Applying to business school can be nerve-wracking, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, when testing protocols are a shifting target influenced by public health needs. In a normal year, business schools require applicants to submit standardized test scores, either the GMAT (Graduate Management Assessment Test), GRE (Graduate Records Exam), or EA (Executive Assessment) scores. This year, some schools are changing admissions testing requirements, including how and even when they view these admissions tests. As the numbers of business school applicants increase, it’s important to not only do your best on whatever entrance exam you take but to also choose the right exam for the schools you’re applying to. Before you decide which test to take, do your homework to identify not only which test(s) your programs accept, but also whether they prefer one test over the others. If you have choices, then the following breakdown of the tests will help you discern which test might be best for you to take and submit for consideration.
First, a history lesson: you didn’t always have a choice for which admissions test to take to apply to business school. In 1954, 1,291 candidates sat for the first administration of the Admission Test for Graduate Study in Business—now the GMAT exam. It was the only admissions test accepted for business school until 2009, when the GRE became an acceptable admissions test for business school programs, even though it had traditionally been used for most graduate school programs. Then, in 2016, the EA was introduced into the admissions test family, developed as another option for Executive MBA programs. Now, some full-time MBA programs also accept it, while some Executive MBA programs focus so much more on work experience that they don’t even require test scores at all. To make matters even more confusing, there are even some business programs that accept other tests, such as the MCAT (admissions test for medical school), LSAT (admissions test for law school), and the DAT (admissions test for dental school)! As a test prep company, our students are headed to programs that require one of the standardized tests, and typically they are deciding between the GMAT, GRE, and the EA. Each is a distinct test with some very clear differences, even though some of the content is comparable.
Upon first glance, when comparing the EA to the other two tests, it may seem like the most attractive choice because it is so much shorter than the other two tests and has more scheduling flexibility. However, when looking at EA scores, schools consider whether the test taker’s EA passes a 150-point threshold. This is opposed to looking at a ranked score, as admissions officers would with the GRE or GMAT, which gives you an opportunity to stand out with a high score. For the GMAT, impressive scores are close to 800, while high scores for the GRE are close to 170.
Despite its attractive features, the EA still might not be the best test for your needs. First, if you’re applying to EMBA programs, you’ll want to find out directly which test your program accepts or prefers. For example, two extremely competitive schools may have different policies: Booth School of Business’s EMBA program at University of Chicago prefers the EA exam, while Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania prefers the GMAT. There are also other factors as well, about the tests themselves. Consider the following factors to make the best decision in choosing between taking the EA, GMAT, and GRE. (For a detailed comparison of the GMAT and GRE, go here).
Almost 100 schools in all and even some full-time MBA programs accept the EA as an option for entry, such as Columbia Business School, NYU’s Stern, University of Virginia’s Darden Business School, and Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management. Likewise, the GRE is accepted by many programs, but not all. The GMAT is the most widely accepted, used by over 2,100 schools. So check your MBA or EMBA programs to find out whether or not they require, accept, or prefer the GMAT, EA, or GRE before submitting your application.
The most obvious difference between the tests is duration: the GRE is longest at 3 hours and 45 minutes, the GMAT is 3 hours and 30 minutes with breaks, and the EA only 90 minutes—half the time, and number of questions of the GMAT test, which it emulates. (The EA contains 40 questions while the GMAT contains 80). The tests all cover similar content; For the EA and GMAT, the content is identical, so you won’t necessarily prepare less for the EA multiple choice questions, but you might not get as fatigued when taking the shorter EA compared to the GMAT. While length might be a convincing consideration of whether to take the EA or one of the other tests, some students do better with a marathon-opportunity test versus the comparative EA sprint.
Both the EA and GRE contain three sections, as compared with the GMAT that has four sections. Here are details on the content:
- All tests contain Quantitative and Verbal sections.
- The GMAT and EA have an Integrated Reasoning section.
- Both the GRE and GMAT have a writing section while the EA has no Analytical Writing Assessment section.
- The EA and GMAT’s verbal section focuses more on grammar, whereas the GRE’s focuses more on vocabulary. The verbal section of these EA and GMAT include the same question types: Critical Reasoning, Reading Comprehension, and Sentence Correction. On the other hand, the GRE’s verbal section consists of Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence.
