GMAT vs GRE. Which one should I take? Which one is best for my career?
This is a question countless college graduates struggle with.
In the past, students who wanted to pursue an MBA were almost always required to submit GMAT scores.
More recently, however, business schools have started accepting either the GMAT or the GRE.
- While it’s nice to have options, it also presents MBA hopefuls with a dilemma: Should you take the GRE or the GMAT?
This guide is designed to help you make a thoughtful, well-informed decision.
- We’ll provide in-depth information about both the GMAT and the GRE, compare the two exams, and give you helpful tips on choosing which exam is right for you.
We have a lot to cover, but we’ll start by exploring the basics of each option.
The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is divided into four sections:
- Analytical Writing Assessment (30 minutes, 1 question)-Analysis of an argument
- Integrated Reasoning (30 minutes, 12 questions)- Table analysis, graphics interpretation, multi-source reasoning, two-part analysis
- Quantitative Reasoning (62 minutes, 31 questions)- Data sufficiency, problem solving
- Verbal Reasoning (65 minutes, 36 questions)- Reading comprehension, critical reasoning, sentence correction
Test-takers have the option to choose the order of the exam sections:
- Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal
- Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
- Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning, Analytical Writing Assessment
The test takes 3.5 hours to complete and includes two optional eight-minute breaks.
The GMAT is computer adaptive, meaning question difficulty is adjusted according to your ability level, allowing for a more accurate assessment.
Your first question will be of medium difficulty. If you answer correctly, questions become more difficult.
- Answer incorrectly, and the questions become less difficult. This process continues throughout the assessment.
Since the test adapts to your answers in real-time, you do not have the option to skip, return to, or change your answer to questions.
It costs $250 to register for the GMAT.
The official GMAT score report consists of five scores: the Analytical Writing Assessment score, Integrated Reasoning score, Quantitative score, Verbal score, and total score.
Each score is reported on a fixed scale. You will also receive a percentile rank, indicating how you performed relative to other test-takers.
Let’s look at how these scores are determined.
Analytical Writing Assessment:
The Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) score ranges from 0 to 6 in half-point intervals.
Your essay will be scored twice independently (one of these scores may be computerized) and then averaged.
If the two ratings differ by more than a point, an expert reader will provide a third judgement to determine the final score. Essays are evaluated based on:
- Overall quality of ideas
- Ability to organize, develop, and express ideas
- Relevant supporting details and examples
- Ability to use standard English conventions appropriately (Note: Readers are trained to be fair in evaluating the responses of test-takers whose first language is not English.)
The Integrated Reasoning score ranges from 1 to 8 in single-digit intervals.
- Your score is based on the number of questions you answer correctly.
Many Integrated Reasoning questions contain multiple parts.
To receive credit for a multi-part question, you must answer all parts of the question correctly.
Quantitative and Verbal:
Quantitative and Verbal scores range from 0 to 60 in single-digit intervals. Scores below 6 and above 51 are extremely rare.
Both Quantitative and Verbal questions are computer adaptive, as described above. Your score is based on:
- How many questions you answer
- Whether your answers are correct
- Difficulty of the questions you answered
You will earn a higher score by answering more questions, answering more of them correctly, and qualifying for a higher level of difficulty.
Scores decrease significantly for each question left unanswered, so practicing pacing is vital.
Total scores range from 200 to 800 in intervals of ten. Two-thirds of test-takers score between 400 and 600.
What is a good GMAT score?
To determine what score you should aim for, you’ll need to look at the average GMAT scores of students accepted to your top choice schools.
Top 10 business schools, such as Ivy League business programs, have an average GMAT score of 725, while the overall average is closer to 556.
Here’s a breakdown of score ranges by percentile:
- Top 10%: 710-800 Total, 40+ Verbal, 51+ Quantitative
- Top 25%: 650-700 Total, 35-39 Verbal, 48-50 Quantitative
- 50%+: 550-640 Total, 28-34 Verbal, 38-47 Quantitative
- Below Average: Below 550 Total, 27 or lower Verbal, 37 or lower Quantitative
Even below average scores will get you into some graduate programs.
However, the competitiveness of your scores will largely determine the competitiveness of the programs willing to offer you admission.
The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) consists of six sections:
- Analytical Writing (30 minutes per task, two tasks)- One “Analyze an Issue” task and one “Analyze an Argument” task
- Verbal Reasoning, two sections (30 minutes, 20 questions per section)- Reading comprehension, text completion, sentence equivalence
- Quantitative Reasoning, two sections (35 minutes, 20 questions per section)- Algebra, arithmetic, data analysis, geometry
- Unscored OR Research (Unidentified unscored section that does not count toward your score and may appear in any order OR identified research section that does not count toward your score and appears at the end of the test)
The Analytical Writing section always appears first, with the other sections following in any order.
- The GRE takes three hours and 45 minutes to complete, with a 10-minute break after the third session.
GRE questions are section-level adaptive, meaning your performance on the first Verbal Reasoning section and the first Quantitative Reasoning section will affect the difficulty level of the next section on that subject.
