GMAT vs GRE – 2021 Ultimate Guide & Key Differences

If you consider pursuing a graduate program for better opportunities, you should know that many of us are thinking along the same line. Hence, competition for admissions could be quite tough. In fact, Research Snapshot from GMAC shows the increasing pool of applicants (1) even in the time of a pandemic. 

In making these very important decisions, admission committees give considerable weight to standardized examinations, two of the most popular of which are the GMAT and GRE. These examinations provide the admissions committee with a basis for comparing the applicants to see who has the potential to succeed in the graduate program. Hence, you need examination results that will stand out from all other applicants. 

Will a good result in any of these examinations get me to my target program? This is what we will find out as we go through a detailed analysis of the key differences between GMAT versus GRE

In this article, we shall look into the difference between GMAT and GRE in terms of their focus or targets, sections, format and structure, computer adaptive system, length, and scoring, Then we will discuss how you should make a choice between the GMAT or GRE. before we conclude, we will tackle how you could achieve an outstanding score whether it be with GMAT or GRE.

Application Trends Survey

GMAT vs. GRE: Key Difference

Both GMAT and GRE are well recognized standardized examinations that have great weight in the admissions to graduate programs. According to Magoosh, there are about 655,000 GRE test takers per year while there are only 250,000 for GMAT. 

The reason for this, of course, might be their different focus. Where GRE embraces general education, GMAT focuses on graduate business programs. Naturally, GRE would have a wider pool of examinees. That and the unlimited opportunity to take the GRE as compared to the GMAT limit of 8 tests in your lifetime. 

Magoosh Presents

Hence, there is no question about what you should take if you are thinking of graduate programs other than business. However, if you wish to get into a business school for an MBA, then you have these two options to choose from (2).

You better remember though that in graduate business schools, GMAT is the gold standard. In fact, nine out of 10 new enrollments in MBA is made through GMAT.  

It is true that according to Kaplan Test Prep’s survey in 2016, the acceptance of GRE as an alternative to GMAT for admission to b-schools had reached a record high of 92%. This is a great leap from 2009’s 24%. However, preference for GMAT has increased to 44% since 2014, while preference for GRE has decreased from 4% to 2%. 

So what do these numbers tell us? It shows that GMAT is the best option for you if you plan for a graduate b-school because it weighs more heavily during admissions. Nonetheless, there are some circumstances where GRE could also be a good option for you. One of these is if you believe GRE will give you better scores which, when submitted in tandem with your outstanding application, would make you still stand out from other applicants.    

Kaplan Test Prep survey in 2016 shows that more b-schools are accepting GRE as an alternative to GMAT, including 224 business schools. 18 of these are among the top 50 b-schools, according to the ranking of US News & World Report.

How to choose GMAT vs GRE?

Clarify your targets. To choose which is a better option between GMAT or GRE, you need to know your targets. Have you decided to focus specifically on a graduate business program? If you are not even thinking about a business program, there are no questions about it. Take the GRE. 

Now, if you consider an MBA but are not 100% certain about it, you better take the GRE because it will keep your options open. Since it focuses on general education, a GRE score would be useful should you opt to switch to another program. 

Identify your target business school. If you are 100% sure that it’s a business program that you wish to pursue, then the next step would be to identify your target school. As you may recall from Kaplan’s survey, b-schools have their preferences between GMAT and GRE. 

While GMAT is more favored and considered the golden standard, it might also be nice to try and ask the admissions committee if they have a specific preference. Doing so will help ensure that your efforts and the resources that you are going to invest in the test will be recognized. 

If your admissions committee has no specific preference and would welcome either of the two, this is where you weigh in which of the two exams will give you a higher chance to achieve a higher score  

Know whether GMAT or GRE is going to help you achieve the score that will stand out. 

Because GMAT focuses specifically on testing skills that are required for you to succeed in the graduate business program, an excellent GMAT score requires no further question on your qualifications. However, GMAT could be challenging, particularly in its Quant section. 

