Updated June 2020
Up until fairly recently, students seeking an MBA had only one option for their admissions test: the Graduate Management Assessment Test (GMAT). This changed a few years ago when most business schools began accepting the Graduate Records Exam (GRE) score, and today, close to 90% of business schools accept both tests. Perhaps you’re now faced with the choice of which test to take. We have compiled this information to help you make an informed decision more easily by providing a thorough breakdown of the differences between these two tests.
We consider that there is nothing more revelatory to your decision process than your results from taking good old-fashioned GRE and GMAT diagnostic tests. Your performance and feelings about taking the test are likely more important determinants beyond the data and information herein. Whichever test you score highest on and feels easier and better in the taking, we recommend as your ultimate deciding factor. Still there are other factors, such as location and frequency of when the test is offered and available, and whether certain schools will reward financial support as the result of takingone test over another.
COVID-19 UPDATE and CONSIDERATIONS: Test dates and centers are in flux due to the pandemic, and GMAC/ETS are allowing at-home proctored exams through August 14, 2020. Check the sites and scheduling to see where you can take your exam, and if there are spots…and how this coalesces with your application deadlines. Also anticipate that you’ll likely want (or need) to take your test twice, so plan accordingly.
If you’re still not sure after acquiring more information and taking diagnostic tests, we can offer our expert prognosis through an evaluation which will identify your strengths, weaknesses, and any patterns in HOW you answer questions (not just which you answer incorrectly). Contact us to speak with our GRE/GMAT professionals so we can provide feedback on which test will reflect your best score and will meet your goals/needs.
To help you gain an informational edge, I cover the differences between the GMAT and GRE tests, and some steps you can take to determine what your choice business schools prefer. I’ve provided a comprehensive breakdown and comparison of both exams. Both test scores are valid for up to 5 years, so you have options and time to take your test and apply to your program. Most of the students we have worked with, however, take their test within months of applying to programs. You’ll also want to speak to an admissions consultant if you are leaning towards the GRE in case they have knowledge as to why you might NOT want to take this exam based on the school you’re applying to, or whether you have long term professional goals in which the GMAT is better to have on your resume. We work with several amazing advisors, so don’t hesitate to ask and we’ll connect you with a knowlegeable consultant.
While most business schools in the US now accept the GRE in addition to the GMAT, you’ll still want to confirm with these official links that the MBA programs you’re interested in are among them. Schools that accept the GRE and schools that accept the GMAT are linked here. While we encourage students to take the test that they feel and perform better on, some schools view the tests differently. In a 2015 survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep, they found that out of 222 business schools, 25% prefer the GMAT over the GRE. This number had risen from 18% in their 2014 survey. (It has not been updated since 2015). Still, some of the country’s most prestigious business schools, including Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, have specifically stated that they consider the GMAT and GRE equally.
GMAT and GRE Test Overview
Structure, Scores, Timing, and Prices
MBA programs have historically accepted the GMAT exclusively, but recently became amenable to the GRE. If a school says they accept the GRE, they really do welcome it; though you’ll have to dig a little deeper to ensure they do not favor one test over the other. For some industries, the GMAT remains a great personal data point to put on your resume. The GMAT is only used for business schools, so some schools might consider you a more serious and focused candidate. This compares with the GRE test which is a general admissions test for most, if not all, graduate school programs. We often affectionately refer to the GRE as the “SAT on steroids” due to its more general nature as well as level of difficulty.
Both GRE and GMAT are taken on a computer. The GMAT is a CAT test (Computer Adaptive Test). As of April 2018, the GMAT changes the difficulty level of its questions every quartile, as opposed to after each individual question as it was done prior. The level of dificulty reacts to the accuracy of your answer choices. The difficulty level changes as you move through the test: it will increase or decrease based on whether you answer questions correctly or not. The theory is that when you answer correctly, the grouping will either be more difficult, or at the same level, but testing a different concept than the prior grouping. Likewise, the opposite is true: if you answer questions incorrectly, your next questions will either be easier or at the same level, but testing a different concept. You move through the entire test with this adapting process determining your path through the database of questions. A veritable ‘choose your own adventure,’ if you will.
While not advisable, you are able to leave a question blank on the GMAT; however, you are unable to return to any prior question on the test. You can only move forward, progressing on the test.
