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Prep ExamsGMAT vs GRE: What Is The Difference Between Them?

GMAT vs GRE: What Is The Difference Between Them?

One of the most important decisions you will make about your education and career is whether to go to grad school or not. There are many factors to consider such as the time it will take, your goals, increase in salary and others.

Graduate schools take other factors into consideration, but around 51% of them state that standardized test scores play a very important role in their admissions decisions.

However, if you have already decided to complete your graduate degree, then you are most likely aware that you will have to complete a graduate standardized test.

Depending on your field of study there are many such tests:

  • Graduate Records Examination (GRE)
  • Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
  • Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT)
  • Law School Admissions Test (LSAT)

Since the MCAT and LSAT are for those who are aiming to attend law or medical school, we will focus on discussing the GRE and the GMAT, their similarities and differences, and give tips on how to decide between the two of them.

What Is The GRE?

GRE origin can be traced back to 1949, when it was first created by the Educational Testing Services (ETS).

The Graduate Records Examination or GRE test is a standardized graduate school test used for admissions purposes by recruiters and university representatives. The GRE test is mandatory for most graduate schools, especially in English speaking countries.

So if you have been aiming to study in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and others, you will be required to submit your GRE scores.

The GRE has around 650,000 test takers annually, so it is quite popular with potential graduate students.

The GRE is required for students who want to go into various fields of study, from the humanities to the sciences. So a student who wants to get a degree in sociology or the arts will have to undergo the same testing procedure as someone who wants to study physics.

The test is believed to be a predictor of the success a student will have in graduate school and its questions and structure are based on that assumption.

The computer version is adaptive so as to more accurately measure the student’s performance.

What Is The GMAT?

Similar to the GRE, the Graduate Management Admissions Test or GMAT is a standardized graduate test, used by various universities to decide whether to admit students or not.

The GMAT is mostly used for admissions into business schools around the world. It is accepted by around 5,900 programs across 2,100 universities and other institutions around the world.

That is because the applicability of the GMAT is only constrained in one field, which also happens to be the field with the highest enrollment with around 18% of graduate students opting to go into business schools.

Every internationally recognized business school in the world accepts the GMAT scores for admissions in their programs, so if you want to go into that field, you will be more likely to take the GMAT rather than the GRE.


The GMAT has approximately 250,000 annual test takers, so much less than the GRE.

As a potential graduate student you have to decide whether to take the GMAT or the GRE, since taking both is not feasible time or money wise. So if you are in between these two tests, then you should know the main similarities and differences that they have. Having more information about them will make it easier to decide which one to take.

Similarities of GMAT and GRE

Some of the similarities of the GRE and the GMAT tests are as follows:

Standardized tests for grad school

Both tests are used for admissions into graduate school programs and are not supposed to be used for anything else. If you are a recent graduate with no work experience, some employers might also ask to see your test scores, but that happens very rarely.

Important for admissions

These tests have the same weight when it comes to how they are perceived by graduate schools. Whether you complete the GRE or the GMAT, graduate schools will look at your scores and weigh them with other admissions criteria to make the decisions. The higher your score, the better are your chances of being admitted.

Measure similar skills

The GRE and the GMAT will test everyone on three key skills:

  • Writing
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Verbal Reasoning

Both tests have the same sections, albeit with differences on what each one contains.

Score validity

After you take the GMAT or the GRE your test scores have a time that they are valid and can be used. For both of the tests the score validity is 5 years.

So if you take one of the tests now, you will have 5 years to apply for graduate programs and will not have to retake it. After 5 years you cannot use the same scores and will need to undergo the testing procedure again.

Difference Between GMAT And GRE

Besides the few similarities that the tests have, there are actually more differences between them. The tests differ in many aspects and details of each are found below.

Fields of study

As mentioned, the GMAT is only used for admission into business schools and MBA programs. It does not have any applicability or weight in other fields. The GRE on the other hand is used for all other graduate programs, except for law and medicine which have their own tests.

The GRE was not used for graduate business schools before, but in the last decade most business schools have been accepting GRE scores for admissions too. However, they prioritize students who have completed the GMAT before those who have applied with GRE scores.