Further, they also have different structures, computer-adaptive systems, durations, and test question types. Hence, you need to know specifically how these two are different so you would know which exam is going to work best for you.

GMAT vs. GRE: Sections 

GMAT Sections

GMAT has four sections that measure your chances of being successful in a graduate business program. These are quantitative reasoning, verbal reasoning, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing assessment. 

GMAT Section

Verbal Reasoning (Computer Adaptive) 

This section will measure your ability to read and understand a written test, reason, evaluate arguments, and make corrections for effective communication in standard (US) English. Questions here are presented in a multiple-choice format. You are rated based on the number of items you answered correctly and on their level of difficulty. 

Types of questions under this section are reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. The image below shows a sample sentence correction question. 

Verbal Reasoning 2

Quantitative Reasoning (Computer Adaptive) 

This section will measure your ability to engage in mathematical reasoning, it will also test your ability to solve quantitative problems, and interpret graphical data. Questions are also presented in multiple-choice format. You are rated based on the number of items you answered correctly and on their level of difficulty. 

Types of questions in this section are data sufficiency and problem-solving. Data sufficiency is GMAT’s creation which requires some getting used to. It tests you in a different format where you will be given a problem and two additional statements. What you need to do is to identify which of the two statements will provide information that is necessary to definitively answer the question. Below is a sample data sufficiency problem.

Verbal Reasoning Answer Choices

Integrated Reasoning (Not Adaptive)

This section will measure your ability to convert data from various sources and formats into relevant information. These data could be in graphic, numeric, or verbal formats. It will also test your ability to organize information in order to solve different interrelated problems. 

Types of questions here are multi-source reasoning, graphics interpretation, two-part analysis, and table analysis. Most of the problems here would need multipart answers, you need to answer all of these parts correctly to have a full score. Below is a sample question for a two-part analysis. 

Two Part Analysis

Analytical Writing Assessment

This section will measure your critical thinking and communication skills. In this test, you will be required to write a critique of an argument based on your analysis of the reasoning behind the argument.  

The rating that you will get here is an average of two independent ratings, One is provided by an automated scoring engine and the other is provided by a human reviewer. Below is a sample question for this section. 

Analytical Writing Assessment 1

GRE Sections

GRE has three sections. These are verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical reasoning. ETS believes that these sections cover that kind of thinking that you will be expected to do in graduate and professional schools like a business. 

Verbal Reasoning: In this section, the emphasis is given on your complex verbal reasoning such as the ability to understand multiple levels of meaning and reasoning from incomplete data among others. GRE will test your verbal reasoning through three types of questions which include reading comprehension, text completion, and sentence equivalence. 

Below is a sample sentence equivalence question.

Sample Sentence Equivalence Questions

Quantitative Reasoning: This section will test your ability to analyze quantitative data, apply mathematical models to solve problems, among other quantitative reasoning skills. This section will include quantitative comparison questions, multiple-choice questions (select one answer choice), multiple-choice questions (select one or more answers), and numeric entry questions. 

You will see a sample numeric entry question for this GRE section.

Quantitative Reasoning 

Analytical Writing: This section will test your critical thinking and analytical writing skills. This section has two writing tasks that are timed separately. These are Analyze an Issue Task and Analyze an Argument Task. Below is an example of an Analyze an Argument Task. 

Sample Analyze an Argument

GMAT vs. GRE: Structure

Another difference between GRE and GMAT that you might want to consider is their different structures and format. 

With GMAT, you could choose the order by which the test sections will be presented. Based on the four sections of the GMAT exam, you can choose to arrange the sections based on your strengths and weaknesses. For instance, if you excel at Analytical Writing Assessment, you can set this as the first section followed by Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative, and then Verbal. This setup basically covers the original structure. You have two other options to choose from. 

This gives you the flexibility to choose based on your test-taking strategy and strengths. 

