believe), that it is more accepted practice to go into industry with a PhD. If you are thinking about going into industry, than you probably should read this post about doing a PhD to become a Business Executive where I put some good recommendations for your degree choice.

A Side Note On Academia.

It is generally not easy to find an academic position. It is becoming more common for PhDs of all areas to get non-academic careers. Further, post-doc positions in the organizational sciences for your first job is also becoming more accepted. Even just 10-20 years ago, this would have been very uncommon, but now it is almost becoming a norm. This means that after 4-7 years of a PhD degree, many people will continue and do 1-2 more years for a Post-doc (I did). Why I am I pointing this out? I think it is important for you to have full information before you think about a PhD in any field. It is a large commitment that you should take seriously, and you should be aware that getting an academic job is challenging, and is not likely to change in the near future.

Where Might You Find a Program With a Doctorate in Strategy and Innovation?

Talk to Your Professors.

Most programs that focus on innovation, technology, and strategic management are not going to be called a PhD in Strategy and Innovation. There are many PhD programs that are not called strategy and innovation, and yet people will actually study strategy and innovation in many areas. Many of the people that study the organizational sciences also do so out of research institutions, Departments of Sociology, Departments of Economics, and in some Engineering Schools. If you want to study creativity, you might have to go to a Psychology Department. I would first suggest that you go in talk to the faculty where you did your MBA or undergrad and ask them where the best possible place that you should go. Of course, this should be someone that you trust. They likely have good information. You should also ask people that are research active, as institutions that are ‘hot’ academically can be very different today as they were 10 years ago.

Business Administration Rankings.

You can also look at the rankings of the Colleges of Businesses or Business Schools around the world. I am not as big of a fan with such rankings as some others, as these numbers exclude many amazing scholars. There are many programs that have world class faculty that are not in the top places on this list. You also have to think strategically and find the place that best suits your needs.

A Tip To Select A PhD in Strategy And Innovation.

I am a big proponent of active search in the journals. Look at any of the major journals in the field (American Journal of Sociology, American Economic Review, Organization Science, Administrative Science Quarterly, Academy of Management Journals, Strategic Management Journal, and much more) and find an article that you find interesting from the past year. If you find some interesting study, see if you could improve on the study somehow and send the authors an email about how you loved their study and what you can do to build on the study. While this does not guarantee anything, it does start you on your way to building a relationship with a scholar you might finding interesting.

What About Online Doctoral Programs In Strategy?

Most major business schools and universities will not offer online programs. That is a good thing – you need to be close to your professors to do research. As well, there is a bunch of research that discusses that geographic proximity is important for knowledge transfer, like between Professors and their students. That being said, some people will still want to think about an online program for a PhD in business. If you are not thinking of becoming an academic, you could consider it. Would I personally recommend that you spend the time and resources on that degree (unless it is from a very legit university), no, but it is your choice. You can watch a YouTube video on the topic here: And another one here:

What About The PhD Application Process?

If you notice with this how to post about how to get a PhD In Strategy And Innovation, I actually ignore the application process. Most people, including me when I was younger, begin with the stage as place to start. I am actually wanting you to go a bit more deeper and think about doing a PhD in Strategy and Innovation in a deeper way. You should ask yourself if this is truly something you want to do? And, if it is, you should really try to look into finding people that you might find interesting to work with. This is a big move for most people and you should take it seriously. Yes, you should study for a long time for the GMAT, and write a nice application, but you should be focused on what you want to do and where you want to go with your PhD. I have some great posts to help you on the PhD application process. You really need to read them. These are all just tidbits and life lessons that I learned along the way:
  1. The advantages and disadvantages of a PhD or DBA in Business Administration.
  2. What is a better and easier standardized test? The GRE or GMAT?
  3. How to become a business school professor.
  4. Tips for applying to PhD Programs.
  5. Tips for meeting with your PhD advisor.
  6. Tips for writing your statement of purpose for a PhD program.
  7. Tips for your PhD interviews.

The R3ciprocity Project

If you are interested in learning more, you can watch this video below. I hope you find it helpful. By the way, this is part of my r3ciprocity project, where I trying to building a proofreading software that helps others, particularly graduate students. The goal is to not only solve a problem that we all have (anxiety over our writing), but also use this platform to advance organization science, through perhaps, giving scholarships to those that are interested in it some day based on the profits of the platform. Crazy idea, I know, but I like crazy. 😉