Should you take the GMAT or the GRE to get into an MBA program? Many people come across this question when applying to business schools. All but a few of master of business administration programs at schools across the United States accept one of these two entrance exams as part of their admissions process, and many even accept both.
That’s why it can be difficult to decide which exam to take. Both the GMAT and the GRE have their individual merits, and there is a lot of overlap between the two.
This makes it critical to learn about both tests and the MBA admissions process before deciding which exam to take.
Before diving head first into studying for the entrance exams, your best bet is to decide which exam to take.
This article explains the difference between the GMAT and the GRE and how to decide which exam you should take for graduate school.
What is the GMAT?
GMAT stands for the Graduate Management Admission Test which is administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Each year over 900,000 students sit for the GMAT exam each year.
Most students take the GMAT as part of the admission process for MBA programs at business schools. The test is designed to estimate how test takers will perform in business school. Your final GMAT score plays a big part in whether or not you will be accepted into business school.
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Location and Availability
The GMAT is available at test centers in over 100 countries around the world. The test is entirely computer based and you can sign up to take the exam whenever you feel you are ready at the closest available test center.
Your primary limitation is whether your test center has available space for the dates you want to sit for the exam. Ideally you should try to schedule the exam around 30 days prior to when you want to take the test.
If you feel like your score is not what you want it to be, you can retake the GMAT. The main restriction is that you can’t sit for the exam for than 5 times in a rolling 12 month period and not more than 8 times in total.
As long as you don’t exceed either of those limits, you can reschedule the GMAT exam as soon as 16 days after your last exam.
The GMAT exam utilizes a computer adaptive testing format. This means that when you answer a question correctly, you will receive a slightly harder question. When you answer a question incorrectly, you will receive a slightly easier question.
The objective of this testing format is to gradually arrive at your true skill level.
Test takers have 3.5 hours to complete the full exam. You are allowed two optional breaks during the four test sections of the exam.
GMAT Test Sections
The GMAT has four sections in total: the Analytical Writing Assessment, Integrated Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Verbal Reasoning.
Analytical Writing Assessment
The analytical writing assessment is test first. You have 30 minutes to compose an essay on a topic related to the analysis of an argument. This section requires you to type your open ended essay response directly into the computer.
This section tests your data analysis and ability to evaluate information. You get half an hour for this section to answer 12 questions on graphics interpretation, table analysis, multi-source reasoning, and a two-part analysis.
Everyone has an optional break after the integrated reasoning section.
Quantitative Reasoning tests your math skills. Questions in this section follow two formats: Problem Solving or Data Sufficiency. This section includes 31 questions and you have 62 minutes to complete this section.
This section measures reading comprehension, grammar, and argument evaluation. You will have 65 minutes to answer 36 questions on comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction.
How is the GMAT Scored?
After taking the GMAT on the computer, you’ll see four of your five scores immediately: the Quantitative, Verbal, Integrated Reasoning and Total Scores (score based on the Quantitative and Verbal sections). Three weeks after your test, you’ll receive official scores from GMAC.
The individual sections of the GMAT are weighted differently:
- Analytical Writing Assessment is 0-6 points (in 0.5-point increments).
- Integrated Reasoning section is 1-8 points (in 1-point increments).
- Quantitative Reasoning is 6-51 points (in 1-point increments).
- Verbal Reasoning is 6-51 (in 1-point increments).
Your total score is the raw total of your points from each section converted into a total score range, which is between 200 and 800 points, reported in intervals of 10.
GMAT Score Percentiles
Your GMAT total score ranges from 200 to 800 and each score correlates to a percentile of the total testing population. Notable score percentiles are highlighted below:
- 800 score represents a 99% percentile score.
- 700 score represents an 88% percentile score.
- 600 score represents a 56% percentile score.
If you achieved an 88% percentile score, that means that just 12% of test takers scored better than you.
Most people use a prep course to improve their GMAT scores. For more information, see our comparison of the Best GMAT Prep Courses.
What is the GRE?
The GRE is the Graduate Record Examination and it is administered by the Educational Testing Service. The GRE is a standardized test utilized by graduate and professional schools as part of the admission process.
The GRE is available in over 160 countries at over 1,000 test centers. The GRE boasts that it offers computer-delivered tests on nearly every day of the year on a continuous basis, so it is very easy to book a time and date to take the exam.
If you want to re-take the GRE, you can can take it every 21 days as long as you don’t exceed more than 5 tests within a 12 month period. This limitation applies even if you previously cancelled a test score.
When signing up for the GRE, you have the option to take a computer-delivered test or a paper-delivered test. Both are offered at a test center, but the structures and lengths of the exam vary depending on which one you choose.
The total testing time for the computer based test is 3 hours and 45 minutes. The paper based version of the test is slightly shorter at 3 hours and 30 minutes. Both tests cover 6 sections and allow for a 10 minute break following the 3rd exam section.
The GRE is composed of three sections: Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, and Analytical Writing. The three main content areas are all broken into two separate sections.
The number of questions in each test section is based on whether you take the computer or paper based version of the test.
This section tests your ability to analyze and draw conclusions from reading and to understand multiple levels of meaning. There are two test sections.
- The paper based test includes 25 questions per section and you have 35 minutes to answer questions for each section.
- The computer test includes 20 questions per section. You have 30 minutes to answer questions for each section.
This section is about interpreting and understanding mathematical models, arithmetic, algebra, and geometry with an emphasis on quantitative reasoning.
- The paper test includes 25 questions per section with 40 minutes to complete each section.
