Should You Take the
GMAT or GRE Test?

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Which Test is Right for You and Scoring?

As you consider your choice of graduate school entrance exams - both the GMAT and GRE are options - don’t forget that some business schools admissions now accept the GRE scores of students applying to their programs. If you are preparing to go to an online MBA school, most other programs accept GRE scores. This leaves you with the decision of choosing. So, GMAT vs GRE, which should you take when working your way toward admission to graduate programs? They are both standardized tests, though many previous test takers think that one is easier than the other.

Before you make your decision, it’s a good idea to consider each standardized test and know what you’re likely to see in each. You could review a practice test or test prep materials to get a handle on their contents. For instance, the verbal reasoning sections of both exams are similar in content. On the GMAT, the reading comprehension questions count for less than one-third of all questions; however, this section in the GRE only includes about half of the GRE verbal questions. Looking at the quantitative sections and quantitative scores earned by previous test takers for both exams, you can see that each one contains a number of multiple-choice questions and GMAT scores and GRE scores vary. In both, the questions have a comparable mix of number theory, arithmetic, statistics, probability, and geometry questions.

As you weigh your options and consider online MBA admissions requirements, keep both the similarities and differences in mind. Try to figure out which exam will help you display your strengths. You should have solid reasons before you choose to take one test over the other, especially if this will limit your choices of graduate programs.

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Length and Cost

Length, Time 3.5 Hours 3.45 Hours
Cost $250 $205
Testing Dates Year-Round Year-Round - more often, in general
Testing Locations Throughout the US Throughout the US
Why Take It? Needed for admission to most business schools Needed for admission to most graduate schools
Time Scores are Valid 5 Years 5 Years

What is the Structure and Format?

Number of Sections 4 3
Number of Essays 1 2
Number of Multiple-Choice Questions 79 0
Test Format Computer-Adaptive Testing Section-Adaptive Testing

The GMAT format was changed, effective April 16, 2018. The new format is now shorter by 30 minutes.

The full GMAT has four sections: Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA), Integrated Reasoning (IR), Quantitative, and Verbal. The Quantitative section contains 31 questions and lasts 62 minutes. The Verbal section contains 36 questions and lasts 65 minutes. The Analysis of Writing (AWA) contains one topic and lasts 30 minutes. Finally, the Integrated Reasoning section contains 12 questions and lasts 30 minutes. You are allowed to skip one section and come back to it later.

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This test is only given on a computer. You’ll use a mouse to enter your answers to each multiple-choice question in each section. “Computer-adaptive” means that, when you answer a question correctly, following questions may become more challenging.

The Quantitative section tests your knowledge in arithmetic, basic algebra and basic geometry—no calculators allowed.

The Verbal section contains 36 multiple-choice questions covering logic skills, grammar and how well you answer questions on a reading passage.

Answer 12 multiple-choice question in Integrated Reasoning, using data in charts, tables and graphs.

Write an analysis of a business-related argument or a general interest topic in the Analytical Writing Assessment.

The GRE, which is taken on the computer, contains three sections. These are Verbal Reasoning, containing two 30-minute sections, each with 20 questions; Quantitative Reasoning, containing two 35-minute sections, each with 20 questions; Analytical Writing, containing one section with two tasks which are timed separately: one is “Analyze an Issue,” and the second, “Analyze an Argument.” In the Analytical Writing section, your critical thinking and writing skills are tested. The “issue” task provides an opinion on a general-interest topic. You evaluate this issue, consider complexities, and develop an argument with examples. The “argument” essay tests how you evaluate a presented argument, relying on specific instructions. You’ll consider the logic of the argument rather than agreeing or disagreeing.

In the Quantitative section, you’ll answer math questions in arithmetic, algebra, and geometry; problem-solve; and analyze data. In the Verbal section, you’ll analyze sentences and written passages, showing that you understand key concepts and in-context vocabulary.

What are the Sections Compared?

Writing Section - Analysis of an Argument - Analysis of an Argument
- Analysis of an Issue
Verbal Section - Critical Reasoning
- Reading Comprehension
- Sentence Correction
- Critical Reasoning
- Reading Comprehension
- Sentence Equivalence
- Text Completion
Quantitative Section Similar Question Types - More Difficult Similar Question Types - Easier

Writing Sections

In both exams, analytical writing is a major component. You’ll be given prompts that are randomly chosen from a large selection. In both tests, you have 30 minutes to finish each essay give to you. For both tests, the evaluation criteria are similar.

