GMAT vs. GRE: Which Should You Take?

Your road to graduate school or business school doesn’t begin with taking the GMAT or GRE, but a standardized test will likely play a role in your application process. That said, many future grad students will begin by worrying about “the test” and which one they should take before they’ve even decided which schools or programs they’ll apply to. When deciding whether to take the GMAT or GRE, it’s important to first determine your goals and work back from there. Below, we’ll discuss key questions you should ask yourself between settling on an exam, as well as the important differences—and similarities—between the GMAT and GRE. 

GMAT vs. GRE: What Are Your Goals?

So you know you’d like to pursue some kind of advanced degree, but what if you aren’t sure what your interests are yet? Consider your long-term career goals and what you’d like to accomplish, and then research which degree—MBA or a Master’s/PhD—would help you advance toward those goals. Typically, if you’re seeking out leadership positions in management, logistics, or consulting, you may find that an MBA will be more helpful. Your MBA will give you a solid foundation in management, marketing, finance, and economics, and will equip you to tackle business challenges. If you’d like to acquire a specialized body of knowledge, a Master’s degree or a PhD may be a better option for you. During your time in graduate school, you’ll be able to focus on a subject that interests you and develop a deeper understanding of a topic you’re passionate about.

Test Prep Tip

If you don’t know what you’d like to pursue today, but are fairly confident you’ll take that next step in the next five years, consider taking your standardized test while you’re still in school or shortly after. Your GMAT and GRE scores are both good for five years and the best time to take either test is while your basic math is still fresh and you are already in the habit of studying every day.

GMAT vs. GRE: Make Your Choice

Consider the following while deciding which test to take:

  • If you’re unsure which path you’ll pursue, take the GRE. It will keep all your doors open, as most business schools accept both the GRE and GMAT.
  • While most business schools will accept both GRE and GMAT, the admissions committee may prefer that applicants take the GMAT. Do your research and ask around.
  • If you don’t have a strong track record of working with numbers and quantitative analysis, consider taking the GRE. Although both the GRE and GMAT rely on the same basic high school level math, the GMAT’s Quantitative section is more focused on word problems, rather than straight-forward math, and the GMAT’s Integrated Reasoning section will test your data interpretation skills. Also, GMAT questions typically have easier numbers to work with than those on the GRE. The GMAT is also more forgiving in the way it is scored—to get a high score on the GRE, you need to get practically every question right, whereas you can get many high difficulty GMAT questions wrong, and still get a comparably high score.  
  • Take the test you’re most comfortable with and on which you’ll perform the best. To gain admission to competitive MBA and graduate programs, you’ll want to apply with the highest percentile score you can. The easiest way to see which test you like best is to take a practice or a diagnostic exam. You’ll get a good feel for each exam’s structure, content, and timing. 

Test Prep Tip

Even though most business schools accept both the GMAT and GRE for admission, think about your post-MBA plans. If you’re looking to get into finance or consulting, beware that some of the top firms will look at your GMAT score as an element of your recruitment.

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Similarities Between the GMAT and the GRE

The GMAT and GRE have a lot in common:

  • Both involve early-high-school-level math (arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis)
  • Both rely heavily on reading comprehension
  • Both require writing an essay (1 on the GMAT, 2 on the GRE)

Differences Between the GMAT and the GRE

Where is it Accepted?Accepted at 1200+ business schools worldwideAccepted by all business schools
Unique Quantitative SectionQuantitative ComparisonsData Sufficiency
Unique Verbal SectionSentence Equivalence & Text CompletionSentence Correction & Critical Reasoning
Better for Which Test-Takers?Better for “number-crunching” thinkers. Also, the GRE relies heavily on testing vocabulary in context. If that’s your strength, consider taking the GRE to show off your skills.Better for “creative/flexible” thinkers. Many test-takers find the GMAT Quantitative section more challenging.
Test StructureAnalytical Writing sections: two 30-minute essays; Verbal Reasoning: two 30-minute sections; Quantitative Reasoning: two 35-minute sections (if taking computer-based GRE); one 30 or 35-minute experimental section Analytical Writing (1 essay): 30 minutes; Integrated Reasoning section: 30 minutes; Quantitative: 62 minutes; Verbal: 65 minutes
Test FormatComputer-based Multi-Stage Test (MST) for most test-takers (can be taken on paper in some locations). Computer-adaptive test (CAT)
Total Testing Time3 hours 45 minutes3 hours 30 minutes
ScoringScores for each section range from 130-170 in 1 point increments for verbal and quantitative reasoning. The Analytical Writing section is scored separately.Total score ranges from 200-800. Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing are scored separately.
How Long is Your Score Good For?5 years5 years

Retaking or Cancelling the GMAT vs. GRE

In an ideal world, you’ll take the test you feel best about, hit your target score, and apply to the graduate programs of your dreams with confidence. But things can happen and you may not get the score you want on your first try. Luckily, both the GMAT and GRE test makers make it possible to repeat the exams if needed without jeopardizing your application. Get familiar with the GMAT’s score cancellation policy and the GRE’s ScoreSelect option.
When you complete your GMAT, you will see your unofficial GMAT scores – Verbal, Quantitative, Integrated Reasoning, and Total. You will then have two minutes to decide whether to cancel or accept your score. Before you sit for your exam, set a goal score for yourself. If you score below your goal, you can cancel your score and retest in as little as 16 days. 
If you’re taking the GRE, the ScoreSelect option allows you to send your best “day” to schools, meaning you can take the test multiple times and send your best performance. You won’t be able to “split” or “superscore” your exam. Unlike the GMAT, if you cancel your test at the testing center, you won’t see how you did. You can test again in 21 days. It’s important to note that every time you take the GMAT or GRE, you will need to pay the exam fee again (which can really add up!), so don’t use the real thing as practice.