Sadly, GRE does not give you the same choice. The GRE analytical writing section is always first. Other sections are in random order. 

However, whatever GRE lacks in flexibility in terms of test section order, it makes up for flexibility in  allowing you to skip questions. You won’t have the same deal with GMAT which will only give you one question at a time (because of its computer-adaptive design). 

On the other hand, GRE allows you to move back and forth within a section to preview the questions. You could tag questions you find difficult at the moment so you could just return to it later. You could also change and edit answers within the section and have an on-screen calculator for the quant reasoning section.

GMAT vs. GRE: Computer Adaptive System

Both GMAT and GRE use computer-adaptive systems. However, they are different in that GMAT is question adaptive while GRE is section adaptive. 

GMAT employs a computer-adaptive question. The level of difficulty of the questions will depend on whether or not you answer the previous question correctly. This is the reason why you are not allowed to skip around in the GMAT sections. It’s because your answers in each question will be used by the algorithm to determine the sequence and level of difficulty of succeeding questions.

If you manage to answer the questions correctly, it could mean that as you progress through GMAT, the more difficult the test items will get. The beauty of this is that you will be able to test the limits of your skills.

The challenge, however, is that as you get to the last part of the section where you are most exhausted, that is when you are expected to be tackling the most challenging questions.  For this reason, picking the GMAT test order where the computer adaptive sections (Verbal and Quant) would come first might be ideal. Further, these two are the basis of your total GMAT scores so you might want to tackle the increasing level of difficulty of test questions with fresh energy. 

Meanwhile, GRE has computer-adaptive sections. This means that you need to complete each section. Then, based on how well you performed in the previous section, the level of difficulty of the next section will be determined by the computer adaptive system.  

It is this system that grants you some flexibility in answering each section where you are free to edit answers, preview, and return to some test questions. Further, this also means that the question difficulty will not be as congested at the last part of your time for that section.

GMAT vs. GRE: Tests Duration

Actual GMAT takes 3 hours and 7 minutes, However, with breaks and test instructions included, it is going to take 3 hours and 30 minutes. 

  • Quantitative Reasoning: 62 minutes for 31 questions
  • Verbal Reasoning: 65 minutes for 36 questions
  • Integrated Reasoning: 30 minutes for 12 questions
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: 30 minutes for 1 question

Meanwhile, GRE overall testing time is about 3 hours and 45 minutes. There are 6 sections. A 10-minute break follows the third section. 

  • Analytical Writing: 30 minutes for each of the tasks (Analyze an Issue Task and Analyze an Argument Task) 
  • Verbal Section: 30 minutes for each of the two sections with 20 questions per section
  • Quantitative Reasoning: 35 minutes per section for each of the two sections with 20 questions per section
  • Unscored and Research: varies. These questions do not count toward your score but are used for comparability and research purposes of the ETS. 

GMAT vs. GRE: Scoring System

GMAT provides scores for each section. 

  • Quantitative Reasoning:  Scores range from 6-51, in 1 point increment
  • Verbal Reasoning: Scores range from 6-51 in 1- point increment
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: Scores range from 0-6 in half-point increments
  • Integrated Reasoning: Scores range from 1-8 in 1-point increments

In addition to this, you will also receive a total score which is based on your Quant and Verbal. Your total score could range from 200-800. 

Another important information that your GMAT score provides is your percentile ranking. This shows how well you performed compared to the other candidates for the past three years. Hence, every year, your percentile ranking will be updated to incorporate data from the most recent year’s percentile.

GMAT

On the other hand, GRE only provides scores for individual sections. 

  • Quantitative Reasoning: Score range from 130-170 in 1-point increments
  • Verbal  Reasoning: Scores range from 130-170 in 1-point increments
  • Analytical Writing: Scores range from 0-6 in half-point increments

GRE also has unidentified unscored questions and research questions. These questions are tried for comparability and for research purposes of the ETS. These items do not count towards your score. Nonetheless, because they are unidentified, you have no idea which questions they are. Hence, it would be best to treat every question as if they would be rated.   

