This month’s QS Top MBA newsletter takes a look at a dilemma soon to be at the forefront at many business schools: GMAT or GRE, which test is best? For the fall 2007 class, both Stanford and MIT accepted GRE scores from applicants to their MBA programs. Johns Hopkins University has also been giving students the option.

A January article in Inside Higher Ed says that according to several other business school admissions officials who asked not to be identified, their schools have been accepting GRE scores quietly–not publicizing it as an option, but not turning away applicants who want to be considered that way. And consultants, such as those from Stacy Blackman Consulting, have seen some clients obtain permission to use the GRE instead, on a case-by-case basis.

“We were talking with faculty about whether we were attracting the most intellectually curious students, about whether MBA programs were attracting students with a genuine intellectual curiosity with the subject matter,” says Derrick Bolton, director of MBA admissions at Stanford. The business school there has always used the GRE for admission to its doctoral programs, and someone said ”˜why do we require the GMAT’ for the MBA?’” Bolton recalls. “It’s just one of those things that you accept as gospel until someone asks you the question.”

The GMAT has for some time been the established test for getting into business schools. It measures verbal, mathematical and analytical skills that the candidate has developed in education and at work. It does not measure specific knowledge of business, job skills, or subjective qualities such as motivation, creativity, and interpersonal skills. Even if a test taker’s first language is not English, he or she may still perform well on the exam.

The GRE measures the extent to which undergraduate education has developed a student’s verbal and quantitative skills in abstract thinking. For non-native speakers, the GRE requires a far broader knowledge of vocabulary, writing skills and general subjects than the GMAT. Without good English and writing skills it is impossible to get a good score in the GRE. So, for non-fluent English speakers, their best bet would be to stick with the GMAT.

One essential difference pointed out by Top MBA: the GRE requires you to do the arguing, whereas in the GMAT you analyze what has been argued. The style expected from GRE test readers is more abstract and draws from various sources and disciplines for examples or references, whereas it is more concrete and analytical for the GMAT. This supports the suitability of the GRE for the more academically-minded student.

Not everyone agrees with that line of thinking, however. In the post GMAT or GRE, splitting hairs?, Peter Sacks Amazon Blog scoffs at the idea that the GRE provides a more intellectually curious applicant pool, saying that “there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that most admissions tests actually punish individuals with thinking and learning styles that we might call ‘intellectually curious,’ who tend to solve problems using creativity and imagination.” He goes on to say that top business schools “need to take a much broader approach to admissions reform, and start asking the hard questions about relying on such tests for admission, whether it’s the GMAT or the GRE.”

Proponents of the GRE option believe it may help business schools attract classes that are more diverse and more intellectual, and to land students who are considering both business school and master’s or Ph.D. programs in economics or other business-related fields. Applicants to business schools say that they also like the price: $140 for the GRE compared to $250 for the GMAT.

Some supporters say that they are intrigued by the GRE option but are facing pressure from the Graduate Management Admission Council, a group of leading business schools, which created the GMAT, not to deviate from requiring that test. Officially, the council’s rules demand that members require the GMAT. Council officials deny that they are pressuring anyone and note that they have not kicked out the business schools that no longer require GMAT. But tensions are evident in talking not only to council officials, but to business school leaders who say they are worried about offending the council.

This issue will not likely be resolved soon, but prospective applicants interested in taking the GRE instead should first ask which tests their top-choice schools will accept. It never hurts to inquire, especially if your score on one is stronger.

sources: QS Top MBA, Inside Higher Ed

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