- The EA and GMAT’s math sections consist of Data Sufficiency and Problem Solving questions, while the GRE includes Quantitative Comparison questions and numeric entry questions.
Structure of Scoring
Once you decide that you’re more comfortable with grammar, you can dig deeper to compare the it’s presentation between the EA and GMAT. Movement through these tests and their computer adaptiveness are different. The EA is section adaptive, which means it adapts its difficulty after every group of seven questions answered. The GMAT on the other hand, is item adaptive, which means it changes difficulty after every single question.
The GRE is also section adaptive. On this test, Verbal and Quant sections are each divided into two parts. The first parts of each section that is presented are of medium skill level, and the difficulty for the next section adjusts depending on your performance. For example, if you score highly on your first Verbal section, then you will get a harder second Verbal section than someone who scored lower on the first section. Therefore, your performance on the first part of each section is somewhat more important, as a high score in the first part allows for more difficult questions in the second section, leading to a higher score.
While knowing these patterns are useful, ultimately it’s important to remember that the most vital question at any point is the one you are working on. So, being present with each question is the best way to engage with any of these tests.
Furthermore, we approach EA and GMAT test content as a metaphor for how an applicant will perform as a business leader. The questions simulate executive reasoning skills and situations, such as whether you take smart risks or are reckless, how you prioritize, and if you think outside of the box, etc… The GRE, as stated earlier, is used as an admissions test for a myriad of graduate programs, so it’s more general, and while you’ll employ critical thinking skills, it’s not as obvious a metaphor for being anything other than a test taker!
Generally speaking, the GMAT will test your academic readiness more rigorously than the EA, which focuses on the applicability of your skills to real-life problems. You might also choose which test to take based on what math content is included or excluded. The EA Quantitative section doesn’t contain geometry, so if that is not your strong suit, the EA might be the test for you. Beyond that, Quant content does not vary much between all three tests. We won’t get into the weeds by comparing apples to oranges with any depth here, but some people swear the GRE is a little easier than the GMAT/EA tests.
The EA was designed to be a readiness assessment, which indicates whether a student has the skills to perform at the graduate level. This means that it’s not about getting the highest score, but whether you pass a certain threshold. On the other hand, the GMAT and the GRE are looked at in terms of how high you score, and that indicates your relative comfort with material on the test.
Schools will often accept EA scores in which a test taker scores at least 150 points on a scale of 100-200. The GMAT score range is 200-800, and students who are aiming for entry into competitive programs desire 700+ scores, and for the most competitive, 750+. The GRE is scored on a scale of 130-170, and you’ll need to reach out to your desired school to find out their school’s desired score range. However, this is sometimes difficult to find out, or the range given is large.
All test scores are good for 5 years.
The EA has a 2-test lifetime limit but you can take both the GMAT and the GRE significantly more times than that. You can take the GMAT exam once every 16 calendar days, but no more than five times in a rolling 12-month period and no more than eight times total. You can take the GRE once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days). This applies even if you canceled your scores on a test taken previously.
The tests have different fees: The GMAT costs $250, the EA costs $350, and the GRE costs $205. The $100 price difference between the GMAT and EA might be an important factor to consider, especially if you are applying to non-executive MBA programs. However, the higher cost of the EA brings you more features, including no rescheduling fee and no extra costs to send your results to schools.
Cancellation and Rescheduling
There is no fee to reschedule the EA, but you must do it online within 48 hours of your exam. On the other hand, there is a fee to reschedule or cancel your GMAT appointment based on the following rescheduling and cancellation deadlines: Here is the full schedule of fees for the GMAT™Exam and related services, and the GMAT™ Handbook for the policies and fees related to rescheduling and canceling your GMAT exam. In fact, when you reschedule or cancel your GMAT appointment by phone, you will be charged an additional $10 service fee. Cancelations, refunds, and rescheduling fees will apply, depending on when you request the change and as applicable by local law. If you miss your appointment, you may schedule a new exam without waiting a full 16 days, but you must schedule by phone and pay the full registration fee. For the GRE, you must cancel your test registration no later than four full days before your test date, or your test fee will be forfeited. If you cancel your test no later than four full days prior to your test date, you will receive a refund equivalent to half of the original test fee.
