GRE vs GMAT: Which One to Take? — The Admit Lab

Philippe Barr, PhD
7 min readApr 7, 2023

If you’re a student and you’ve been studying forever with no end in sight, you may be feeling like the debate over the GRE vs GMAT test is an unavoidable evil. Choosing between them can feel like deciding which type of root canal to get: both are going to suck, but one might be slightly better than the other! Luckily, there is more that goes into making this decision than a simple dental analogy — there are several key differences between these two tests that will help you determine which one best suits your needs. Let’s explore the GRE vs GMA debate: what’s the difference and which one should YOU take?

GRE vs GMAT: The Differences

The GMAT is primarily used by business schools for admissions, while the GRE is accepted by a wider range of graduate programs, including business and law schools. In addition, the two tests have differences in their formats, types of questions, policies for testing, and procedures for sending scores to schools.

What is the lowdown on the GRE?

The GRE is an exam administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) that many graduate schools, including business and law schools, use as part of their admissions process. Its purpose is to assess your verbal and quantitative reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing abilities.

You have the option to retake the GRE up to five times in any 12 months, but you must wait at least 21 days between attempts. If you decide to take the test multiple times, you may select which scores you want to send to the schools you are applying to.

The format of the GRE

To clarify, the test has two sections: Analytical Writing and Verbal Reasoning. In the Analytical Writing section, you will complete two writing tasks that each last for 30 minutes. One task involves developing your argument, while the other requires you to evaluate someone else’s argument.

The Verbal Reasoning section has two parts, with 20 questions in each part, and lasting for 30 minutes.

The Quantitative Reasoning part of the test evaluates your basic math skills. It is divided into two sections. The questions may come in different forms, such as multiple choice with single or multiple answers, numeric input, or quantitative comparison. The areas covered include arithmetic, algebra, geometry, and data analysis.

In the Quantitative Reasoning section, you are allowed to utilize an on-screen calculator while taking the test. You have the option to modify your previous answers, and label questions for review if you intend to revisit them later.

GMAT 101

The GMAT is an entrance exam commonly used by business schools and MBA programs. Administered by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), it assesses reasoning and critical thinking skills that indicate potential success in top graduate business programs.

You are allowed to take the GMAT at a testing center up to five times within 12 months, with a maximum of eight attempts in total. If you take the GMAT online exam, you can only retake it once.

The format

Whether you take the GMAT at a testing center or online affects its format. The test has four sections if taken in person, and you have three options for ordering them based on your strengths and testing style.

You will be given an argument to analyze and critique in the Analytical Writing section of the exam. You will have 30 minutes to complete this task.

In the Integrated Reasoning section, you will need to analyze information from different sources in a mostly multiple-choice format. You will also have to solve problems that involve both numerical and written aspects.

The section on quantitative skills contains questions in a multiple-choice format that assess your capacity to solve mathematical problems and comprehend various types of data.

The Verbal Reasoning section aims to evaluate your ability to comprehend, analyze, and assess written materials.

During the GMAT, you are allowed to use a basic online calculator only for the Integrated Reasoning section. Keep in mind that you cannot skip and return to questions or change your answers during the GMAT.

What does a computer-adaptive test mean?

The GRE vs GMAT debate does not apply when it comes to tech since both exams utilize adaptive testing technology. In the GMAT, the level of difficulty for each question in a section is determined based on your performance on the previous question. If you answered correctly, the subsequent question will be more challenging. The GRE adjusts the difficulty of each section based on the previous one, and if you answer a question incorrectly, the following question will be easier. Additionally, you have the option to change your answers.

GRE vs GMAT: which one is easier?

It is generally considered that the quantitative section of the GRE is easier than the GMAT because it includes more geometry and allows the use of a calculator, while the GMAT has more logical reasoning questions.

Compared to the GMAT, the GRE verbal section usually involves more challenging vocabulary. Some individuals find the GMAT verbal section to be a bit simpler.

Tips to solve the GRE vs GMAT debate

Even though most business school applicants take the GMAT instead of the GRE, many business schools still accept GRE scores as part of their admissions criteria. This gives you the option to choose the test that will showcase your academic abilities the most. Keep these factors in mind as you decide which test to take.

  • If you are unsure about which graduate program to apply for or would like to have more options, taking the GRE is recommended as it is accepted by a variety of degree programs. However, if you have decided to pursue business school, taking the GMAT can demonstrate your dedication.
  • It is recommended to confirm the admissions requirements of schools beforehand, as some accept both scores. Contacting an admissions representative to inquire about their preference between the two tests, if possible, is also advisable.
  • If you excel in math more than in verbal skills, taking the GMAT could be a great way to showcase your strengths. On the other hand, if you have strong writing skills, you might want to consider taking the GRE. However, non-native English speakers might find the GRE more difficult at times due to its vocabulary requirements.
  • The GRE format lets you skip and review your answers, which can boost your confidence if you prefer to do so.
  • To determine which test is best suited for you, take a practice test for each separately under circumstances similar to the real exam. After scoring your exams, you’ll have a better idea of which one you are more comfortable with.
  • When taking the GRE exam multiple times, you have the option to select which scores to send to schools. However, with the GMAT, schools will receive all your scores and some programs only consider your best score.
  • Certain companies, particularly those in investment and business consulting fields, require job applicants to submit GMAT scores. It’s a good idea to research the specific requirements of your desired employers early on. Taking the GMAT before starting business school can save you from needing to take it during your job search.

What to do if standardized tests are optional?

If you’re applying to a test-optional school, it’s still worth considering taking an entrance exam. Having high scores can showcase your academic abilities and potentially make you eligible for scholarships. However, if you decide not to include your GRE or GMAT scores, make sure you focus extra attention on other parts of your application to make them stand out.

In conclusion

That concludes our exploration of the differences between the GRE and GMAT. As you’ve seen there are pros and cons to both tests and your choice really depends on your goals. No pressure, but if you don’t make the right decision it’s probably not the end of the world. Don’t panic or anything! However, if you do your research and consider all of your options, you can make an informed decision that best suits your needs. What’s the takeaway here? If you want to get into grad school don’t be a slacker; do your homework. So don’t stand around scratching your head trying to decide which test is right for you — why not sign up for a free admissions consultation with someone who knows what they’re talking about? Who knows, maybe they’ll even have a good reason why taking both tests is a good idea [wink].

With a Master’s from McGill University and a Ph.D. from New York University, Philippe Barr is the founder of The Admit Lab. As a tenure-track professor, Philippe spent a decade teaching and serving on several graduate admission committees at UNC-Chapel Hill before turning to full-time consulting. With more than seven years of experience as a graduate school admissions consultant, Philippe has stewarded the candidate journey across multiple master’s and Ph.D. programs and helped hundreds of students get admitted to top-tier graduate programs all over the world.

Originally published at https://admit-lab.com on April 7, 2023.

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Philippe Barr, PhD

I am Philippe Barr, founder of The Admit Lab, a graduate school admissions consultancy that helps students get admitted into grad school: https://admit-lab.com/