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Low GMAT Percentiles - Retake the GMAT or Try the GRE?

Posted by The Prep4GMAT Team

Dec 12, 2021 12:22:00 PM

Where there was one, there now is two.  For over half a century, students took the GMAT as part of the application process for business school, but today there's a choice.  Business schools, including many top-ranked programs, now accept the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, in lieu of the GMAT.  This super-charged SAT tests the same skills as the GMAT -- verbal and quantitative reasoning -- yet its format and test sections differ significantly, possibly to some testers' advantage. 

Testers whose verbal abilities outweigh their quantitative skills often score higher on the GRE than on the GMAT.  While both exams only cover high school level math concepts, the GMAT's math problems are more demanding and complex since math is a critical component of business education and practice.  The GRE, on the other hand, is the entrance exam for a wide range of graduate programs, including many in which math is never used, so questions are generally less complicated.

This presents an intriguing prospect for business school applicants who struggle on the GMAT quantitative section.  If your current score is lower than desired, say in the 60th GMAT percentile when you're aiming for the 80th percentile, then perhaps you can ameliorate this weakness by taking the GRE.

Is the GRE a solution to low quantitative GMAT percentiles?

Taking the GRE may be a smart choice, but the efficacy of this choice is contingent on a number of factors, a few of which can be difficult to judge.  In deciding to take the GRE, or submit GRE scores instead of GMAT scores, you need to decide which test gives you the best advantage based on the schools to which you are applying.  

In the last few years, a number of programs have been favorable to the GRE, accepting students whose GRE results translate to GMAT scores significantly lower than the programs’ average GMAT scores.  However, students who choose the GRE make up a small percentage of applicants at the majority of schools, so the sample size of the data is small.  Additionally, how admission offices evaluate GRE scores is likely changing as the option increases in popularity.  

Score advantages and disadvantages

If you have taken the GRE and the GMAT, assessing which test gives you the best advantage is relatively simple.  GRE scores are easily translated into GMAT scores and percentiles using ETS’s comparison tool.  However, sometimes an improvement in the quantitative percentile masks an overall score decline.

For example,  let's say you plan to apply to a few top programs that all boast of admitted classes with high average GMAT scores.  Your current GMAT score is 650, likely a little low for a top school, yet your quantitative score falls in the 60th percentile, far below the average at these schools. 

You decide to take the GRE, hoping to increase your quantitative score, and you do make an improvement, jumping from the 60th GMAT percentile to the 78 GRE percentile in quantitative reasoning.  However, your complete GRE score, after converting it to GMAT percentiles and scores, only comes to 590.  It's doubtful that this GRE score presents an advantage over your GMAT score despite the improvement in the quantitative ranking.

If you haven't taken the GRE but are contemplating it, think about whether the effort would be worth it.  Consider the following factors:

  • How well do the specific questions and sections of the GRE play to your strengths? For example, while the GRE's math is simpler, you may find the verbal questions more difficult.  The GRE focuses on vocabulary and reading comprehension rather than grammar.  If these strengths match your own, the GRE could be a wise choice.
  • What's your intended concentration in business school?  If you intend to study a math-heavy subject, such as finance or accounting, then taking the GRE may be viewed negatively by admissions officers.
  • How much effort are you willing to spend studying?  Just because GRE quant is easier than GMAT quant, it doesn't mean the test is easy.  Taking the GRE isn't a quick fix; it requires dedicated studying just like the GMAT.

Schools: the elusive variable

The second aspect is admittedly more difficult to judge.  It's only been a short amount of time since business schools started accepting GRE scores, and admission offices are still evolving in how they evaluate GRE applicants.  Furthermore, few schools have released much data on admitted students who submitted GRE scores. 

Despite these uncertainties, the programs that have released data on accepted GRE applicants appear to be favorable to the GRE.  However, you'll need to do some research on the particular schools you plan to apply to. 

  • First, make sure your intended schools accept GRE scores.  For a full list, check out the ETS website.
  • Check any available data on a program's past GRE applicants.  Look for how many applicants generally submit GRE scores and how they fare compared with GMAT applicants.  A number of programs such as Duke's Fuqua, U. Penn.'s Wharton, Yale and Texas's McComb's school of business have released information including the average GRE scores accepted in years past.

Remember, submitting GRE scores make the most sense when their advantages are twofold: 1) They have a score and percentile advantage over your GMAT scores and 2) they play favorably in your desired schools' admission pools.   


Topics: Quantitative, GMAT Strategies, GMAT Percentiles

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