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The GMAT essay measures how well you think critically and communicate your thinking. You’ll write an essay that requires you to analyze the reasoning behind an argument. You don’t have to meet a length requirement—however, essays that score the highest are formatted with four to six paragraphs.

If you are applying to an MBA program, this section is not as important as the remainder of the GMAT, but don’t underestimate the essay. If your score is too low, you decrease your chances of getting into a good MBA program.

The GRE’s writing section measures your analytical writing and critical thinking skills. You’ll write one essay to analyze an issue and one that analyzes an argument. For the issue essay, write critically about a general interest topic and express your thoughts clearly. Provide an argument with reasons and examples to support your position. In the argument essay, you’ll evaluate an argument provided to you on the test, according to instructions. Look for logical flaws in the argument and don’t take sides.

Verbal Sections

The GMAT has a reputation of being a test for admission to MBA and business school programs. The Verbal section tests your critical reasoning, sentence correction, and reading comprehension. This test focuses more on grammar, rather than vocabulary.

In the GMAT, the Verbal section adds two verbal question types. These are the critical reasoning and sentence correction questions. Critical reasoning questions test your ability to take a short statement or argument (2 to 3 sentences) and logically evaluate it.

The GRE focuses more on vocabulary, as opposed to grammar. In text completion questions, you’ll read a short passage or sentence. One to three words or phrases will be missing. From the answer selections, you’ll choose the missing words that fit best into the meaning of the sentence.

In sentence equivalence questions, you’ll read a single question with one missing word. Choose the two answers that logically complete the sentence, then produce sentences that have the same meanings. This tests your ability to understand sentence context as well as vocabulary.

Quantitative Sections

The GRE and GMAT tests cover many of the same concepts. Using the quantitative section as an example, the GMAT covers arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and word problems. Concepts tested include properties of integers, statistics, probability, solving single variable and multivariate equations, absolute values, quadratic equations, lines and angles, quadrilaterals, rectangular solids and cylinders, rate problems, mixture problems, discounts, profits, sets, and more.

In the GRE Quantitative section you’ll find similar content to the GMAT. However, in many ways, this tests quantitative section is considered easier than the GMAT’s. That doesn’t mean it will be “easy,” but it may be “easier”. Both exams will test you on fractions, ratios, probability, exponents, graphs of functions, etc. In this exam, you’ll also be tested on data analysis, which covers descriptive statistics, standard deviation, line graphs, circle graphs, quartiles and percentages, scatterplots and frequency distributions, and probabilities.

Other Sections

The company that produces the GRE has added an experimental section. While everyone must complete this section, it is unscored. This section contains 20 questions.

This is called a “placebo” test. It may be either a Verbal or a Quantitative section. As you will not be told which section is unscored, it’s best to answer every question that comes up as if it is scored. This experimental section allows the company to test out new questions and gain information about the difficulty of previous and future tests.

New questions are always being developed and every new question must be tested so they can be classified based on their difficulty levels. This is why you are being given the experimental section. The company examines each answer and how long it takes to solve each question before deciding if each question will be classified as easy, difficult, or in-between. The company (ETS) also has to determine the percentage of test-takers who failed to get the correct answer, as well as how long it took for students to solve it so that their tests can be weighted appropriately.

How are They Scored?

GRE Scoring Score Range
Verbal 130-170
Quantitative 130-170
Total Possible Score 340
GMAT Scoring Score Range
AWA 0-6 Points
Verbal Reasoning 6-51 Points
Quantitative Reasoning 6-51 Points
Integrated Reasoning 1-8 Points
Sharing Your Test Scores Score Canceling ScoreSelect

To determine how the GMAT and GRE are scored, we can start by breaking down the scores for each exam, and then see how they are scaled.

If you take the GRE, you may earn between 130 and 170 per section. This means you may earn between 260 and 340 altogether for your test. Most students taking the GRE earn around a 304. This means that you may have earned a 151 in your Verbal and a 153 in your Quantitative, as an example.

Looking at the GMAT, the scoring is obviously different. You have 36 questions in Verbal Reasoning. The score range is 6 to 51 points. For Quantitative Reasoning, you have 31 questions and a score range of 6 to 51 points. In Integrated Reasoning, you have 12 questions and a score range of 1 to 8 points. For the AWA Writing Assessment, you have one question and a score range of 0 to 6 points.

