GMAT vs GRE – Which Test is Right for You? Differences between GMAT and GRE

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT vs GRE - Which Test is Right for You - Differences between GMAT and GRE

Like millions of other people around the world, you’re preparing to take your career in business to the next level. In that case, you’re probably looking into a master’s degree in one of the many fields of business study offered by universities worldwide. Whether you’re planning to begin a classic MBA or an alternative that specializes in finance or international relations, the entrance exam you choose to take is critical in proving your ability to the universities of your choice. Many people are automatically drawn to the GMAT, but taking this test simply because it’s popular among professionals you know would be a mistake. For many, the GRE is a better option, and there are many considerations to make when ensuring that you’re taking the right exam for the type of degree you’re choosing to pursue. With this in mind, let’s discuss which of these two exams is right for you – GMAT vs GRE – given your unique circumstances and desired area of study.

Read on to learn more about the differences between the GMAT and GRE. We will first look at both the GMAT and the GRE in detail before comparing the two tests and giving advice which one is right for you.

An Overview of the GMAT

First, let’s address the GMAT. The GMAT was created in 1953 as a collaboration between nine colleges to address the need for a more concrete way of vetting students for higher business education[1]. It solved a need and has since become accepted by colleges in 110 countries worldwide. But where the GMAT excels as being the standard for assessing quality in business acumen, it fails in properly assessing those who wish to study beyond the scope of business administration, communication, or management.

Those who criticize the GMAT do so because it tests quite a narrow scope of knowledge and is therefore only valid for those who wish to study conventional business degrees. In the current ever-changing market, degrees offered by universities are becoming far more varied. This includes dual degrees that pair business with environmentalism or business with psychology. Varying up degrees so that they span multiple disciplines can ensure that a candidate is able to prove their worth to a broader array of companies. As more and more companies worldwide continue to bake activism, environmental consciousness, racial diversity, and social awareness into their business model; they are increasingly looking for multidisciplinary candidates equipped for their unique business methods.

When considering the GMAT, you first should consider whether you seek to be qualified exclusively in business and its associated disciplines or whether you want something broader. Do you want a standard MBA? Or will you go with something more varied? What also matters is where you want to study. There are still many colleges that only accept the GMAT, so if you wish to study with them, the GMAT is naturally the right choice. These colleges have stayed with the GMAT because they trust this exam’s long history and trust its structure. The GMAT has four sections which break into analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative, and verbal. Each section is graded individually, after which they’re all brought together to calculate a composite score ranging from 200 to 800[2]. This style is more traditional than the GRE and arguably more thorough and challenging. For those schools with a reputation for providing formal business education, this test is still either preferred or required.

An Overview of the GRE

While many universities will accept either the GMAT or the GRE, the GMAT is still formally preferred by many of these schools. Because of this, you may have an advantage in gaining entry to these schools by choosing the GMAT. If your relative GMAT score is similar to someone else who submitted theirs via the GRE, you may be selected simply because the university in question trusts the GMAT more. It pays to research the universities you’re applying to and figure out how they feel about each test, whether they consider each to be truly equal, or whether one will be taken more seriously than the other. Colleges and universities are usually upfront on their website about their feelings toward each test.

The GRE is the alternative to the GMAT and is rapidly growing in popularity. As previously mentioned, it tests a broader array of knowledge and is therefore preferred by those studying mixed degrees and specializations that aren’t exclusively business. With only three major sections, the GRE can be seen by some as less complicated and, therefore, less deserving of respect than the GMAT.

The GRE sections include analytical writing, quantitative reasoning, and verbal reasoning. You’ll need to complete two essays, 80 multiple choice questions, and an additional research section. Unlike the GMAT, the GRE section scores are not composited and will be posted separately so that those judging your scores can see where your logic proficiencies are strongest and weakest. Test takers are allowed an additional 15 minutes to complete the GRE (3.75 hours for the GRE vs. 3.5 hours for the GMAT), and the test is $45 cheaper ($205 for the GRE vs. $250 for the GMAT)[3].

Separating results for each section is quite a critical difference for the GRE because not only does it show differences in the way the test taker deals with logic, but it also more clearly displays the difference in how each test handles its adaptive examination formula. Both tests are adaptive, but the key difference is that the GMAT is question adaptive, whereas the GRE is section adaptive.