- Your performance on individual questions does not impact the difficulty level of the following question.
GRE test-takers can freely move backward and forward through any test section. Questions can be marked for review and returned to later, and it’s possible to edit/change question answers.
It costs $205 to register for the GRE.
The official GRE score report consists of three scores: the Verbal Reasoning score, Quantitative Reasoning score, and Analytical Writing score.
Here’s how these scores are determined:
The Analytical Writing score is reported on a 0-6 scale in half-point increments.
The essay is scored by at least one trained rater and is then scored by e-rater, a computerized program.
- If the human and computerized score disagree, a third human rater scores the essay. The final score is the average of the two human scores.
In scoring these essays, the primary emphasis is on your critical thinking and analysis skills, rather than on grammar and mechanics.
Verbal and Quantitative:
The Verbal and Quantitative scores are reported on a 130-170 score scale in one-point increments.
These three section scores are typically reported separately, with no total composite score assigned.
However, simple math can be used to calculate a total Verbal and Quantitative score of 260-340.
What is a good GRE score?
What counts as “good” depends, as usual, on which schools or programs you’re interested in. Do your research on the average GRE scores of admitted students at your top choice programs.
That said, the average GRE score for both the Verbal and Quantitative section is 130-170. The average Analytical Writing score is a 3.5.
- By comparison, the average student admitted to the Yale School of Management scored 164 Verbal, 162 Quantitative, and 4.7 Analytical Writing.
- The average MBA applicant admitted to the Stanford Graduate School of Business scored 164 Verbal, 164 Quantitative, and 4.8 Analytical Writing.
If you’re applying to a highly competitive program, you’ll need a highly competitive GRE score.
Otherwise, scores around 130 Verbal and Quantitative and 3.5 Analytical Writing can get you into a solid program.
And of course, whether you take the GRE or the GMAT, test scores are not the only factor that graduate schools consider.
GMAT vs GRE: A Comparison
That was a lot of information, and you might still be wondering which test you should take.
Below, we’ve compiled the most important info into a quick-reference table comparing the GRE and the GMAT.
|Testing Time||3.75 hours (3.5 hours on paper)||3.5 hours|
|Test Sections||Analytical Writing with two essays, two Verbal Reasoning, two Quantitative Reasoning, one experimental section||Analytical Writing with one essay, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal|
|Test Format||Computer adaptive test by section, also available on paper if computer-delivered testing is unavailable||Computer adaptive test by item|
|Scoring||Three scores reported: Analytical Writing, Verbal Reasoning, and Quantitative Reasoning, with Verbal and Quantitative scores ranging from 130-170 in one-point increments||Five scores reported: Analytical Writing, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, Verbal, and composite score ranging from 200-800 in 10-point increments|
|Other Differences||Can move backward and forward, change responses to questions. Intended for any graduate program, but increasingly accepted by business programs too.||Can’t go back to questions later or edit responses. Intended for graduate business programs.|
Which test do business schools prefer?
Over 7000 business programs worldwide accept the GMAT.
At essentially any business school that requires an entrance examination, GMAT scores will satisfy the testing requirement.
Most students applying to business school submit GMAT scores (about 90 percent).
- But the number of business programs that accept the GRE is increasing rapidly, with at least 1300 programs now allowing GRE scores. More applicants are submitting GRE scores every year.
- In fact, almost 90 percent of U.S. business schools will accept either the GRE or the GMAT. The question is: Do they consider the two exams to be equal?
According to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep, 25 percent of business schools prefer the GMAT to the GRE.
74 percent said they have no preference between the two.
With research indicating that GRE scores can predict success in business school, it’s safe to say that most schools have no preference.
- Still, a word of caution: Because the GRE is a more general graduate entrance exam, some schools feel that the GMAT tests more business-specific skills.
- Some also view taking the GMAT as a sign that you’re committed to a career in business. Taking the GRE, on the other hand, could mean that you’re keeping your graduate school options open.
It’s a good idea to read through the admissions policies of any school you’re interested in. Do they indicate that they view the GRE and GMAT as equal?
If so, you can be confident in choosing whatever test is best for you.
Which test is harder – the GMAT or GRE?
The answer to this question depends on your personal strengths and weaknesses.
In general, the Verbal sections on the GRE and GMAT are considered similar.
- Both test critical thinking, grammar, and reading comprehension skills.
- However, the GRE’s Verbal section may be slightly more challenging, particularly when it comes to vocabulary.
The GRE also asks more questions related to grammar than the GMAT.
- The Quantitative section, on the other hand, is considered more challenging on the GMAT than on the GRE.
The GRE’s math section is more straightforward, while GMAT math questions require more critical thinking and sometimes appear in unusual formats.
Test-takers may use a built-in calculator for all quantitative questions on the GRE.
- The Analytical Writing sections are roughly equal in difficulty, but keep in mind that you will need to write two essays for the GRE and one for the GMAT.
If you’re averse to writing or think that writing two essays may tire you out for the rest of the test, you may prefer the GMAT.
- If you’re an excellent analytical and mathematical thinker but struggle with challenging vocabulary, you may prefer the GMAT.
- If you have strong reading and language skills and prefer straightforward math questions, you may prefer the GRE.
- If you feel that writing two essays (over 60 minutes) instead of one essay (over 30 minutes) will have a negative impact on your overall test performance, you may prefer the GMAT.
- If the ability to skip over questions and return to them later or to review and change your answers is very important, you may prefer the GRE.
Keep in mind, however, that these guidelines are generalizations.
In the next section, we’ll provide some specific strategies that will help you determine whether you should take the GMAT or the GRE.
Should I take the GMAT or the GRE?
In deciding whether you should take the GMAT or the GRE, consider the following:
- Your goals and plans: Are you certain that you want to attend business school? If you’re applying to other types of graduate programs, you will need to take the GRE.
- However, if you’re sure about business school, taking the GMAT may help indicate your commitment and passion for the field.
- School policies: Review the testing policies of each business school you’re interested in.
Do all of them accept both the GRE and the GMAT? Is any preference indicated?
If some of your top schools only accept the GMAT, your decision is already clear. If both tests are accepted and viewed as equal, proceed to the next suggestion.
- Your strengths and weaknesses: In the “Which test is harder?” section above, we indicated which exam might best suit your strengths and weaknesses.
Another way to predict which test you’ll score higher on is to take practice tests.
You can then use a conversion table or comparison tool to compare your performance on the practice GRE to your performance on the practice GMAT.
- Scholarships: If you’re hoping to earn scholarships to offset the cost of graduate school, check for any standardized test requirements.
Some scholarships require scores from either the GMAT or the GRE.
- Additional considerations: You may also want to consider when and where testing is available.
The GRE has more sites and dates since it’s a general exam, but you can likely take the GMAT year-round at a nearby testing site as well.
Remember that the GRE allows you to review and change answers, while the GMAT does not.
Also keep in mind that the GRE allows you to report only your highest scores, while your GMAT score report will always contain every exam you’ve taken.
Advice from our Academic Experts
We asked professionals and academics what they had to say about GMAT vs GRE. Read on to find out more!
Tim Schauer, associate professor of business at Sweet Briar College:
Both tests cost about the same, although the GMAT tends to be favored by those with strong quantitative reasoning skills. My advice is to ask the school which exam they would prefer the student take.
Blake Jensen, head tutor of SD higher scores:
Here are the things I go through with students when they are trying to decide between the GMAT and GRE.
1. About 90% of Business schools say they accept both the GRE and GMAT, and 74% say they weight them both equally.
2. The GRE is more versatile, in that it can be used for many other graduate programs than just an MBA. If you aren’t sure that an MBA is what you want, the GRE leaves more options open.
3. The GRE is considered to have slightly harder verbal sections than the GMAT. This mostly comes down to harder vocabulary on the GRE
4. The GMAT is considered to have noticeably harder quantitative sections than the GRE. The math concepts tested are the same, but GMAT questions can be trickier and more complex. The GMAT also has data sufficiency questions, which often require a significant amount of practice before students get comfortable with them.
5. The GRE allows test takers to skip and come back to questions within the same section. The GMAT does not. For students who make liberal use of skipping and coming back, the GRE is more attractive.
6. No matter what, a prospective student should ask the business schools they are interested in whether they accept the GRE, and whether they weight it equally to the GMAT. Students should also take an official, free practice test of each and compare their percentile ranks in each test.
Christine Sloan Stoddard, MFA candidate and founder of Quail Bell Magazine:
First, hone in on the programs that most interest you and for which you seem the best fit. Then see if they require you to take the GMAT or GRE. Many programs do not require standardized test scores. MFA programs for creative writing, visual arts, theatre, film, and design typically fall into that category.
Admissions panels would rather you focus your time and energy on your portfolio submission. I have never taken the GMAT or the GRE and I was admitted into my top-choice MFA program with a scholarship offer. These stories do happen!
GMAT vs GRE: Final Thoughts
Choosing between the GRE and the GMAT can seem like a daunting decision, but it ultimately won’t make or break your chances of admission to a graduate business program.
- Most business schools accept both exams, and most have no preference between the two. Both exams consist of quantitative, verbal, and writing sections that evaluate similar skills.
- However, the consensus is that the GMAT’s quantitative section is slightly more difficult, while the GRE’s verbal section is more challenging.
Determine which test you should take by considering your personal plans and goals, researching the testing policies of the schools you’re interested in, and taking practice tests for both the GRE and the GMAT.
- If you’re applying only to business programs and all other factors are equal, it may be best to take the GMAT.
- Business schools are more familiar with the GMAT, and some may consider it an indicator that you’re serious about a career in business.
Whatever test you take, don’t neglect the other portions of your application.
Test scores are only one factor considered by business programs, along with your GPA, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and so on.
To ensure that your application is competitive, make each component the best it can be—including your GRE or GMAT scores.