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Choosing Between the GRE and GMAT

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As you begin to explore an MBA education, the question of whether to take the GRE or GMAT may soon arise. While the GMAT has traditionally been the test that MBA applicants take, more and more top graduate business programs are starting to accept the GRE as well. Ultimately, accepting both tests gives the schools a larger pool of applicants, allowing them to be more selective in terms of which students they accept into their programs.

A good first step in deciding which test or tests to take is to determine which scores your target schools accept. Some schools will only accept the GMAT, in which case your choice is made for you. When it comes to schools that accept either GMAT or GRE scores, there are several considerations you should take into account when choosing between the two, ranging from the differences between the tests themselves to the different ways admissions committees may interpret your choice of test. To help you make an informed decision, we’ve provided a breakdown of the different tests’ various sections and consulted with an admissions professional for some industry insights.

If you feel completely lost, a good place to start is to take a both a GRE and GMAT practice test to see which one you prefer. Both practice tests are freely available and easy to find online. (GMAC offers free software that includes two practice GMAT tests; ETS has a similar offer for the GRE.) While the tests measure similar knowledge and skill sets, there are significant differences between the two.

In terms of general structure, the GRE consists of a 60-minute Analytical Writing section, which includes two essays that applicants have 30 minutes each to complete. An additional Verbal Reasoning section also features two 30-minute sections. Another two sections are devoted to Quantitative Reasoning, each with a 35-minute time allotment for completion. Finally, there is a 30- to 35-minute experimental section that can be either math or verbal.

The GMAT, meanwhile, consists of one 30-minute Analytic section with one essay, a 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section, a 75-minute Quantitative section and a 75-minute Verbal section.

In terms of how the tests are administered, the GRE and GMAT are quite similar. Both are taken on computers, and applicants have roughly three and a half hours to complete each test. The tests are also both adaptive, but in slightly different ways. For the GRE, how a test taker performs on the first section of the math and verbal sections will determine the difficulty of the second section. For the GMAT, questions grow continuously more difficult the more questions a test taker gets right.

Where quantitative skills are concerned, both tests contain questions involving arithmetic, algebra, geometry and data analysis. Pretty much anything you learned before trigonometry is fair game. That said, the ways in which these concepts are presented to test takers varies from one test to the other. The GRE questions involve “number sense”—looking at two figures, manipulating them and comparing their values. The GMAT, in contrast, features mostly step-by-step word problems. Some test takers will be tempted to choose between the tests based on the math section alone, since one format may be more comfortable and familiar than the other. Most agree that the GRE’s math portion tends to be a little bit easier, so you should keep this in mind when comparing scores.

As far as the verbal section goes, the GRE places a much higher emphasis on recalling vocabulary words than the GMAT does. In turn, the GMAT prioritizes grammar, logic and reasoning in its verbal section. Both tests feature reading comprehension questions where you read a passage and answer questions about it afterwards. The GRE also has text completion questions, where you choose a word to fill in the blank, as well as sentence equivalence questions, where you choose two words to fill in the blank space in a sentence so that the sentence has the same meaning no matter which word you use. The GMAT, for its part, requires test takers to correct the grammar of a sentence as well as analyze the logic of an argument. This is another difference between the tests that may make one more appealing than the other to an individual test taker. (Students who excel at grammar may not have the best vocabulary and vice versa.)

The GRE gives you a score based on your essay (0-6), your verbal section (130-170) and your math section (130-170). The GMAT gives you a score based on your essay (0-6), an Integrated Reasoning subscore (1-8), a math subscore (0-60), a verbal subscore (0-60), and a total score (200-800) based on your verbal and math subscores. Because the metrics vary considerably, the best way to find out the score you should be aiming for is to simply call the admissions office at the schools of your choice and ask.