GMAT vs SAT – Key Differences You Should Know

by Maximilian Claessens
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GMAT vs SAT – Key Differences You Should Know

Applying for school in the United States can be a complex process, and deciding whether to take the SAT or the GMAT is a key element of your application journey. These two tests are fundamentally different, but are often confused with one another, especially by international students. In this guide, we’ll be breaking down everything you need to know about GMAT vs SAT, including the similarities and differences between GMAT and SAT you should be aware of.

What are the SAT and the GMAT?


The SAT, previously known as the Scholastic Admission Test, is an exam designed to assist with your application to a Bachelor’s program, so it’s typically taken in the final year of high school or just after you leave.


The GMAT, or the Graduate School Admission Test, is designed for students who have already completed their Bachelor’s degree, and are looking to move into further study, either for a Master’s degree or a postgraduate business school program.

GMAT vs SAT: Breaking Down the Differences

Understanding the differences between GMAT and SAT is one of the best ways to approach your application with more clarity, as the two exams are very different. Let’s contrast GMAT vs SAT to see how they differ.

What do the SAT and the GMAT test?

Contrasting GMAT vs SAT, you quickly notice that they are fundamentally different. The GMAT and the SAT are two separate and unique exams, not only in their structure but also in what they are actually designed to test.

The SAT is geared towards evaluating whether a student would be suitable for college level study, so it tests candidates’ ability in Math, Writing & Language and Reading. On certain SAT School days, it also affords candidates the opportunity to complete an optional essay section.

Compared to the SAT, the GMAT assesses a different set of skills and abilities in its candidates. As it’s designed to test a student’s potential for success in future management positions, and therefore their high capability at postgraduate level, the test’s sections include Verbal Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and an Analytical Writing Assessment. 

Testing Methods

Both the SAT and the GMAT are lengthy tests that require a lot of mental and physical preparation. There are some key differences in their testing methods that require consideration before you begin preparing for either, such as:

  • Exam Timings

At 3 hours 50 minutes, the SAT is the longer of the two, and with no breaks it can leave test takers flagging towards the later stages. It’s important to prioritize your health throughout SAT prep, which we’ll discuss in more detail later on.

The GMAT is shorter by a fraction, at 3 hours 30 minutes, but as a result is considered the more intense of the two tests, especially when considering the more advanced testing sections.

  • Scoring Method

The SAT is scored between 400 and 1600. To calculate your score, the College Board will combine your Reading and Writing section together, and add the score out of 800 to your Math section, also scored from 800. Your final ‘raw’ score (how many questions you got right) will then be scaled based on your ranking out of all test takers. This will give you a final score out of 1600 that you can send to potential schools with your application materials.

When taking the GMAT, on the other hand, candidates are scored between 1600 and 2400. In a similar style to the SAT scoring method, your overall GMAT score will be based on the combination of section scores, namely the Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning sections.  

The Costs of the GMAT vs SAT

When comparing GMAT vs SAT, one key element to consider is the cost of each test. No matter which test you take, the costs for the GMAT and the SAT can add up. Not only do both tests have a registration fee, but you might also face additional costs if you need to make changes to your information or test date. The financial burden of the GMAT and SAT can even vary depending on where in the world you live. We’ve put together a table to lay out the costs for the GMAT vs SAT.

Registration Fee (All Students)$55$250-$300
Non-US Regional Fee (International Students)$43 – $53n/a
Test Center Change$25$10
Registration Following Regular Deadline£30n/a
Waitlist Charge$53n/a

Once you’ve taken the SAT, there are a number of additional fees that you might not be aware of. Included in your registration fee is the ability to send your score report to up to four schools, but you can pay $12 per additional school for an Additional Score Report Request. You can also pay $31 for a Rush Order to send your score report within 1-2 business days, in case you are applying close to a school or college deadline.

The case is the same for the GMAT – extra services will require you to pay an additional cost. Additional score reports will run you $30 each, and re-scoring costs around $45 per test.

Preparing for the SAT or the GMAT

If you’re due to sit the SAT exam, it’s best to take a methodical approach to your preparation. There are a number of factors that can influence your score – here are our top tips for optimizing your performance.

Study According to the Specific Sections

The SAT and GMAT are comprised of different sections, designed to test different elements of a candidates ability. Therefore, when preparing for your test, it’s vital that you understand the nuances of each section and study accordingly.