City Test Prep PRO TIP: Generally, it’s believed that questions at the end of the GMAT parse between a smaller score range, and that those questions in the beginning of GMAT represent a sifting larger score range. As a result of this theory, many test prep companies promote spending the most time getting earlier test questions correct. GMAC, the folks who make the GMAT, keep their scoring algorithm under lock and key, and dispute this ‘gaming’ strategy.
Whereas the GMAT‘s “adaptability” responds question-by-question, the GRE is also adaptive, but only by entire sections. Your performance on the first section of Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning affects the difficulty level of the questions on your second session relative to each subject. Unlike the GMAT, you are able to move around within each GRE section, returning to questions you’ve already answered or left blank.
City Test Prep PRO TIP: While moving around a section provides flexibility, we recommend students be self-aware of their ‘second-guessing’ behavior to determine whether this is a pattern to encourage or limit.
Structure and Timing
The GMAT has four sections, consisting of three multiple choice sections (Verbal, Quant, and Integrated Reasoning) and one Essay Prompt Question. There is not a separate “experimental section,” but rather, ‘research’ questions are embedded within each Verbal and Quant section. On the GRE, there are five multiple choice sections, one of which is an experimental section. This experimental section can be either Math or Verbal, and its order in the groupings of multiple choice can be anywhere in the section sequence. You only know whether Math or Verbal is an experimental section because you will have either three Verbal or three Math sections. Of those three sections, however, you don’t know which one the experimental section is. And we advise, don’t bother to guess.
The entire GMAT test needs to be completed in 3 hours and 30 minutes; the GRE, 3 hours and 45 minutes.
GMAT AND GRE SECTION INFORMATION: At a Glance
GMAT: Total Time 3.5 hours Cost: $250
|Sections||Number of Questions||Time Allotted|
|Analytical Writing Assessment||One Essay||30 minutes|
|Integrated Reasoning||12 questions||30 minutes|
1 minute 48 seconds/question
GRE: Total Time 3.75 hours Cost: $205
|Sections||Number of Questions||Time Allotted|
|Analytical Writing||Two Essays||30 minutes|
|Quantitative Reasoning||Two sections/
20 questions each
(40 total) Avg. 1 minute 30 seconds/question
|Experimental Section||One Section/20 questions – Quant or Verbal
1 minute 30 seconds/question
- Schools look at your composite score from the Verbal and Quantitative multiple choice questions. This score range is from 200 to 800.
- You also receive individual Verbal and Quantitative scores, from 0-60, in one-point increments.
- The separate score for Analytical Writing ranges between 0 to 6, in half-point increments.
- On the Integrated Reasoning section, scores range from 1 to 8, in one-point increments.
- Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning sections are each scored from 130 to 170, in one-point increments. The GRE’s three section scores are generally reported separately, and not combined into a single composite score.
- The Analytical Writing section is similar to the GMAT with a score range of 0 to 6, in half-point increments.
GMAT & GRE INFORMATION: At a Glance
|Length||3 hours and 30 minutes||3 hours and 45 minutes|
|Number of Essays||1||2|
|Number of Multiple-Choice Questions||90||80 plus 20 unscored experimental questions|
|Number of Sections||4||6 (Including an unscored research section)|
|Scoring||Composite GMAT score ranges from 200-800, in ten-point increments||Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning each have score ranges of 130-170, in one-point increments, for a total score of 260-340|
|How Long Are Scores Valid?||5 years||5 years|
GRE and GMAT Content? How Are They Different?
Both exams cover three main subject areas: verbal, quantitative (which includes the GMAT’s Integrated Reasoning section), and writing. The tests overlap in content; however, the GMAT is more focused on grammar, and the GRE on vocabulary. While there isn’t a huge difference, the GRE Verbal section is generally considered to be slightly more difficult because of vocabulary, which is more difficult to accrue through study prior to a test, versus learning and trusting grammar rules. Still, non-native English speakers should not automatically choose the GMAT over the GRE because they are worried about increasing their vocabulary: non-native speakers have some advantage as they can lean into their native tongues, since English is a rich amalgam and tapestry of different languages.
The GMAT Verbal section tests your ability to understand formal written material, evaluate logical “arguments,” and identify and correct errors in written material, in both grammatical and sentence meaning. The test refers most to formal written English as compared to the more informal spoken language. This section features three types of questions:
Reading Comprehension tests your ability to read a passage, and then answer questions that ask you main ideas and conclusions, provide analysis of an argument, and understand the significance of details.
