The twenty first century is one of options. Think about the number of options most of us have just to go out on a Friday night: we can drive a car, call an Uber, or hop on a scsooter that can likely be found on the nearest corner. The Economist just released an article about flying taxis!
Many graduate and MBA programs are also embracing our modern culture and providing candidates with options: the GRE or GMAT. Okay, so that is not nearly as many options as transportation, but we will take what we can get.
The difference between the GMAT and GRE used to be that the GMAT was exclusively used for admissions into business school or an MBA program and the GRE was used for all other types of graduate programs. Now, it is common for business schools and MBA programs to accept scores from either the GMAT or GRE.
If the programs you are applying to allow students to admit either GMAT or GRE scores, it is important you know which one is better for you. One exam is not all around “easier” than the other. This article will give an overview of each test and how they are scored, compare the sections and questions types, analyze what makes each exam challenging, and provide guidance on how you can decide which one to take.
Both tests are computer-delivered and how the GMAT and GRE adapt to difficulty levels is one of the biggest differences in the scoring process. The GMAT is question adaptive. Your first question in the section will be of medium difficulty level. If you answer the question correctly, your next question will increase in difficulty. If you answer the question incorrectly, your next question will be a bit easier. Furthermore, once you move onto the next question you cannot go back.
The GRE is also section level adaptive. This means how well you do on your first Verbal section will determine how challenging the second Verbal section is (the same applies to the Quantitative sections). Unlike the GMAT, test-takers are able to skip questions within a section and go back to them later if they have time.
For both the GMAT and GRE, answering harder questions will increase your chances of scoring in the top percentile.
You will receive two different types of scores if you take the GMAT. The first are your section scores (listed below). The second, and most important score, is your composite score that only accounts for your performance in the Verbal and Quantitative sections. The composite score ranges from 200-800, in 10-point increments.
The GMAT is comprised of five sections:
Analytical Writing Assessment
There are three measures on the GRE and students receive a separate score for all three (along with score percentiles). Unlike the GMAT, there is not necessarily a “composite” score students refer to. Although you can take the sum of your Verbal and Quantitative scores, usually you refer to them separately.
It is likely you will be given an extra Verbal or Quantitative section–known as the Experimental Section. ETS uses the experimental section to determine the difficulty level of questions for future exams. This section does not count towards your score; however, you will not know which section is experimental so treat the entire exam equally.
Analytical Writing Assessment
There is a lot of overlap with the format and content tested on the Verbal section of the GMAT and GRE. Both exams will present test-takers with reading passages that vary in length followed by questions regarding the author’s claims.
However, there are some differences between the GMAT and GRE Verbal sections. The GMAT focuses more on grammar and the GRE heavily focuses on vocabulary. Some people feel the vocab on the GRE is a bit more intimidating than the grammar on the GMAT.
The Verbal section on the GMAT has three question types:
Do to the fact the GRE focuses more on advanced vocabulary words than the GMAT, the Verbal section can be harder for those who are not fluent in the English language or have a limited vocabulary.
The Verbal section of the GRE has three question types:
While some would say the GRE Verbal is a little more challenging than the GMAT’s, almost all will claim the GMAT’s math is more difficult than the GRE’s.
There are two sections on the GMAT that will test your mathematical abilities: the Quantitative section and the Integrated Reasoning section. Test-takers will only be allowed to use a calculator for the Integrated Reasoning section.
There are two types of questions on the Quantitative section:
The only phrase that comes to mind when I think of the Integrated Reasoning (IR) section of the GMAT is “the belly of the beast.” One of the primary reasons for this is the format of the questions. They are unique to the GMAT, which means most people will be very unfamiliar with the structure.
In order to correctly answer the IR and data sufficiency questions on the GMAT, a higher level of critical reasoning and numerical analysis is required than the GRE math questions. This is why MBA programs preferred to require the GMAT over the GRE for so long.
In the Integrated Reasoning section, you will need to draw insights from various data sources in order to solve complex problems and evaluate statements. The information will be presented in the form of tables, charts, and graphs and you will be provided with different functions that allow you to sort the data. You will need to have keen insight on how to manipulate the data in a way that will allow you to figure out the relevant information needed to help solve the problem. Some questions could have multiple parts to it and you will have to answer every part correctly in order to be warded the points.
Despite the fact the GRE Math section does have its oddball questions, known as Quantitative Comparisons, that can be compared to the GMAT’s Data Sufficiency, overall the GRE math is more straightforward. Also, test-takers are allowed a calculator.
The GRE Quantitative section will test you on your arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis knowledge with three different types of questions:
The GRE requires students to write two essays where they are given thirty minutes for each. The GMAT only requires students to write one essay and they will also be given thirty minutes. The context and difficulty level of the essay prompts are very similar in nature. Hence, it is best to think of these sections as equals (don’t consider them when deciding to take the GMAT or GRE).
One of the best ways to decide if you should take the GMAT or GRE is to take diagnostic tests or practice exams for both and compare your scores. You might naturally do better on one exam over the other.
Furthermore, although many MBA programs or business schools claim to accept either the GRE or GMAT, some prefer the GMAT. This could be because they are more familiar with it, believe it assesses students on skills that apply to their program more than the GRE does, or they know you are fully dedicated to a career in business if you take the GMAT. It is important to reach out to each school’s admissions to see if they prefer one exam over the other.
In summary, the GMAT and GRE are both difficult for different reasons. The GRE Verbal section can be considered challenging because it focuses more on a test-takers knowledge of advanced vocabulary words than the GMAT’s Verbal section. In contrast, the GMAT’s Quantitative and Integrated Reasoning section requires more mathematical analysis than the GRE. Test-takers with strong math skills tend to take the GMAT in order to highlight their quantitative adeptness.
If you are applying to an MBA program or business school and they give applicants the option to submit GMAT or GRE scores, make sure to reach out to admissions to see if they prefer one exam over the other. If they don’t, take a practice GRE and GMAT to see which exam you prefer and/or score better on.
In addition, as a studying resource, check out our list of the best prep courses for the GRE.