Although GRE does not provide an overall score, ETS reports that the correlation between GMAT and GRE scores is 92% accurate. 

Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, GMAC and ETS have offered flexibility in GMAT and GRE testing  through GMAT Online Exam (3) and GRE At Home testing (4). These allow you to take the exam at home using your one device.

So, should I take GMAT or GRE? 

Take GMAT if: 

You are 100% certain you wish to pursue a graduate business management program. GMAT is the gold standard if you wish to pursue a graduate business program. Since it focuses on business, it measures exactly the skills that you need to succeed in b-schools. Hence, a good GMAT score requires no further questions about your qualifications. Further, it communicates to the admissions committee your sense of direction as it shows that you are focused on your track. 

Even if GRE is accepted by more and more business schools as an alternative to GMAT, more b-schools still indicate a preference for GMAT. Further, if we’ll listen to data, 9 out of 10 new enrollments in MBA are made through using a GMAT score.

Take GRE if: 

Now, if you are not yet 100% sold on the idea of taking an MBA. You might be safe to take GRE because it will leave your options open. You could easily switch to other graduate programs with GRE because it is accepted by other programs as well. 

You may also take a chance with a GRE in your MBA application if you are confident that your application is outstanding enough for the admissions committee to really care whether you present a GMAT or GRE score. 

Further, you may opt for GRE instead of GMAT for an MBA program if you believe you will have a better result with GRE as compared to GMAT. Does it mean GRE is easier? It depends on you actually. 

In terms of format, GRE is far simpler and straightforward than GMAT, which takes some getting used to. Further, GRE’s verbal questions require extensive vocabulary, while GMAT’s verbal requires more critical reasoning. On the other hand, GMAT Quant is harder, and the data sufficiency questions being GMAT’s creation requires some practice for you to be really comfortable with them. 

Hence, you need to know your own skillset to identify which test is more likely to give you better results, Your consideration should also include their structure, format, CAT, question type among others. However,  if you wish to have a real diagnosis, you may take one of the full practice tests for GMAT and GRE which are available on GMAC and ETS websites.

How to achieve great results whether it be with GMAT or GRE 

Once you have decided which would be best for you, now you need to focus on how to achieve great results that will boost your chances to be accepted into your chosen program 

Be familiar with the examination

Whether you are taking GRE or GMAT, it would be best to make sure you do your homework and get yourself familiar. This includes not just the sections and question types but also the structure, format, along with other considerations. These conditions are very much likely to affect your performance as much as your cognitive readiness. 

If you’re taking the GMAT, it would be best to remember that while all sections are important, your overall score will be based on Verbal and Quant. Hence, each question is presented in increasing difficulty based on how well you answer the previous ones. You might want to consider this in planning which test order will work best for you. 

It would also help to familiarize yourself with the types of test questions you will have to tackle during the exam. For instance, data sufficiency for Quant being GMAT’s own creation might require time getting familiar with. 

Meanwhile, if you are taking GRE, knowing that much of its verbal section is vocabulary-based should warn you of the kind of prep you would require. Understanding the structure and format of GRE will also help you maximize the flexibility that it offers for each section. Knowing this, you know you don’t need to waste much time on one question and could just tag it to be reviewed later.

Clarify your target 

It would also be best to set your targets. What are your target school and score? When do you plan to take the exams? These are quite basic but very important information for you to adjust your preparations accordingly.

Knowing your target examination date will set your timeline and will help you make a good working study plan. 

Knowing your target school, program, and score will help you clarify how much effort and resources you need in order to achieve this set target.  

Know your starting point

It’s not enough that you know where you want to be. You should also know where your starting point is. This will help you determine how far we are to the target. Hence, you will be able to determine how much time, and resources are required to achieve your target. 

For a more objective diagnostic on your starting point, it would be best to try one of the full-length tests available on ETS or GMAC websites. These examinations will tell us how to make a better plan to achieve your targets. 