SAT Sections

The creator of the SAT, the College Board, lay out the four sections of the SAT as follows:

  • Reading: First up on the SAT, the reading section tests your ability to understand complex vocabulary in context and comprehend information across five passages. These passages include US or World Literature, Science and History or Social Studies. Primarily, you’ll be assessed on how well you identify evidence for an author’s conclusions, and decipher key meanings within a written passage.   
  • Writing and Language: Coming up second is the Writing and Language section, in which you’ll need to show how well you can identify stylistic weaknesses and grammatical errors within written content. Again, you’ll be shown passages, this time across a range of topics that can include careers and the humanities, so you need to be able to absorb key points and address inconsistencies quickly.
  • Math: The last section of the SAT (if you’re not at an SAT School day) tests your abilities in Math. It is split into two sub-sections, Calculator and Non-Calculator, and so is the longest of each of the sections tested. It is also the only of the three guaranteed sections that offers grid-in questions alongside multiple choice ones. Questions will derive from key topics including data analysis, problem solving, algebra and advanced math.
  • Optional Essay: If you do take the essay, included at SAT School days, understand that it will not count towards your overall score, and as it isn’t offered to all test takers, potential schools cannot take your score into account. However, it’s still useful to give it your best shot. In the essay, you’ll be asked to read a passage and write an essay response detailing how well the author outlines their arguments, and how persuasive it is.

The number of questions per SAT section can vary per test, and so the allocated time for each one can differ. Therefore, it’s important to come into the exam prepared and confident in each section, so you don’t face any unexpected surprises.

GMAT Sections

The GMAT sections are considered more intensive than those of the SAT, as they assess a student’s potential ability at postgraduate level.

  • Verbal Reasoning: In the Verbal Reasoning section, you’ll be given 36 multiple choice questions that present a published argument, and then be asked to answer questions around their content. You might be asked to state the general idea or purpose of the passage, or even suggest a title, so it’s vital that your preparation gives you a wide range of exposure to similar questions.
  • Integrated Reasoning: Throughout this section, you’ll be given prompts that veer away from the typical multiple choice questioning style, and assess your ability to evaluate and comprehend information in graphic, visual, quantitative, verbal, textual and tabular forms.
  • Quantitative Reasoning: This section is designed to test your proficiency in key mathematical areas, such as Problem Solving (PS), in which you could be asked to interpret data and solve numerical problems. You’ll also face Data Sufficiency (DS) questions, which are almost entirely unique to the GMAT – these questions require you to use data inferred from one or both of two provided statements to come to a conclusion.
  • Analytical Writing Assessment: In this section, you’ll be presented with an argument, to which you will respond with an essay critiquing it’s overall presentation and conclusion. You’ll be given 30 minutes to do this, and be assessed on your ability to analyze an argument and clearly present your response.

At the beginning of the GMAT, you’ll have three options to choose from regarding the order in which you want to complete your sections:

In the Classic order, you’ll take the Analytical Writing Assessment first, followed by the Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Verbal Reasoning Sections.

In the Quantitative First order, you’ll take the Quantitative section first, and then complete the Verbal Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing Assessment sections.

Your final option will be the Verbal First order, in which you’ll complete the Verbal section first, followed by the Quantitative Reasoning, Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing Assessment.

Get Enough Sleep

Sticking to a regular sleep pattern is a vital component to adequate preparation for both the SAT and the GMAT. Both tests are physically and mentally intensive, and studies show that getting frequent, high-quality sleep positively impacts academic performance. There are a number of things you can do to improve your overall sleep health, including sleeping at the same time each night, for the same duration, and turning off any blue light emitting electronics at least an hour before bed.

Eat Healthily

Another key element of your exam preparation should be your diet. Research has shown that students who eat well perform significantly better than others who don’t prioritize a good diet. Getting the right vitamins and minerals into your meals can be the difference between a top grade on a test, and a mediocre performance – students who eat well have been shown to process information faster, react quickly to problems and ultimately get higher grades.  

Use The Right Study Materials

No matter how many changes you make to your general lifestyle in preparation for the GMAT or the SAT, the most important thing you can do to boost your score is optimize your study hours. One of the best ways to do this is by making sure that you’ve equipped yourself with the best study materials that are designed to help you reach the highest result possible.

Some of the best study methods include:

  • Seeking Out A Tutor

If you’ve been trying hard to prepare, but don’t feel that you’re making good progress, try seeking out a professional SAT or GMAT tutor who can support you throughout the process. Tutors will have experience teaching the elements that you don’t understand, and can talk you through difficult problems. They can also advise on the best materials to use based on your own specific requirements.

  • Using Online Study Materials

There are plenty of quality resources available to help you study for both the GMAT and the SAT. The best part is, you don’t even need to leave home. By searching online, you can find study guides as well as past exam papers that you can use to learn and improve your score.

  • Completing Practice Tests

Once you’ve developed a general understanding of the topics that will appear on your exam, completing practice tests is a great way to solidify your understanding and identify the areas that might need some improvement. From there, you can develop a study schedule centered around which sections of the test need more work – you can either do this with your tutor, or through the adoption of online study materials.

Closing Words

Both the GMAT and the SAT are intense exams, which require dedicated study hours. However, by applying yourself wholeheartedly to the process and following the tips laid out in this guide, you’ll find yourself acing your test and securing your place at your dream college or university with ease.

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