Some perks to the EA over the GMAT and GRE include it being very flexible to reschedule and it doesn’t carry a fee to do so, as long as you do this online more than 48 hours before your test date. Included in the test fee are the score reports sent to schools. You pay more upfront, but don’t need to pay anything later, even if you want to report your score to more schools. You can do this whenever you want, for free. And if you take the test a second, final time, you can choose to send that set of scores to schools—not your entire history.
Short and Long Term Consequences
Two reasons to choose one test over the others is their consideration in scholarship opportunities, as well as their importance for future internships and job possibilities. For scholarships, consider which tests are required or accepted by the program you’re planning. For job considerations, some companies in the fields of consulting or investment banking require an applicant to have exceptionally high test scores, and these companies often prefer the GMAT over the EA and GRE. Because of this, some enrolled students will even take the GMAT while in business school in order to meet this requirement, but if you don’t need to take 2 tests, then why would you?
The last consideration of the GRE over the other two tests if you choose to do a dual degree. Some programs, such as JD/MBA may require both tests, and even have a specific order with which to take these tests. Again: do your research!
|Structure||Analytical Writing section with one essay: 30 minutes|
Integrated Reasoning section: 30 minutes
Quantitative section: 62 minutes
Verbal section: 65 minutes
|Analytical Writing sections: two 30-minute essays|
Verbal Reasoning sections: two 30-minute sections
Quantitative Reasoning section: two 35-minute sections
30-35-minute experimental section that can be either math or verbal
|Integrated Reasoning section with 12 questions: 30 minutes|
Verbal section with 14 questions: 30 minutes
Quantitative section with 14 questions: 30 minutes
|Format||Computer delivered||Computer delivered||Computer delivered|
|Test time||3 hours 7 minutes||3 hours 45 minutes||1 hour 30 minutes|
|The composite score has a range from 200-800, which includes your scores from the Verbal and Quantitative sections.|
The score range for Analytical Writing is 0-6, in half-point increments
The score range for the Integrated Reasoning section is 1-8, in one-point increments.
|The Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections have a score range of 130-170, in one-point increments|
The Analytical Writing section has a scale of 0-6, in half-point increments
The three section scores are reported separately and not combined into a single composite score.
|Total scores range from 100-200 points. |
All three sections are equally weighted in determining your total result.
|Score Validity||5 Years||5 Years||5 Years|
|Test Retakes||You can take the GMAT exam once every 16 calendar days, but no more than five times in a rolling 12-month period and no more than eight times total.||You can take the GRE once every 21 days, up to five times within any continuous rolling 12-month period (365 days). This applies even if you canceled your scores on a test taken previously.||2-test lifetime limit|
|Content||Item-adaptive: question difficulty adjusts after every question |
Verbal section focuses more on grammar
|Section-adaptive: difficulty of questions adjusts after every block of questions |
Verbal section focuses on vocabulary
|Section-adaptive: difficulty of questions adjusts after every block of questions |
Does not test on geometry knowledge
Function and Form
There are many factors to consider when choosing which test to take when applying to business school. No matter which one you choose, the GMAT and EA are designed to showcase your knowledge and readiness to the schools that you apply for and the GRE is considered for so many types of programs, that it’s not specifically a business school test. That’s still not a reason to ‘not’ take it. Consider whether you would like to highlight your academic readiness or your career accomplishments when applying, remember that adequate preparation is the key to acing any test. If you want to improve on any of the tests mentioned, they are all highly coachable, so you might not want to go at it, alone! We’re confident that we can help you earn your best score, so for more information, contact our office.
In this odd COVID-19 time, reach out to the schools you’re applying to find out their current requirements for tests. It’s been a moving target across the testing landscape. And remember: the test you take is only one data point of your application, so working with an effective admission consultant is something to consider to make your candidacy shine. If you’re not sure which test to take, take a diagnostic of each test and track your performance and how it feels taking each test. With all things being equal, take the test on which you score highest and feel the most confident.