What Does Adaptive Questioning Mean?

Adaptive means that the GMAT begins with questions deemed moderately complex, then with each subsequent question, it will adapt the difficulty of upcoming questions based on how well you answered the previous question. The way in which the algorithm adapts your questions (making them easier or more difficult) will factor into your final score. Adapting your questions based on the answer to each previous question means you can never go back and re-take a question. You can’t review answers previously given, and if you skip a question, you can’t answer it later[4].

The GRE being section adaptive means that the algorithm will adapt a subsequent section of the exam based on how well you scored in the previously completed section. This means that within each section, you can go back, re-answer questions, and skip questions with the goal of answering them later. This is a far more flexible way of taking the exam, which is going to suit a lot of people more, especially those with learning or attention deficit difficulties.

Considerations for Those Who Struggle with English

The one area where the GRE is actually more difficult to take and study for is the verbal section, especially for those test-takers that speak English as a second language. This is because the GRE focuses on testing vocabulary in its examination style; this is in contrast to the GMAT, which focuses on grammar. For those who have learned English as a second language or struggle with English, studying sufficient vocabulary and grammar can be far more challenging. This is because the rules of grammar apply to a lot of vocabulary, whereas vocabulary can cover hundreds of words used in thousands of different ways.

If you’re able to learn two dozen grammar rules, you can apply them to great effect across hundreds of words. But if you know two dozen English words and their combinations, it may not be useful for the challenges and situations posed by the exam. This is one area where the more traditional and historic focus of the GMAT actually makes it easier for some, especially those that don’t mind the other challenges posed by the exam, including math, which is known for being more challenging on the GMAT vs. the GRE because of its more precise focus on business in contrast to the broader range of focus on the GRE.

Summary of the Differences between GMAT and GRE

Let’s now summarize the key differences between the GMAT and the GRE.

  • The GMAT has a long history of being a reliable way of testing potential business students
  • However, the GRE tests a lot more than simple business acumen, which is useful for an ever-changing workplace
  • Both the GMAT and GRE are adaptive in their algorithms, but how they apply this is very different from each other, which can make a major difference for students
  • The GRE may actually be more difficult if you don’t speak English natively
  • Ultimately, the choice you make will be based on what your desired school wants, your unique situation and background, and what kind of job you’ll want when you graduate.

GMAT vs GRE: Which is Best in the End?

So which exam should you take when it comes time to apply for business school? GMAT vs GRE? It depends entirely on your plans for the future, which school you’re applying for, and where your strengths and weaknesses lie. The GMAT is a traditional exam that’s steeped in history and is trusted by universities all over the world. Many schools either require the GMAT or prefer it, and it’s an excellent option for those with high math and logic abilities and those who lack English abilities. However, the GRE may be for those who want to specialize in more than just business.

Every year, more universities accept the GRE, especially as more diverse degrees and double majors are introduced to university catalogs. As the business world grows and diversifies, so do the requirements of those entering the workforce. The GRE may be for you if you want a more diverse career and are aiming for a degree that reflects that. If your chosen university values the results of the GRE and your skillset favors English and other skills in addition to business, then the GRE may be perfect for you. Have a look within yourself and make a checklist of everything you’re good at and what you want for your future; once you’ve done that, the answer will make itself clear.

If you choose to take the GMAT, be sure to prepare for it properly. For instance, use our free GMAT Quant practice tests to be ready when you sit for the exam.


[1] Graduate Management Admission Council, GMAC History. Accessed 2022. https://www.gmac.com/why-gmac/the-gmac-advantage/gmac-history

[2] Sarikas, Christine. GREvsGMAT: What’s the Difference? Which Should You Take? PrepScholar. 2016. https://www.prepscholar.com/gre/blog/gre-vs-gmat/

[3] TPR Education IP Holdings, LLC. GMAT vs GRE: Which Test is Right for You? The Princeton Review. Accessed 2022.

[4] Graduate Management Admissions Council. GMAT Exam Structure. MBA. Accessed 2022.  https://www.mba.com/exams/gmat/about-the-gmat-exam/gmat-exam-structure

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