Critical Reading or Arguments prompts you to evaluate, understand, and analyze short passages, presenting logical ‘arguments’. The passages are typically 2-4 sentences in length and are followed by a few questions.
Sentence Correction evaluates your knowledge and facility of formal grammar and sentence meaning. Answer sets present four options to correct the sentence and/or more effectively express its meaning; choice (A) option always keeps the sentence as presented and unchanged.
City Test Prep PRO TIP:Just because English may not be your native tongue, don’t assume you won’t perform well on this section. Some students are intuitive at deciding what is correct grammar and what is not. Other test-takers base their answers on sticking strictly to grammar rules. If you want to know your best way of answering these questions and find out where you are on the ‘answering’ spectrum to determine how much you can reliably depend on this method, contact us to learn how.
The GRE Verbal Reasoning section tests your skills in analyzing and drawing conclusions from essays, which includes, among other things, being able to identify ‘general points’ such as main ideas, summaries, authors’ tone, and vocabulary in context. Test takers are also rewarded by effectively answering specific questions and understanding details in context.
There are three different categories of GRE Verbal questions:
Like the GMAT, the GRE Reading Comprehension questions test your ability to read a passage then answer both general and specific questions on the text.
Text Completion questions are short passages with one or more blanks. You will choose from a list of words which best completes the idea presented. You can pick multiple answers. This is often vocabulary driven.
With Sentence Equivalence questions, you choose answers to fill in blanks and produce sentences that have same or similar meanings. Like Text Completion, this is vocabulary driven.
GMAT and GRE Verbal Sections: At a Glance
|Number of Verbal Sections||1||2 (more if one is experimental)|
|Number of Verbal Questions||36||40 (20 questions in each section)
(additional 20 questions if given experimental section)
|Length||65 minutes||60 minutes (30 minutes per section)|
|Main Topics Tested||Reading Comprehension
While the GRE and GMAT quantitative sections present similar math concepts, their approach in how they test those topics is different. The majority of math concepts on both tests include Arithmetic, Algebra, Data Analysis, Geometry, as well as Combinations, Probability, Statistics, and more — mostly, believe it or not, learned in middle and high school math. Neither exam tests higher-level math concepts, such as Calculus or Trigonometry.
The GMAT tests math acumen through the Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning sections, and features two types of questions: Problem Solvingand Data Sufficiency.
Problem Solving questions are straight forward, multiple choice questions. Youtypically solve equations, interpret graphs, evaluate data, or perform a combination of the three. Answers are among five multiple choice options. Data Sufficiency questions (roughly 14-16 of the 37 math questions) require you to determine whether you can answer the question with either a combination of, either, or both of the two statements provided. You are only required to determine if you have sufficient information to answer the question numerically; not actually answer the equation. The test taker determines whether one, both, or neither statement is sufficient. This question type is unique in the world of standardized tests, and most GMAT test takers haven’t come into contact with it prior to taking this test. Please note: Sometimes just being aware and becoming familiar of this odd question type helps give you an edge.
City Test Prep PRO TIP #1
While it’s fairly standard test prep lingo, we don’t call questions on the GMAT or GRE “problems.” We call them questions. Why? We’d rather find ANSWERS for questions than solutions for problems. Problems just seem big and dramatic. It’s a simple linguistic pivot that we believe gives a test-taker more agency and confidence.
City Test Prep PRO TIP #2
One of the best ways to answer questions on multiple choice tests, especially those on a computer, is to create an answer sheet for yourself before taking the test. Using your scratch pad, you can effectively create an answer sheet, as well as a brain dump prior to beginning the test. Once you have an ‘answer sheet,’ you can actively engage in the ‘process of elimination.’ As you complete your math computations, cross off answer choices on your scratch pad that are incorrect. For the verbal process of elimination, pick the answer which is ‘least wrong’ rather than one that is ‘correct.’
