March 21, 2024

gre vs gmat

Are you planning to apply for a master’s or PhD program? Though some programs do not require any standardized tests (many became test-optional after the COVID-19 pandemic), there’s a good chance that you will need to take either the GMAT or the GRE. This will most likely be the trickiest decision for those applying for business school programs, such as MBAs, since GMATs are somewhat specific to business school admissions (as you will read, the GRE is most common for many other graduate school programs). Many business schools accept both the GRE and the GMAT, so it’s up to the applicant to decide which test is a better fit. Continue reading for the scoop on each, as well as some factors to consider as you decide which test– the GMAT vs GRE–will help you meet your graduate school and career goals.

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A bit about the GMAT

The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is most frequently used for business school admissions. This test assesses the critical thinking and reasoning skills that a future student would need to be successful in a business school program, such as an MBA.

The GMAT is divided into four sections:

1) Analytical Writing: In this 30-minute section, test takers write a short essay in order to analyze and critique a given argument.

2) Integrated Reasoning: This section assesses one’s ability to solve problems using given data (which the test taker will draw and analyze from tables and graphs). Problems in this section are both quantitative and verbal, and mostly multiple choice. This section is also 30 minutes long.

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 3) Quantitative Reasoning: In this longer section, test takers have 62 minutes to solve 31 multiple choice questions, a number of which ask about “data sufficiency” (in other words, do you have enough data to solve a given problem?).

 4) Verbal Reasoning: This section offers 65 minutes for answering 36 questions, and it involves the reading and evaluation of written materials. Test takers are asked to solve three types of questions for this section: reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction.

 A bit about the GRE

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is used by future students applying to study in a wide range of disciplines in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. Those applying for programs in fields such as social work and education also often take the GRE.

The GRE also includes four sections:

1) Analytical Writing: Unlike the GMAT, this section includes two essays, with 30-minutes for each. Test takers are asked to construct their own arguments and evaluate another’s argument.

2) Quantitative Reasoning: Comprised of two 35-minute sections with 25 questions in each, this section assesses basic math skills. Questions include multiple choice, numeric entry, and quantitative comparison. Math subjects include basic arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.

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3) Verbal Reasoning: This section includes two sections with 30 minutes to answer 20 questions. Questions include reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence.

4) Unscored or Experimental Section: The GRE includes an unscored verbal or quantitative portion called the “experimental” section, which can appear in any order after Analytical Writing (which always comes first). This section acts as a sort of placebo or control element, testing the difficulty of new questions that will be used in future scored sections in the test. Unfortunately, you will not know which section is unscored, so you should do your best in each section.

Format of the GMAT and GRE

Both the GMAT and the GRE use a computer adaptive format, meaning, the computer program changes the difficulty level of questions based on the test taker’s answers. While the GMAT adapts the difficulty after each question, the GRE adapts the difficulty after each section. Both exams are offered remotely and at testing centers.

 How the GMAT and GRE are scored

The GMAT is scored from 200 to 800. Test takers also receive the section scores separately: Verbal and Qualitative scores each scale from 6 to 51, the Writing section is scored out of 6, and the Integrative Reasoning is scored out of 8.

To get into top business school programs, you will want to strive for at least a 700 on the GMAT. For instance, at University of Chicago’s Booth Full-Time MBA, the average GMAT score is 728 (same as the average score for the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania). At Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, the average score is 731, and at Ross School of Business at University of Michigan, the average score is 719. For more information on what GMAT score you might need for the business schools you’re applying for, we recommend this reading on the average GMAT score by school.

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The GRE, on the other hand, is scored from 130 to 170 (the writing section is also scored separately, out of 6). When you take the GRE, you will receive your percentile score, as well as your raw score. This percentile lets you know how well you did compared to others. In general, if you receive a score above the 75th percentile (meaning, you did better than 75% of test takers), you will be a competitive graduate school applicant. For more information on how this works, check out this article on GRE scoring.

Which is more difficult?

This depends on the specific skill set of the test taker. Students with strong quantitative and analytical skills often thrive when it comes to the GMAT, since the math and data interpretation problems tend to be more complex. The quantitative section for the GRE, however, tends to be more straightforward, and allows the use of calculators (so it may be more welcoming to those less inclined towards math). The verbal section on the GMAT also tends to be more analytical, great for students who are detail-oriented and strong editors. The GRE’s verbal section might be better for test takers with strong writing skills and large vocabularies.


In terms of cost, the GMAT is a bit pricier at $300 if delivered online, $275 at a testing center. Extra score reports are $35 each and the rescheduling fee is $60 (more than 60 days before the appointment—this amount increases the closer you get to the exam). In terms of cancellation fees, you can be refunded $120 if you cancel more than 60 days before the exam appointment, $90 if you cancel 15-60 days before, and $60 if you cancel 14 or fewer days before.

GMAT vs GRE (Continued)

The GRE, on the other hand is $220 in most locations, with an extra $35 fee for each extra score report, and a $50 fee for rescheduling. If you cancel at least 4 days before the test date, you can get back 50% of your registration fees.

So, which should you take?

One might think that the GMAT is automatically the better option for students applying for business school programs, but this is not necessarily the case. Nowadays, business schools often look for a wide range of skills, including those assessed by the GRE.

This being the case, how you test will likely matter more than which test you take. In other words, you should probably opt for the test that you’re better at. As you figure out which to take, begin with a practice test of each (since these tests are expensive, you probably won’t want to officially take both, but practice tests are readily available online).

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Lastly, you might want to ask yourself these questions as you make your decision:

  • What are your academic goals? If you plan to attend a business school, it might be a tough choice. When it comes to business, are you most interested in exploring the qualitative or quantitative side of things? Which test will better represent where you want to focus as a thinker and entrepreneur? On the other hand, if you’re going into a non-business school program, the GRE will likely make the most sense.
  • What are your academic strengths? If you pride yourself on your analytical or editing skills, the GMAT might be the best option. However, if you are most comfortable writing a broader academic argument, you might want to go for the GRE. If you’re not sure, think back to what your strengths have been in past exams, in university courses or even the SATs. And of course, there’s no harm in taking a practice test of each.

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  • What is your testing style? The GRE allows you to skip around and look over past answers, which is helpful to some test takers. It is also comprised of more short sections, rather than fewer long ones, which can be helpful to those who work better with breaks. If focusing for a long period of time is your strength, or if breaks tend to mess with your focus, then GMAT could be best for you.
  • Do any schools you’re applying to require one or the other? Many schools accept both, but make sure to check on the admissions requirements of your program before making any assumptions.
  • Do any potential jobs require one or the other? Some business and consulting firms (among other companies) ask for GMAT scores in the hiring process. If you’re planning to go into a business field, it could be worthwhile to research possible employers ahead of time while making a decision.

 GMAT vs GRE – Final thoughts

All in all, there is no absolute right or wrong answer when it comes to which test you should take, though it can be tough to decide. We hope that this information has been useful. For more information on factors to consider when applying to various graduate school programs, we recommend the following articles: