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GMAT vs. GRE: Comparing MBA Admissions Exams

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When evaluating whether to take the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) vs. the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), it’s important to know the key differences between them and what your results tell admissions teams about you, the applicant. 

The GMAT and the GRE are the go-to standardized assessments used in the MBA admissions process. While the GMAT started as the standard for MBA applications, most schools have evolved to also accept the GRE to appeal to more applicants. Here are the differences and purposes behind the GMAT vs. GRE to help you decide which exam you should be taking to improve your chances of getting into the business school of your choice. 

Does Popularity Matter? 

The GMAT is the most common test requested by MBA admissions. “While the majority of leading business schools accept both the GMAT and GRE exams, and are mostly indifferent as to which test a candidate submits, I do think it’s worth noting that the GMAT exam was designed exclusively for the business school admissions process, by the business schools themselves,” explains Clear Admit Co-Founder Graham Richmond.

The GRE, on the other hand, is designed to measure broader skills, putting a greater emphasis on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. Accepted by a wide range of graduate programs, it’s popular for those looking for dual degree programs and non-traditional applicants considering a variety of paths that may include an MBA. Between 5% and 25% of admitted candidates at top schools are choosing the GRE instead of the GMAT when their prospective MBA program allows it. “The GRE is more of a ‘jack of all trades exam’ for virtually any graduate academic discipline,” Richmond says. “If I were applying only to business schools (and not to graduate schools in other academic disciplines), I would take the GMAT.” 

Bottom line, the GMAT has been generally preferred for long enough that admissions committees are more familiar with that test, and it may be identified as showing commitment to getting an MBA. An MBA student’s GMAT scores are even considered by some consulting and investment banking recruiters during their recruiting process. 

GRE Structure 

Both exams are divided into sections that test your qualitative and quantitative skills. Each section is scored separately and then combined into an overall score. 

The GRE is structured around six sections: two each for verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning, and a section on analytical writing that includes two tasks to complete. You can skip questions within a section, go back and change answers, and choose which questions within a section to answer first. While the analytical writing section always appears first, the other sections can appear in any order. You’re allotted a total testing time of 3 hours and 45 minutes with a ten-minute break, but each section has its own time limit. 

An interesting feature of the GRE is an unscored verbal or quantitative section that is either “experimental” or “research” (never both). The experimental section is not labeled for the test taker and can appear at any point during the exam. If your exam includes the research section, it is clearly marked and always appears at the end of the exam, and in contrast to the experimental section, it is optional. Almost all test takers will see one of these additional sections, but not everyone. The purpose of these unscored sections is to provide ETS (the GRE designers) with data on questions it plans to use on future exams, ensuring they can predict how test takers will do on the new questions and that they are on par with the difficulty of current questions. When it comes time to take the test, and you find yourself with a third verbal or quant section, it’s important to treat each as if the score counts and never try to guess which is experimental! 

GRE Scoring

The raw scores on the Verbal and Quant sections of the GRE are the number of questions answered correctly. These raw scores are then converted to scaled scores, which range from 130 to 170, using a process called equating. The scaled scores then fall within a ranked percentile system, which denotes how many test-takers the given applicant exceeded. Meanwhile, the Analytical Writing section is scored on a scale of 6.0 by a human and e-rater scoring engine. The percentile rankings vary depending on the specific test and the year in which it’s administered, as percentiles are based on the performance of everyone who takes the exam during a specific time period. Additionally, percentiles change over time with the performance of test-takers. As of 2021, the approximate percentile rankings for the different GRE scores are as follows:

  • Verbal reasoning – A scaled score of: 
    • 150 corresponds to approximately the 43rd percentile
    • 155 corresponds to approximately the 66th percentile
    • 160 corresponds to approximately the 85th percentile.
  • Quantitative reasoning – A scaled score of:
    • 150 corresponds to approximately the 33rd percentile
    • 155 corresponds to approximately the 51st percentile
    • 160 corresponds to approximately the 67th percentile.
  • Analytical writing – A score of: 
    • 4.0 corresponds to approximately the 54th percentile
    • 5.0 corresponds to approximately the 91st percentile.

See a full chart of GRE score conversions.

GMAT Structure

Until late 2023, the GMAT exam will include four sections: quantitative, verbal, integrated reasoning, and analytical writing (the essay). Test takers can choose the order in which they take the sections of the test on the day of. The testing time is slightly shorter, with a total testing time of 3 hours and 7 minutes (there are two optional 8-minute breaks). However, GMAC recently announced that a new edition of the exam will be released at the end of 2023. The new GMAT ™ Focus Edition is slated to be significantly shorter, with just three 45-minute multiple choice sections and no essay. Test takers can still choose the order of the sections, and they will also be able to change up to three answers per section. Stay tuned to Clear Admit for more information as the new GMAT rolls out. 

GMAT vs. GRE Cost & Consideration

Some applicants may also feel more comfortable and achieve a more competitive score with one test over the other, based on their strengths and weaknesses. Overall, there are more vocabulary and reading comprehension questions in the GRE than there are on the GMAT, and the quantitative section of the GRE is perceived to be easier than the quantitative section of the GMAT by many admission teams. Both tests are computer-based and are administered at testing centers worldwide or now, since the Covid-19 pandemic began, online. Both exams are subject to a test-taking fee, which for the GRE is currently $220 in most places (except China and India), and for the GMAT, $275 in person and $300 online in the U.S. 

Ultimately, the decision of which test to take in GMAT vs. GRE should be based on what your graduate degree pursuit looks like, your target program, and target school’s preferences. Remember that raw statistics qualify you for admission, but myriad other factors determine if you are admitted. Preparation is paramount, so it’s ideal to take your exam at least six months before your application deadlines. You can retake the test if you don’t score in range for your target schools, but there are waiting periods and limits, as well as costs.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.