- The computer test includes 20 questions per section with 35 minutes to complete each section.
This section measures critical thinking and writing skills, as well as your ability to articulate your thoughts and supporting evidence through writing.
- Both the paper and computer test allow you 30 minutes to answer each section.
How is the GRE Scored?
GRE scoring is similar to GMAT scoring, but the GRE has different point scales.
- Verbal Reasoning is scored on a 130–170 score scale (in 1-point increments).
- Quantitative Reasoning is scored on a 130–170 score scale (in 1-point increments).
- Analytical Writing is scored on a 0–6 score scale (in 0.5 point increments).
Your score from all 3 sections are added together to arrive at a total score. Your total score can fall in a range from 260 to 346.
Along with this calculated score, the GRE also gives you the percentile rank of your test results to see how well you did compared to other test takers. This helps you get a better idea of your score and interpreting what it means.
A 340 total score represents a 99% percentile score for Verbal and a 96% percentile score for Quantitative.
A 316 total score represents an 80% percentile score in Verbal and a 67% percentile score for Quantitative.
How are the GMAT & GRE Different?
What are the main differences between the GMAT and GRE?
There are several distinct differences between the two tests that are worth considering before you decide which test to take.
- The GMAT costs $250.
- The GRE costs $205.
Questions & Test Content
In the verbal section, the GMAT is multiple choice while the GRE verbal questions ask you to choose all answers that apply.
Both test for reading comprehension and critical thinking, but the GRE tends to be harder on the verbal section. The GRE emphasizes your knowledge of vocabulary, while the GMAT emphasizes your grammar ability.
On the math section, the GMAT is generally said to be harder. GMAT math questions are multiple choice with no calculator. However, the GRE allows you to use a calculator when answering questions.
While a calculator may seem like a benefit on the GRE, keep in mind that the GRE math section includes both multiple choice questions as well as numeric entry questions. That means that you don’t have the benefit of eliminating answer choices for those question types on the GRE.
GMAT & GRE Average Scores
In 2017, the average total score was 556 for the GMAT.
Averages raw scores for individual exam sections on the GMAT were:
- 4.2 for Integrated Reasoning.
- 4.4 for the Analytical Writing Assessment.
- 39.4 for Quantitative Reasoning.
- 26.9 for Verbal Reasoning.
During that same time period, the GRE had the following averages:
- 150 in Verbal Reasoning.
- 153 in Quantitative Reasoning.
- 3.5 in Analytical Writing.
It is important to note that the two exams have different grading scales, so it may be easier to convert your scores to a percentile before comparing the two.
The GMAT test requires 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete.
The paper version of the GRE also requires 3 hours and 30 minutes to complete. However the computer based version of the GRE requires 3 hours and 45 minutes to complete.
Test Availability Frequency
Both tests are available around the world and throughout the entire year. The GMAT is in test centers in over 100 countries, and you can find an appointment within 30 days.
The GRE is available most weekdays and even weekends year-round at over 1,000 test centers, so both allow flexibility in your schedule.
Simply put, the quantitative section on the GMAT tends to be more difficult than the one on the GRE, but the GRE’s verbal section is more difficult than the one on the GMAT.
This can be an important factor to consider if you have the option between taking the two.
Should you Take the GMAT or GRE for business school?
No need to stress about which exam to take for your MBA admissions. The best process for deciding whether to take the GMAT or the GRE for business school is quite straightforward.
First, decide which schools you want to apply to. Whether your list is big or small, writing out all the school names on a spreadsheet or even just a piece of paper can keep you organized.
After that, write out each of the school’s admissions requirements, including which entrance exams they take for their MBA program.
As of 2016, 73% of MBA programs claim that both GRE and GMAT test-takers are treated equally during the admissions process, and only 2% of schools distinctly stated they preferred one test over the other.
Because there is a small variation, it is important that you double check the policies of all the schools on your application list before making a decision.
If you’re still left with two exams to choose from because your MBA programs accept both, then you can choose the exam you think you’ll do the best in.
Play to your strengths and prepare for your exam diligently. Choosing just one entrance exam will be the best use of your time and energy if you’re in this situation.
Which Exam Should I Take?
Once you’ve decided what schools you want to apply to and what exams they accept for the admissions process, you can decide whether to take the GMAT or the GRE. It’s best to look at what your dream schools accept rather than choose your schools by the exams you think you want to take.
Since many MBA programs accept both the GMAT and the GRE with no clear preference between the two, you can be left confused on deciding which exam to take. The truth is, you can use this decision to your advantage because you have the option to pick the exam that brings out your best subjects and test-taking skills.
Think about which subjects you like and which ones you are better at. Test-takers who prefer the GMAT like math and science classes better and tend to be left-brained. They like to calculate a solution rather than analyze one, and they don’t like tests that last more than 3 hours.
Meanwhile, test-takers who prefer the GRE find history or English classes easier, and they are usually right-brained. They’re good at communicating their ideas through writing and like to analyze a problem. They don’t mind a longer exam, and they like the ability to go back and check their work on questions they’ve skipped, which isn’t an option on the GMAT.
Another good way to decide which exam is better for you is to take a couple of practice questions in all subjects from each exam. The formatting and wording of the questions can play a big part in your success, so you should check online for practice questions you can take to see which one you’ll do better on.
There are a variety of free GMAT prep resources available that you can use to take free practice questions to determine which test is better for you.
Once you’ve decided on a test, you can dedicate your time to studying for the GMAT or the GRE and hopefully get a score you’re happy with sending to admissions. Best of luck in the application process!