The top ranked business schools in the world, however, do not accept GRE scores for admission:

  • London Business School
  • Indian School of Business
  • University of Toronto – Rotman
  • Erasmus University – Rotterdam
  • HKUST Business School
  • IESE Business School

The graduate business programs of these universities have a mandatory requirement for GMAT scores and will not admit any students with GRE or other test scores.

Test Structure

Besides their applicability in different fields of study, the GRE and the GMAT also differ in terms of their structures and how they are administered.

The GMAT can only be taken as a computer test with students registering and then going to the test center. The GRE on the other hand is given as a paper or as a computer test.

The computer GRE test is administered more often, while the paper based GRE can only be taken around three times per year.

When you start the tests, you will see different navigational options. For the GRE you can mark, skip, and review each question. If you don’t know or are unsure about a question, in the GRE you can leave it blank and then go back to it again.

The GMAT however does not have this option. Even if you don’t know a question on the GMAT, you are either forced to guess the answer or you can leave it blank with no option of going back again.

In the math or quantitative section, the GRE computer test will show you a calculator where you can complete any necessary calculations, but in the GMAT you don’t have this option. The GMAT does not allow calculators so all math questions that require you to calculate anything will have to be done by hand in the blank sheets of paper or blank board that the test administrators provide you with.

In addition, the major difference between the tests in terms of their structure is in their sections.

The GRE has the following sections:

  • 2 Essays for Analytical Writing
  • 40 Verbal Reasoning Questions in 2 sections
  • 40 Quantitative Reasoning Questions in 2 sections
  • Research and Unscored sections

The GMAT then has this structure:

  • 1 Essay for Analytical Writing
  • 12 Integrated Reasoning Questions
  • 37 Quantitative Reasoning Questions in 1 section
  • 41 Verbal Reasoning Questions in 1 section

As can be seen, there is one less essay in the GMAT, but there is an extra section called Integrated Reasoning. In addition, the GRE has two sections for verbal and quantitative reasoning, while for the GMAT, there is only one section of each but the number of questions is not much different. Also, the GRE has a research and an unscored section in the test.

Types of Questions

The difference is not only in the structure, but also in the types of questions that each section has. Since the scored sections for both tests are verbal and quantitative reasoning, we will go over the types of questions found in each one.

Verbal Reasoning Questions

In the GRE verbal reasoning section the focus is on vocabulary and these are the types of questions:

  • Sentence Equivalence
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Critical Thinking
  • Text Completion

These questions can require you to complete them as:

  • Multiple choice
  • Choose all answers that apply
  • Choose a sentence in the passage

Since the most challenging part of the GRE verbal section is the vocabulary, you should learn how those words are used in context, and not necessarily their definition.

For the GMAT, these are the types of questions you will see in the verbal section:

  • Sentence Correction
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Critical Reasoning

The emphasis in the GMAT is on grammar and they are all multiple choice questions. The best way to succeed in this section of the GMAT is to practice grammar and learn the main rules.

Quantitative Reasoning Questions

In the quantitative reasoning section, both tests have the same mathematical concepts that they test such as:

  • Arithmetic
  • Algebra
  • Geometry
  • Data Interpretation
  • Word Problems

However, the main difference is in how the questions are phrased.

For the GRE, the questions are:

  • Multiple Choice
  • Multiple Answer
  • Numeric Entry
  • Quantitative Comparisons

For the GMAT though, the questions are:

  • Problem Solving (Multiple Choice)
  • Data Sufficiency

In addition, the math in the GRE is typically much easier than the math in the GMAT. That is because the GRE is applicable for different fields, while the GMAT is only for business schools which are more quantitatively based.

Test Adaptivity

The GMAT and the GRE are computer adaptive tests. This means that the difficulty is adjusted based on whether you have answered previous questions or sections correctly. If you answer everything right, the questions become more difficult, while if you have incorrect answers, the next questions are easier.

The difference in this regard is that the GMAT is a question adaptive test, while the GRE is a section adaptive test.

This means that in the GMAT you cannot skip questions because the difficulty of the next one is determined from your answer in the previous question.

For the GRE, you can skip questions because the difficulty is not based on the questions, but on the sections as a whole. So for example, if you did well in the first verbal section, the next section will be more difficult and vice versa.

Testing Time

The GRE takes 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete, while the GMAT takes 3 hours and 30 minutes in total.

The testing time is also different for the GRE and the GMAT.

