GMAT vs GRE: here’s what MBA applicants need to know heading into 2023

BY Meghan MalasMay 10, 2022, 2:49 PM
A student has a tented study area to himself at the University of California, Irvine, as seen in October 2020. (Photo by Paul Bersebach—MediaNews Group/Orange County Register/Getty Images)

A lot goes into putting together a strong application for an MBA program: recommendation letters, personal essays, a curation of applicable work experiences, and undergraduate GPA, for example. Additionally, many applicants hope to submit a high GMAT or GRE score to boost their chances of admission. 

It’s no secret that the GMAT and GRE are the most popular tests among business school applicants. However, in recent years, the option to submit an application without test scores has become more widespread. In 2021, 45% of programs waived admissions tests, according to the 2021 Application Trends Survey conducted by GMAC. 

But test-optional policies aren’t just a reaction to complications caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools plan to maintain their new policies, including top-ranked schools like the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, Michigan State University’s Broad College of Business, and Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business see a median starting salary of $110,000 a year or more for 2021 graduates

More online MBA programs are adopting flexible testing policies. Among the schools on Fortune‘s 2022 ranking of the best online MBA programs, only 34% require test scores. Last year, 42% of online programs in Fortune’s ranking required applicants to submit GMAT or GRE test scores.

“Even with more schools no longer requiring a test result, many candidates still choose to submit a score,” says John Fulmer, content director for the GMAT and GRE at The Princeton Review. A good score on the GMAT or GRE can help mitigate concerns about academic deficits, like less-than-ideal grades, he adds. 

With the state of standardized tests in business school admissions in flux, Fortune spoke with two experts to find out what MBA applicants should expect heading into the 2023 admissions season.

Candidates prefer the GMAT and are split on test-optional policies

The GMAT is still the most popular option for MBA admissions. Among candidates applying for an MBA program, GMAT scores are submitted four times more often than GRE scores, according to GMAC analysis.

This isn’t surprising given that the GMAT is designed for business school admissions and the GRE is a more general test for graduate-level program admissions. But more business schools will take either the GMAT or the GRE, and a growing number of schools accept Executive Assessment scores, Fulmer says. 

A little more than half (56%) of business school candidates believe admissions exams like the GMAT and GRE improve the fairness and transparency of business school admissions, according to GMAC’s 2022 Prospective Students Survey.

Some students see other variables as reliable indicators of their success, sans GMAT or GRE scores. These factors include essays, letters of recommendation, the interview process, and evaluation of prior work and academic experience. Nixing test requirements also expands the applicant pool for those applicants who don’t have the time and resources to prepare for the GMAT or GRE

But on the other hand, some students see the admissions test as a necessary metric when building a cohort, given the importance of a strong cohort to the MBA experience. According to the same survey, 59% of business school candidates say admissions tests demonstrate the importance the school places on the quality of the students they admit.

“When you are in a business school, you learn as much from the experiences and perspectives of your fellow students as you learn from faculty,” says Sangeet Chowfla, president and CEO of GMAC. “Students are very focused on not just them being admitted to a particular school, but also the quality of the students that will be admitted along with them.”

The 2020 Prospective Students Survey also found that international candidates view GMAT and GRE score requirements especially favorably. Among the international candidates surveyed, 66% agree that admissions exams are an effective way to determine which students to admit. 

“If you are an international student, you might already be concerned about whether people understand you and the experiences on your application,” Chowfla says. “Standardized tests give an objective data point that can serve as an anchor for your application.” 

GMAT and GRE test-takers are savvier about their options

Closed testing centers prompted GMAC and Educational Testing Service (ETS), the administrator of the GRE test, to create at-home testing options for prospective students. Remote test-taking is growing in popularity, Fulmer says.

While some applicants may be indifferent about the mode of testing, a remote option could mean all the difference for students who experience higher levels of anxiety in a test center environment. Fulmer stresses that both the at-home and test center versions are the same, so the decision to take one over the other depends on a candidate’s personal preferences and situation. 

Competition is important to keep in mind, too. In 2020, business schools saw a surge in applications overall, and these levels were maintained in 2021, upping the competition among applicants. “In that context, people can use a standardized test score to showcase their talent in this particularly competitive environment,” Chowfla says. 

The dust has not yet settled on GMAT and GRE policies

Before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, test policies were already becoming more relaxed across business school. However, the trend expedited amid concerns about test availability and access to test centers. 

Most of those concerns have been addressed by now—and yet, many flexible test policies remain. That’s partly due to the influx of remote and online MBA programs that have launched in recent years, as those programs typically don’t have very rigorous admissions testing requirements, says Chowfla.

Admissions tests are typically used as a key indicator of how well a prospective student will perform in their cohort, classroom, and business school environment. If a student is considering a top-rated traditional MBA program, they are more inclined to take the GMAT or GRE to showcase their readiness and talent. 

“The test waivers first went into place for people who joined in 2020, and in the context of a two-year MBA program, they haven’t even graduated yet,” Chowfla says. “So the data is still being developed by schools about the benefits or disadvantages of leaving testing—I think the dust is still settling.”

See how the schools you’re considering landed in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s in public health programsbusiness analytics programsdata science programs, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.