City Test Prep PRO TIP #3
For your answer sheet you’ll write question numbers followed by each of the multiple choice letters — A, B, C, D, and E. For Data Sufficiency questions, however, it’s easier to engage with answer choices non-linearly. The answers for Data Sufficiency questions can be summarized as the following::
Choose (A) if only statement 1 ALONE is correct
Choose (B) if only statement 2 ALONE is correct
Choose (C) if BOTH statements1 and 2 TOGETHER are sufficient to answer the question , but neither are correct individually
Choose (D) if statement 1 and statement 2 are correct, ALONE, only individually, but not together
Choose (E) if statement 1 and statement 2 are neither correct individually NOR together
With each Data Sufficiency question you do, read the question, then based on how statement (1) works, you will either write down AD or BCE. Why? Because once you know statement 1 works, the answer choice can ONLY be either:
(A) meaning only statement 1 works
(D) — that (A) and (B) each work individually, but not combined together.
If Statement 1 does NOT work, the answer choice can only be B, C or E. **Sometimes, you might apply the information of Statement 2 first, because you’re more comfortable with it or it seems easier. In that case, you will use a BD/ACE template. Same reasoning, except when starting with B, if statement 2 works, you only have B or D as an option.
SO it’s AD or BCE as two answer groups OR BD or ACE
Integrated Reasoning Section
This section’s questions feature four mathematical types: graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, table analysis, and multi-source reasoning. Your performance on this section, again, is not included in the ‘multiple choice’ GMAT score. This section evaluates your skills in analysis and interpretation of data, relationships between presented information, and ways to identify and combine information necessary to solve complex math questions. Yes, the presentation of the material in these questions is typically more complex than straight forward problem solving. In addition, because of their multiple parts, you need to be able to handle their details as well as their computation accurately.
Quantitative Reasoning questions are mostly multiple-choice; however, like the SAT (remember that test?), you will have several numeric entry questions in which you input correct answers instead of selecting from given answer choices.
Also similar to the SAT, you have multiple-choice questions known as Quantitative Comparison. For these questions, you are presented with two quantities that answer the question of whether Quantity A is larger, Quantity B is larger, whether the two quantities are equal (C), or whether the relationship can’t be determined (D). With these questions, (E) is not an option.
GRE and GMAT Math: At a Glance
|Number of Sections||2
and 1 Integrated Reasoning)
(unless quant is experimental, in which case you have 3 sections)
|Number of Quantitative Questions||31 Quantitative
12 Integrated Reasoning
(20 questions in each section) (unless the quant is experimental, in which case you have 20 additional questions, for a total of 60 questions)
|Length||62 minutes Quantitative
30 minutes Integrated Reasoning
|60 minutes total
(30 minutes per section — if the quant is experimental, it’s 90 minutes, total)
|Main Topics Tested:
Integrated Reasoning: 1-8
Which Quantitative Section Is More Difficult?
Typically, the quantitative section of the GMAT is considered to be more difficult than that of the GRE. Even though these exams test similar topics, the format of the GMAT’s Data Sufficiency questions and that of Integrated Reasoning section are objectively ‘weirder’ in format than what most test takers are accustomed to, and the math is typically at a higher level and more difficult. The GMAT generally demands more critical thinking and analysis than the GRE, where quantitative questions are presented in a more straightforward multiple choice or numeric entry format — both of which you’ve likely seen before.
City Test Prep PRO TIP:
One way we’ve described the differences in these math sections is to remind test takers that the GMAT is solely for business school, and that the test simulates business situations. As such, you’re tested not only for critical thinking skills, but also in what kind of business person you are; for example, do you take calculated risks? Do you move too quickly through the questions? Too slow? The GRE, on the other hand, is a more general test, and less tricky because it casts its net wider for more types of test takers headed to a variety of graduate programs. Ultimately, it comes back to which types of questions you perform better on to help decide whether you’ll want to take the GRE or GMAT.
The major difference between the GRE and GMAT Analytical Writing Assessment sections is that the GMAT requires one essay, whereas the GRE has you write two; so this GRE section is twice as long (1 hour). For the GMAT, you are presented with one essay prompt in the form of an argument. Your job is to evaluate this argument’s strengths and weaknesses. You focus only on the information presented — its strengths and weaknesses, as well as how it can be improved. You aren’t asked to present your own opinion or draw from your experience.
