GMAT versus GRE: The backdrop

GMAT and GRE are two internationally accepted tests, taken by students worldwide, as a prerequisite for graduate program admissions. GMAT (Graduate Management Aptitude Test) is a test accepted by over 6000 graduate programs in management across 110 countries. The test is developed by GMAC, a non-profit organization and is administered by Pearson VUE. GRE, on the other hand, is a test accepted by both graduate technical programs and business schools worldwide. It is developed by ETS and administered by Prometric, a wholly owned subsidiary of ETS.

For those who are not aware, GMAC and ETS, now at loggerheads, were married to each other for a long time – tied in a partnership to administer GMAT. Before Pearson VUE took over GMAC administration, it was ETS which prepared and administered the GMAT test. Today, both test providers are waging a war to attract students to take their tests. We are witnessing several strategic moves such as – drastic changes in test delivery coupled with aggressive promotions.

Who of the two will eventually win? – Only time can tell. But, if there is one set that is benefitting from this cat fight today, it is the student community!

GMAT versus GRE history: Rift between GMAC & ETS over GMAT

The history of GMAT is an interesting story in itself. A meeting between a council of deans of top US universities (comprising of Columbia, Harvard, U Chicago, U Michigan and others) and ETS in 1953 led to the launch of ‘The Admission Test for Graduate Study in Business’ (ATGSB) in 1954. ATGSB, an entrance test for graduate business schools changed its name to GMAT in 1976. While ETS continued to develop questions and administer the test under the monitoring of GMAC since its inception in 1954, the long standing relation eventually came to an end in January 2006. That was when ACT Inc and Pearson VUE took over the development and administration of the GMAT test from ETS. While there are many stories associated with the fall-off between ETS and GMAC, GMAT administration and scoring related errors by ETS and differences in management vision regarding global expansion were major causes.

Once ETS lost its GMAT contract, the then ETS President Kurt Landgraf clearly expressed his intentions to continue to stay in the B-School admission testing space. Soon, ETS started exploring alternate ways. The answer was – GRE!

GRE, which had historically been the entrance test for MS /PhD programs worldwide, saw a series of major changes in its exam format in 2011. During the same time, ETS started aggressively promoting GRE as a test for graduate B-School admissions as an alternative to GMAT. The test pattern changes and the entry into the B-School space by GRE were too much of a coincidence and the intention of ETS was apparent. ETS had an uphill task to match GMAT in terms of scientific relevance to management program admissions. This is where GMAT held distinction since it was perceived to have high correlation with candidates’ performance in the first year of studies in B-Schools.

One thing was clear at this point of time – with ETS and GMAC poised to compete for the same pie – B-School applicants – they had to bring in a series of changes in their current tests to woo B-School applicants while being relevant to B-Schools.

The GMAT versus GRE WAR: How have the GRE & GMAT tests changed in recent years?

Let’s look at a timeline to understand how GMAC and ETS brought changes in its tests.

Major announcements / changes GMAC (for GMAT) ETS (for GRE)
2006 Changed development and administration partners from ETS to ACT Inc and Pearson VUE Announced intentions to venture into graduate business school admission entrance test space with components of GRE
2007 Included new types of questions in GRE, mostly in math sections.
2009 Conducts a major study to gather feedback from its member business schools about how it could improve the GMAT – the outcome of this research led to introduction of IR section in 2012 Announces upcoming GRE test pattern changes in December
2011 Major changes in test pattern from Aug 1, 2011 onwards:

·  Longer testing time

·  Scoring shifted from 1600 to 340 point system (170 each in verbal and quantitative sections)

·  Enhanced focus on testing reasoning skills (by making it more application and less vocab oriented) in verbal – Replaced analogies, antonyms and sentence completions with sentence equivalence and text completion questions while adding more RC questions.

·  Added online calculator

·  Changed from question wise adaptive to section wise adaptive test allowing students to go to or return to any question at any point of time within the same section

Starts aggressively promoting GRE as an option for business school admissions.

2012 Added Integrated Reasoning section based on a research in 2009.

Reduced 2 Analytical Writing questions to 1 by removing “Analyze an Issue” question.