The GMAT composite score may run from 200 to 800. However, this only includes the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections—the AWA and Integrated Reasoning sections are scored separately. You earn points per section based on the number of questions answered correctly. Your score will fall somewhere between 200 and 800.

If you take the GRE, the schools to which you apply see only the scores you choose to send to them. Some programs do require that applicants taking the GRE more than once report the scores from every exam taken. Or you can select either “most recent” or “all” to have your scores sent to your chosen schools. This is called the ScoreSelect feature.

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If you took the GMAT, you’ll be able to decide which schools receive your scores. Your scores will be available within 20 days of taking the exam. Your score report is sent to each school you selected at the test center. With this test, you’ll also have the option to cancel your score if you feel you did very poorly on the test. While this gives you the chance to get some experience with the GMAT, it’s a very expensive option and you should try to avoid needing to cancel you score by making sure you study hard before your test date.

Do Schools Have a Preference?

Today, more than 1,200 MBA programs accept either GMAT or GRE scores from students seeking admission. The majority of schools still have a preference for the GMAT, but you can call your school of choice to see if they will accept the GRE.

Before you decide which test to take, become familiar with the structure and scoring of each exam. This can help you decide if you prefer to take the GRE over the GMAT.

The GMAT is better suited to students with stronger analytical and quantitative skillsets. If you also have strong skills in data interpretation from tables, charts and text, the GMAT will be well-suited to you. The GRE math section is more straightforward and also includes calculator use for all quantitative questions.

Likewise, if you have strong writing and editing skills, the GMAT’s Verbal section will be easier for you. If you have a strong vocabulary, the GRE may be the better choice. Each exam has its own “unusual” question types. The GMAT has the Data Sufficiency questions while the GRE has Quantitative Comparison.

Which Exam Should You Take?

Knowing that about 90% of business schools now accept the GRE along with the GMAT, determine which test works to your strengths. If you do intend to earn your MBA, either one of these tests should be acceptable, depending on which schools you’re most interested in. (Always make sure to check if the school you want to attend accepts the GRE if you decide not to take the GMAT! While it’s now very common, you don’t want to make any mistakes.)

Determine which exam may potentially allow you to earn a higher score. Do more than just read through websites with information about each section. Take a diagnostic test of both the GMAT and GRE. The tests are different, which allows you to determine where your test-taking performance is stronger.

If you want to skip from one section to another, then return to the skipped section, the GRE is a better choice; the GMAT is supposed to be taken in order, with no skipping or changing your answers.

Look at your business goals post-MBA. If you have a goal of working for a prestigious hedge firm or management consulting firm, you should consider taking the GMAT. These prestigious firms sometimes require proof that you took the GMAT.

If you aren’t happy with a test score, both tests allow you to cancel those scores and schedule another testing date. Scores can be reinstated within 30 days and you can take a GMAT exam once every 16 calendar days. The same goes for the GRE, and you can retake that exam once every 21 days. However, be aware that there are sometimes downsides to retaking exams, such as the fact that some people who retake the test actually score lower than the first time they took it, some schools may require you to send them all of your scores when you retake a test, and if you only study for the section you failed last time your score will once again be lopsided. You must really take everything into account when you decide to retake a test.

Frequently Asked Questions

How are these tests similar?

For the most part, the tests are similar in that they are both standardized tests which schools use to determine whether or not you will be allowed into their programs. They each also examine your ability to make quick decisions, understand high-level concepts, and your quantitative skills despite the fact that they go about this differently and give different weight to which skills they consider most important. Knowing the differences can help you determine most effectively which test would be best for you to take.

Which test is easier?

Though both of these tests are thought to be of considerable difficulty, the GRE has long been considered to be easier than the GMAT. This is specifically because of the difficulty of the quantitative section of the GMAT and the fact that the GRE provides the use of a calculator for all quantitative problems. This means that, even if you might struggle to work your way through complicated mathematics, you know the general processes, which is all that is needed when you can use a calculator on the GRE.

Do business schools prefer the GMAT or GRE?

It’s true that many schools are accepting both GMAT and GRE scores these days, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still consider one better than the other. The truth it that many business schools would still prefer that you take the GMAT and submit a successful score. This is because many business schools feel that the GMAT more directly addresses skills and knowledge that you will need in your business school courses.