Match your resources with your target

You need to match the resources that would be required to meet your targets. What resources are we talking about? These are time and review materials, which will help you prep for the exam. 

If you will know your strong and weak areas during the diagnosis of your starting point, this will help you come up with a smart study plan. This way, you don’t need to waste resources covering all sections with an equivalent amount of time and effort. 

You might also choose to tap a prep course that will help you review for the examinations. There are a number of prep courses that offer self-paced live classes, and private tutorials for GMAT or GRE. These prep courses would give you access to human and material resources that provide further practices close to the real examination.

GMAT vs GRE: In Summary

CRITERIA

GMAT

GRE

Owner

GMAT is owned by Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) which is a non-profit organization which is made up of the foremost graduate business schools around the globe 

GRE is owned by Education Testing Service, Inc. (ETS) which is a global non-profit organization for assessment and measurement of education. 

Focus 

GMAT focuses on graduate business programs.  

GRE focuses on general education. 

Sections

GMAT has four sections: 

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Quantitative Reasoning
  3. Integrated Reasoning
  4. Analytical Writing Assessment

GRE has three sections: 

  1. Verbal Reasoning
  2. Quantitative Reasoning
  3. Analytical Writing

CAT

Question adaptive CAT

Section Adaptive CAT

Structure

Test taker selects the order from the following choices: 

  • AWA, IR, Quant, Verbal
  • Verbal, Quant, IR, AWA
  • Quant, Verbal, IR, AWA

The analytical writing section is always first. Other sections are in random order.  

Testing Time

GMAT requires 3 hours and 7 minutes for the actual exam

GRE requires 3 hours and 45 minutes

Scoring

GMAT provides scores for each section and a total score. 

  • Overall score range: 200-800 points in 10-point increments
  • Quant score: range: 6-51, in 1 point increment
  • Verbal Section score range:6-51 in 1- point increment
  • Analytical Writing Assessment Score range: 0-6 in half-point increments
  • Integrated Reasoning score range: 1-8 in 1-point increments 

GRE only provides scores for individual sections. 

  • Quantitative Reasoning score range: 130-170 in 1-point increments
  • Verbal  Reasoning score range: 130-170 in 1-point increments
  • Analytical Writing Score range: 0-6 in half-point increments

Cost

USD 250

USD 205

Limits

16-day gap between tests with a limit of 8 GMAT per lifetime 

21-day gap between tests. Unlimited GRE in a lifetime

Wrapping Things Up

GMAT or GRE? As you may have realized, it is not really a matter of which is easier because the easier test depends on your skillset and abilities. Hence, I really would rather use the phrase “more compatible” instead of easier because both are quite challenging in their own ways.

Hence, your focus in selecting should be your target. Pick GMAT if you are 100% sold to take an MBA program where GMAT is the gold standard, If you want to keep your options open, you might want to consider GRE which is accepted by more graduate programs. 

And whatever you choose, achieve the best score that you can get by studying smart, not hard. Preparing smart does not require the longest prep time and most extensive materials. It requires a kind of prep that matches your target, in consideration of your current standing. 

I hope this article provides helpful information and insights. If you believe this could help other test-takers, as well, feel free to share it with them.

FAQ

GRE is easier if you have an extensive vocabulary but GMAT is easier if you are great at quant and critical verbal reasoning. In other words, whichever would be easier actually depends on your abilities and skill set.

GMAT might give you a better chance of getting into an MBA program. It is considered the gold standard in b-schools because it focuses specifically on business management programs compared to GRE which is more general. Further, more b-schools have expressed a preference for GMAT scores. The number of b-schools accepting GRE as an alternative to GMAT score is increasing, however.

Due to the COVID 19 pandemic, ETS and GMAC offer testing at home. Here, you will take the test at home with your own equipment while being monitored by a human proctor. For more information, see the GRE General test at Home and GMAT Online Exam.

References

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