For many years, like most test prep professionals, I’ve recommended MBA applicants take whichever exam is “easier” for them when they ask me, should I take the GMAT or the GRE? With the 2023 ETS transition to a short-form GRE, I am no longer able to give that answer. Now, I tell every applicant, you’re definitely better off preparing to take the GMAT.
A Deliberate Update
In March 2023, the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC) announced that it would be updating the GMAT to a new GMAT Focus Edition. The transition between the tests was set to take about a full calendar year and in November 2023 the first official GMAT Focus exams would be offered, with the legacy version of the GMAT retiring January 31, 2024. Prior to the first official GMAT Focus administrations, the GMAC produced GMAT Focus-specific practice materials and six online GMAT Focus practice exams to help applicants prepare for the new version of the GMAT. No matter which exam you chose to attempt, the GMAC made sure to provide materials to help students excel on test day.
The most prominently promoted change from the GMAT to the GMAT Focus was its shortened duration from a more than three-hour exam to one that had exactly two hours and 15 minutes of test time split amongst three sections of 45 minutes each. To achieve this symmetry, the GMAT Focus would be significantly reconfigured. The Analytical Writing Assessment was completely jettisoned, saving 30 minutes of test time by removing what had long been an afterthought for admissions officers and applicants alike. A new Data Insights section combines the legacy Integrated Reasoning question formats with Data Sufficiency format questions that had previously been approximately 50% of the Quantitative section, and this section would be incorporated into the overall score for the first time. Meanwhile, the Quantitative section would be solely comprised of five-option multiple-choice Problem Solving questions and the Verbal section only made up of long passage Reading Comprehension and short passage Critical Reasoning questions after retiring the Sentence Correction format of the legacy GMAT Verbal section.
The scoring of the GMAT Focus is also similar, but different. The overall score is still in ten-point increments but, in addition to incorporating the former Integrated Reasoning questions for the first time, it will be on a scale of 205-805 so as to clearly differentiate between the legacy exam and the new one. The individual section scores are also more uniform for the three sections, with each on a scale of 60-90 in single point increments. To help students and administrators compare scores for the two exams, a concordance table has even been provided by the GMAC.
With these changes, GMAC has removed a lot of the more obscure content from its exam. Without Sentence Corrections in the Verbal section, the need to review grammar rules is completely gone. Furthermore, plane geometry had also been removed from the Quantitative section, so memorizing arcane triangle formulas is also a thing of the past. Instead, the GMAC has gotten back to basics by producing an exam that primarily tests logical thinking using the languages of math (arithmetic or algebra) and English (comprehension or argumentation).
A Cynical Response
At the end of May 2023, Educational Testing Services (ETS) declared that it too would be changing the GRE General Test, but that it would be doing so over the course of a 48-hour period that same September. Without providing any empirical data in support of its change, nor any actual change to exam content other than removal of about one-third of its questions and one of the essays, ETS declared that September 20, 2022 would be the final date of its legacy three-and-a-half hour GRE exam and September 22, 2022 would be the first date of a new, under two-hour, short form GRE.
In advance of the change, ETS did not provide any new short form GRE practice exams online except for a repackaging of one of the old freely available PowerPrep tests. As of this writing, there are actually more practice exams available from ETS online for the no longer available 3+ hour GRE than there are for the new short form version. The officially stated position of ETS has been that practicing with the longer exam will prepare individuals just as well since a shorter test must be easier! Having worked with a number of students during this transition, I can state unequivocally that this is not the case, and that the shorter exam actually seems to be producing lower scores since the margin for error has slimmed significantly.
In lieu of actually providing valuable practice resources or reasoning in support of its change, all of the official ETS transition documentation focused more on comparing the quantity of the short form GRE content to that of the GMAT rather than explaining how its changes are supposed to better gauge readiness for graduate studies or really provide any value. Furthermore, by not changing the content of the exam at all, the same amount of prep time spent memorizing obscure content remains to get ready for the short form GRE as it did before. Applicants will still need to study innumerable arcane vocabulary words for the Verbal section and long-forgotten geometry formulas for the Quantitative section. Even though the GRE exam has been shortened, the prep time for it remains the same and that is the number one reason I recommend that all MBA applicants choose the GMAT in the future.
Prep Yourself for B-School Success
For years, I heard the adage that the only thing that a standardized test measures is a student’s ability to take that standardized test. I certainly believe that to be true of the GRE. It is an absolutely arbitrary hodgepodge of antiquated vocabulary and scholastically irrelevant math concepts (graphing circles in the coordinate plane anyone!?) that allows use of a calculator so as to actually eliminate the possibility that it would measure manual calculation skills.
However, I do believe that preparing for the new GMAT Focus actually encourages and builds skills that will benefit a student in business school. Manual calculation without a calculator will create a better sense of numbers for your finance or accounting classes. Critical Reasoning questions will encourage a better understanding of rhetorical argumentation to help you identify faulty assumptions in business plans. The Data Insights section requiring engagement with different formats of information is simply preparing you to engage with unfamiliar information in a digital world intelligently and effectively.
It seems that people today always equivocate when asked to make a choice. I recently watched a video of a number of MBA admissions officers and none of them would take a definitive position on whether or not to even take a GRE or GMAT as part of an application packet. I will do it for them – take the GMAT or GMAT Focus, prep seriously, and you’ll improve your chances of getting accepted, obtaining merit scholarships or grants, and of succeeding in B-School once you get there.
About the Author
Stefan is an experienced education professional leading the effort at MyGuru to deliver uniquely engaging online tutoring. Under his guidance, MyGuru and Analyst Prep have launched an affordable GMAT prep course to cover all aspects of the exam. Stefan is also a test prep professor at Northeastern Illinois University holding a Bachelor’s degree in Communication from the University of Southern California and a Master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University, who has participated as an invited test prep expert at live college admissions events globally for schools such as the University of Chicago and ESMT Berlin.