GMAT vs. GRE: Which Graduate Admissions Test Is Right For You?

After a few years of work experience post-college, you’ve decided that you’re ready to take the plunge and finally apply to business school. But when you look at the application requirements, you notice that you can take use scores from either the GMAT or the GRE for MBA programs. To have a standout business school application, you need an impressive score on one of these two standardized tests, as they are one of the few tools that graduate admissions offices have to normalize comparisons of applicants. So how do you pick between the GMAT vs. GRE?

The process of choosing between the GMAT vs. GRE involves assessing your strengths, whether you want to keep other graduate school options open, and more. To help you solve the GMAT vs. GRE puzzle, we have outlined the primary differences between the two tests, how to choose the test that will bring out your best, and the role played by the GMAT vs. GRE debate in admissions decisions. 

Differences Between the GMAT and the GRE: Finding the Right Test for You

Of course, your goal in choosing between the GMAT vs. GRE is to focus your energy on studying for the exam that will give you the best possible score. Although both are accepted by most top MBA programs in the country, you’ve probably guessed by now that the GMAT and the GRE aren’t identical tests. Here are the main points of comparison between the GMAT vs. GRE so that you can decide which one is right for you:

Attribute GMAT GRE
Format Computer-based Computer-based OR paper-based (especially internationally)
Length 3 hours and 30 minutes 3 hours and 45 minutes
Number of essays 1 2
Number of sections 4 6
Breakdown of sections Four sections: analytical writing, integrated reasoning, quantitative, verbal Six sections: two verbal reasoning, two quantitative reasoning, two analytical writing
Math questions More difficult (cannot use calculator) Less difficult (can use calculator)
Integrated reasoning Included Not included
Primary usage Primarily business schools, other graduate-level programs such as Masters of Science in Finance, Masters of Accountancy and Masters of Marketing Other graduate schools, business schools, some law schools
Total test score Out of 800 Out of 170
Cost $250 $205

Since the GMAT is primarily used for business school applications, the test itself is more business focused - through more emphasis on math and technical writing abilities. Both these skills are relevant for business school assignments and jobs in the future alike - math for accounting, sales, financial analysis and technical writing to produce clean and coherent documents. Plus, the integrated reasoning section tests your data analysis and problem solving prowess. The GMAT is also more favorable if you’re hoping to apply for financial aid, as there are MBA scholarships for high scorers in the GMAT, but not for the GRE. 

However, if you’re not much of a math person but wouldn’t mind an extra essay, you can take the GRE. If at some point you decide that you don’t want to go to b-school but pursue a different graduate program instead, your GRE score will come in handy.

Chances are that if you did well on the SAT, you are likely to do well on the GRE, as the exams are somewhat similar in format. GMAT tests, on the other hand, are a closer match to the LSAT, as they are both heavily logic-based. Whichever test you choose, be sure to take the appropriate format (computer-based or paper) for both exams so that you can get comfortable with the test format. 

The Role of GMAT vs. GRE in MBA Admissions

The best place to start is taking practice tests for both types of exams before selecting the test that’s right for you:

Before you sign up for a test, make sure you check with the individual admissions office of the schools you are interested in to find out if the committee wants one test over the other.

Although the majority of business schools state that they do not have a preference when it comes to the GMAT vs. GRE, the GMAT is more desirable from an admissions perspective. Your performance in the quantitative and integrated reasoning sections of the GMAT gives admissions officers a better idea of how you will perform in the rigorous MBA environment. Moreover, if you take the GMAT over the GRE, schools will know for certain that your primary goal is business school, rather than leaving your options open for other programs. Most students applying to the top business schools take the GMAT over GRE. For example, 85% of Harvard Business School’s Class of 2020 took the GRE, while only 15% took the GRE. So if you’re 100% sure that business is your future, the GMAT might be the preferable option. 

If you come from less of a business background - for example if you’ve worked in arts and entertainment prior to applying to business school - taking the GMAT would be wise to show admissions officers you’ve got what the necessary quantitative skills. That being said, although the GMAT is still preferred, the GRE has been around for quite some time, so it is now a well-established option.

It’s true that the GMAT is preferred but the bottom line is, submit your highest score, whether it is the GMAT or GRE. And when planning which test to take, remember to also leave ample time to work on other components of your business school applications - especially your essays and resumé, as they are significant factors for the admissions process as well.

There are pros and cons to both sides of the GMAT vs. GRE coin. As a starting point, why not sit down and practice both tests and see which one favors you more? Remember, you want the number that looks more impressive on your profile, so make an informed decision. Best of luck!

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