Both have a few official breaks where students can get a few minutes of rest.The available time students have to complete each section of the tests is different too.

For GRE the testing time of each section is:

  • Analytical Writing – 2 essays, 30 minutes each
  • Verbal Reasoning – 2 sections, 30 minutes each
  • Quantitative Reasoning – 2 sections, 35 minutes each
  • Research – 30 to 35 minutes
  • Unscored – 30 to 35 minutes

As for the GMAT, the available time to complete each section is:

  • Analytical Writing – 1 essay for 35 minutes
  • Integrated Reasoning – 30 minutes
  • Quantitative Reasoning – 75 minutes
  • Verbal Reasoning – 75 minutes

Test Scoring

The combined score for the GRE can range from 260 to a maximum of 340.

Another difference between GMAT and GRE is the scoring of each section and how the scores are interpreted.

The GRE is scored on the following scale:

  • Analytical Writing – 0 to 6 scale
  • Verbal – 130 to 170 scale
  • Quantitative – 130 to 170 scale

To be in the 90th percentile and have higher chances of being admitted into graduate school, a student would have to score around 326 points.

The total combined score of the GMAT is from 200 to 800 points.

The GMAT on the other hand is scored differently.

  • Analytical Writing – 0 to 6 scale
  • Integrated Reasoning – 1 to 8 scale
  • Quantitative – 0 to 60 scale
  • Verbal – 0 to 60 scale

To be in the 90th percentile and get admissions from high ranked business schools, a student would have to score somewhere around 700 points.

Around 66% of test takers get 400 to 600 points.

Test Administrators

Both tests have an official administrator who makes the questions and determines the format. For the GRE it is the Educational Testing Services (ETS) which also administers tests such as the English proficiency test TOEFL. The GMAT is administered by the Graduate Management Admissions Council or GMAC.

Because of the administrators and the demand, the GRE has many more test centers than the GMAT.

Test Expenses

The last difference between GMAT and GRE is the cost of the test and how they also relate to expenses in graduate school. The GRE costs $195 to take while the GMAT is $250. The difference might not be that great when it boils down to which one is better for your field and which increases your chances of getting admitted into the grad school of your choice.

However, many students don’t get the score they wanted the first time they take the test. So they decide to retake. Retaking the test means paying the same fees again, which makes the GMAT a lot more expensive than the GRE.

In addition, if you are aiming to attend business school, you will be much more likely to get a scholarship with the GMAT rather than with the GRE. That is because business schools prioritize students who take the GMAT over those with the GRE.

Which Is Easier GRE or GMAT?

Many students decide between the tests based on their difficulty. Is the GMAT or GRE easier? But at the end of the day, both tests have difficult and easier sections compared to each other.

The GRE has a more difficult vocabulary and easier math section, while the GMAT has an easier verbal section and more difficult math. When comparing it this way, it is up to the student to identify where they would be more likely to succeed.

If you are someone who has a strong quantitative background, the GMAT will be easier for you, but if you struggle with math, then it will feel a lot more difficult than the GRE.

Should I take the GRE and GMAT?

After being informed of the similarities, differences, and difficulty of each test, you are wondering which one to take, the GMAT or GRE? The answer to your question is up to you. But we have a few tips on how to decide.

Think about your goals

Take into account your career goals and what you want to achieve. The GRE will give you more options in terms of the field of grad school you can choose, so if you have not yet decided, the GRE is better to take than the GMAT. On the other hand, if you have decided to attend business school, it is better to take the GMAT.

Talk to people who have taken the tests

It is likely that someone you know has taken either the GMAT or GRE. If not, then you can go online and find previous test takers. Talk to them and explain your background and goals, so that they can tell you in more detail about their experiences with the GMAT or GRE. Knowing someone who has taken the tests makes it easier to decide.

Take practice tests

One of the ways in which you can decide is by taking a GMAT and GRE practice test. These are available all across the web, but the best ones are those given by ETS and GMAC. The ETS has the PowerPrep software and you can take their practice tests on ets.org, and the GMAC practice tests can be found on mba.com.

In addition you can also take other tests made by test publishers, such as the Princeton Review which has the GRE practice test and the GMAT practice test on their website princetonreview.com

These tips will be helpful for you to determine how you envision your career, what skills you already have and what you need to work on to succeed in the test of your choice.

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