Introduced the Score Select Option – allow test takers to select and send the GRE test score(s) to universities as per their wish (Most Recent, All and Any options to choose scores).
2014 Introduced new student friendly features in a move to counter GRE’s score cancellation and reinstatement policies:

·    Preview unofficial score – Students could preview their unofficial scores just after their test with a 2-minute window to cancel it

·    Score Cancel Option – Within the above 2 minute window, the students could cancel their scores

·    Score Reinstatement – If a candidate desires to reinstate a previously cancelled score within 60 days of taking the test, he can do so at a fee of $100

2015 Based on student inputs, GMAT brought in further changes:

·  Updated Cancellation Policies – ‘C’ which stood for a cancelled score would no longer be shown in the score report

·  Retaking GMAT – Candidates could now re-take the GMAT after a 16 day period (as against the previous 31 day period)

·  Reduced test centre complexity faced by a student by replacing authentication code with date of birth

GMAT launched the Enhanced Score report for better candidate performance analytics

2016 Select Section Order (Pilot run) – ability to select the order in which the Essay, IR, Verbal, Quant sections appear during the test as against the current sequence of Essay > IR > Verbal > Quant

Updated cancellation & reinstatement policy – Allowed students to reinstate their GMAT score within 4 years and 11 months of taking the test

Interpreting the changes in GMAT by GMAC: While the GMAT test pattern has not changed much in recent years apart from the introduction of Integrated Reasoning section in 2012, most of the other changes have been in respect to improving test taking experience of aspirants. Clearly, the motive behind introducing the IR section is to bolster its position of being the most preferred test for B-Schools. GMAT scores share a high correlation with first year performance in B-Schools and GMAC aims to build on this strength to prove its relevance – something which hasn’t proved to be GRE’s forte. Also, the roll out of student friendly features is an effort to retain and grow its test taker base.

Interpreting the changes in GRE by ETS: GRE, has undergone various pattern changes in an attempt to become relevant to B-Schools – the verbal section today is less vocabulary heavy and more application oriented. While major changes have been in this direction, important features like Score Select have been rolled out to woo aspirants to take the test. Besides increasing its acceptance in B-Schools, ETS has been aggressively promoting GRE as an option for business school applicants.

GMAT versus GRE: How GRE & GMAT compare today

Exam Pattern 1 Essay tasks –  ‘Analyze an Argument’


1 Integrated Reasoning section – 12 questions


1 Verbal section – 41 questions


1 Quantitative section – 37 questions

2 Essay tasks – ‘Analyze an Issue’, ‘Analyze an Argument’


2 Verbal section – 20 questions in each


2 Quantitative section – 20 questions in each

Exam Duration 3.5 Hours 3.75 Hours
Test Takers ~0.25 million ~0.6 million
Test Acceptance Widespread acceptance in graduate business programs Widespread acceptance for graduate programs in technical fields while inching closer to GMAT for business programs.

At present 85+ top B-Schools accept GMAT for graduate management program admissions

Validity 5 years 5 years
Maximum Attempts Up to 5 times in a year (365 days) Up to 5 times in a year (365 days)
Retaking 16 days gap required 21 days
Cancellation & Reinstatement policies Score Cancel

Score Reinstate (within 4 years 11 months)

Score Select

Score Cancel

Score Reinstate (within 60 days)



–   Registration fee USD 250 (includes score reporting to 5 schools) USD 205 (includes score reporting to 4 schools)
–   Re-scheduling fee USD 50 USD 50
–   Additional Score Reporting USD 28 USD 27

GMAT versus GRE: A summary

The war between GMAT and GRE has been a fight of relevance and candidate acquisition strategies and both parties have been dolling out student friendly features to attract the test takers. Today, while most top universities are accepting both the tests for their management programs, they are keeping mum on their preferences between GRE and GMAT. However, statistics is yet to reveal the true impact of penetration of GRE in GMAT’s space. Who will win? Only time can say that. But one this is clear, there is no better time for test-takers – if you plan to prepare and take the GRE or GMAT test, do it NOW!


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