GRE vs. GMAT: Which Test Should MBA Applicants Take?

Business school applicant studying for exam with notebook and laptop
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For decades, the business school testing requirement was utterly straightforward: if you wanted to pursue a graduate degree in business, the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) was your only option. Now, however, many business schools accept the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) in addition to the GMAT. Prospective business school applicants have the option of taking either test.

The GMAT and the GRE have plenty of similarities, but they are by no means identical. In fact, the differences between the GMAT and the GRE are significant enough that many students show a strong preference for one test over the other. In order to decide which one to take, consider the content and structure of both exams, then weigh those factors against your personal testing preferences.

What It's For The GMAT is the standard exam for business school admissions. The GRE is the standard exam for graduate school admissions. It is also accepted by a large number of business schools.
Test Structure

One 30-minute Analytical Writing section (one essay prompt)

One 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section (12 questions)

One 65-minute Verbal Reasoning section (36 questions)

One 62-minute Quantitative Reasoning section (31 questions)

One 60-minute Analytical writing section (two essay prompts, 30 minutes each)

Two 30-minute Verbal Reasoning sections (20 questions per section)

Two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections (20 questions per section)

One 30- or 35-minute unscored Verbal or Quantitative section (computer-based test only)

Test Format Computer-based. Computer-based. Paper-based tests are available only in regions that do not have computer-based testing centers.
When It's Offered Year-round, almost every day of the year. Year-round, almost every day of the year.
Timing 3 hours and 30 minutes, including instructions and two optional 8-minute breaks. 3 hours and 45 minutes, including an optional 10-minute break.
Cost $250 $205
Scores Total score ranges from 200-800 in 10-point increments. The Quantitative and Verbal sections are scored separately. Both range from 130-170 in 1-point increments.

The Verbal Reasoning Section

The GRE is widely considered to have a more challenging verbal section. The reading comprehension passages are often more complex and academic than those found on the GMAT, and the sentence structures are trickier. As a whole, the GRE emphasizes vocabulary, which must be understood in context, while the GMAT emphasizes grammar rules, which can be more easily mastered. Native English speakers and students with strong verbal skills may favor the GRE, whereas non-native English speakers and students with weaker verbal skills may prefer the GMAT's relatively straightforward verbal section.

The Quantitative Reasoning Section

Both the GRE and the GMAT test basic math skills—algebra, arithmetic, geometry and data analysis—in their quantitative reasoning sections, but the GMAT presents an added challenge: the Integrated Reasoning section. The Integrated Reasoning section, comprised of eight multi-part questions, requires test takers to synthesize multiple sources (often visual or written) in order to draw conclusions about data. The question format and style is unlike the quantitative sections found on the GRE, SAT, or ACT, and thus will likely be unfamiliar to most test takers. Students who feel comfortable critically analyzing a variety of quantitative sources may find it easy to succeed on the Integrated Reasoning section, but students without a strong background in this type of analysis may find the GMAT more difficult. 

The Analytical Writing Section

The analytical writing sections found on the GMAT and the GRE are substantively quite similar. Both tests include an "Analyze an Argument" prompt, which asks test takers to read an argument and write a critique assessing the argument's strengths and weaknesses. However, the GRE also has a second required essay: "Analyze a Task." This essay prompt asks test takers to read an argument, then write an essay explaining and justifying their own stance on the issue. The requirements of these writing sections don't differ much, but the GRE requires twice as much writing time, so if you find the writing section particularly draining, you might prefer the GRE's single-essay format. 

Test Structure

While the GMAT and the GRE are both computer-based exams, they do not offer identical testing experiences.  On the GMAT, test takers cannot navigate back and forth between questions within a single section, nor can they return to previous questions to change their answers. This is because the GMAT is "question-adaptive." The exam determines which questions to present to you based on your performance on all prior questions. For this reason, every answer you give must be final—there's no going back.

The GMAT's restrictions create an element of stress that does not exist on the GRE. The GRE is "section-adaptive," which means that the computer uses your performance on the first Quantitative and Verbal sections to determine the difficulty level of your second Quantitative and Verbal sections. Within a single section, GRE test takers are free to skip around, mark questions they want to return to later, and change their answers. Students who struggle with test anxiety may find the GRE easier to conquer because of its greater flexibility. 

There are other structural differences to consider, too. The GRE permits calculator use during the quantitative section, while the GMAT does not. The GMAT allows test takers to choose the order in which to complete test sections, whereas the GRE presents sections in a random order. Both exams enable test takers to view their unofficial scores immediately after completing the exam, but only the GMAT allows scores to be cancelled after they've been viewed. If, after completing the GRE, you have a feeling you might want to cancel your scores, you'll have to make the decision based on hunch alone, because scores cannot be cancelled once you've seen them.

The content as well as the structure of the exams will determine which one you find easier to tackle. Consider both your academic strengths and your personal testing preferences before choosing an exam. 

Which Test Is Easier?

Whether you prefer the GRE or the GMAT depends largely on your personal skill set. Broadly speaking, the GRE tends to favor test takers with strong verbal skills and big vocabularies. Math wizards, on the other hand, might prefer the GMAT because of its tricky quantitative questions and comparatively straightforward verbal reasoning section.

Of course, the relative ease of each exam is determined by much more than content alone. The GMAT is made up of four distinct sections, which means four separate sections to study and four distinct sets of tips and tricks to learn. The GRE, by contrast, is comprised of only three sections.  If you're short on study time, this difference might make the GRE the easier choice.

Which Test Should You Take for Business School Admissions?

Naturally, the biggest factor in your testing decision should be whether the programs on your list accept your exam of choice. Many business schools accept the GRE, but some do not; dual degree programs will have a variety of testing requirements. But once you've reviewed each program's individual testing policy, there are a few other factors to take into consideration.

First, think about your level of commitment to a particular post-secondary path. The GRE is ideal for students looking to keep their options open. If you plan to apply to graduate programs in addition to business schools, or if you're pursuing a dual degree program, the GRE is likely your best bet (as long as it's accepted by all the programs on your list).

However, if you're fully committed to business school, the GMAT may be a better choice. Admissions officials at some MBA programs, like the one at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, have expressed a preference for the GMAT. From their perspective, an applicant who takes the GMAT demonstrates a stronger commitment to business school than someone who takes the GRE and may still be considering other post-secondary plans. While many schools do not share this preference, it's still something you should take into consideration. This advice applies doubly if you're interested in a career in management consulting or investment banking, two fields in which many employers require potential hires to submit GMAT scores with their job applications. 

Ultimately, the best test to take for business school admissions is the one that gives you the best chance of a high score. Before choosing an exam, complete at least one free timed practice test for both the GMAT and the GRE. After reviewing your scores, you can make an informed decision, then set out to conquer your exam of choice.

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Your Citation
Valdes, Olivia. "GRE vs. GMAT: Which Test Should MBA Applicants Take?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 1, 2021, Valdes, Olivia. (2021, August 1). GRE vs. GMAT: Which Test Should MBA Applicants Take? Retrieved from Valdes, Olivia. "GRE vs. GMAT: Which Test Should MBA Applicants Take?" ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).