On the GRE, you will have two essays: the Analyze an Argument and Analyze an Issue. The Analyze an Argument essay is a similar process to that of the GMAT essay. You critique an argument but do not bring in outside information or opinions. For the Analyze a Issue essay, your job is to respond to the prompt, and take a stance, and explain, and justify your stance with evidence. The reasoning can exist outside of the essay itself. Each essay is scored on a scale of 0 – 6, and needs to be completed in 30 minutes.
FUN FACT: The GMAT originally had the GRE writing essays and the GRE originally didn’t have a writing section at all!
Comparison of Analytical Writing Sections: At a Glance
|Number of Writing Sections||1||1|
|Number of Essay Prompts||1||2|
|Length||30 minutes||Two 30-minute sections|
|Main Topics Tested||Analysis of argument||Analyze an Issue
Analyze an Argument
- Research the exam policies of the schools you’re interested in. Most schools will state whether they accept either or both tests. If they aren’t explicit, contact their admissions office directly, and ask someone whether they prefer one exam over the other.
- As stated initially, how you perform and feel while taking a diagnostic exam may indicate which test to take. You can download software to take diagnostics for both exams on their official sites, and they’re free:Here is a link to GMAT practice exams and here is a link to GRE practice exams. Since you now know these tests take over 3 hours, set aside time to take them on different days, and take them under realistic testing conditions if possible; in one sitting, with the same breaks you’ll get on the real test, and with minimal distractions. Score your exams, identify if you had to guess on any of the questions, and take note of how you felt during the exam. Remember: Tests don’t only measure what you know; they measure how well you take exams.
Now, about those scores… Compare your performance! Did you score significantly higher on one test? Did one test feel more challenging than the other? Further, since the GMAT and the GRE use different scoring scales, use a conversion table to convert your scores so you can compare apples to apples, score to score, and apply the results of objective data to see which test you’re scoring higher on.
While you can prepare and register for both tests, this may not be optimal planning. As a business professional, consider if the time and money it takes to prepare for both the ‘best’ business decision. While there is overlap in content between the tests, studying for and taking both tests will likely take more time, and if working with professionals, will certainly cost more.
- One school of thought is that if you’re sure that you want to attend business school, seriously consider the GMAT: It may indicate to business schools that you’re committed to attending business school and only business school, not a double degree or another graduate degree. Some students who take the GRE to get into business school have to take the GMAT while enrolled to qualify for subsequent professional opportunities! The GRE, on the other hand, may be perceived as you keeping options open for other kinds of graduate study.
- Take inventory on whether you’re better at one of the sections. If you’re better at math, you might want to take an easier verbal section. If you’re better at grammar, you might want to take the GMAT, and if you’re a vocab wiz, you might veer towards the GRE. Play to your strengths, take the least resistant path, and pick the test that you will score higher on.
- The last considerations, which should be a very low priority, are the time you have to prepare for the tests, the cost, the convenience of the location they’re offered, and whether you’ve got enough opportunities to take the test multiple times. Most students take each of these tests at least twice. Since the GRE is a more widely accepted test, there are more dates and locations to take it. Research the location and date availability of each test.
City Prep PRO TIP: Go to the test center before your test date so you can reduce surprises on test day. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the bureaucratic policies for when you go to take your test, and be sure to have all your documentation and identification with you!
Schools don’t penalize or judge a candidate who has taken a test twice, or even three times, but if you think you may need to take a particular test more than that, or if you’re worried you might get a particularly low score the first time you take the exam, be aware that the GRE is flexible in allowing you to choose which scores to send.
The fees of both exams are pretty comparable, so this likely won’t be a deciding factor. However, it’s still good information to know. The GMAT costs $250 compared to the GRE, which costs $205. The GMAT fee includes five free score reports, while the GRE only includes four free score reports. If you think you’ll have to take the test multiple times, the GMAT’s higher fee could be something to consider. To send additional score reports, it costs $28 for each GMAT report and $27 for each GRE report sent. The online at home version fees may be different.
Another consideration in choosing one test over another is if a school has specific scholarship eligibility requirements. Some schools or programs require applicants to submit scores from a specific exam. Make sure you don’t limit yourself for this opportunity due by choosing a standardized test that isn’t counted towards financial support.
Remember that your test scores are ultimately only one part of your application and candidacy. Be sure your personal statement, letters of recommendation, interviews, grades, extracurricular activities, and volunteer work are also strong reflections of who you are, in order to maximize your chances of being admitted into your top schools.