GMAT or GRE for MBA Admission: How to Decide

GMAT or GRE? - unraveling the dilemma

Should you take the GMAT or GRE for MBA admission? While the GMAT is designed specifically for business school applicants, the GRE is a test that can gain students admittance to graduate programs across almost all subjects, including the MBA.

Traditionally, the GMAT has taken precedence over the GRE. However, these days, a great number of international business schools will accept both tests. Here's a look at the value of each exam, and some of their core differences.

The numbers: Popularity of GMAT and GRE

Last year, 92% of some 200 business schools in the US told Kaplan Test Prep that they accept the GRE, as an alternative to the GMAT, for entry into their MBA programs - this figure is up from 24% in 2009.

GMAC, the organization that runs the GMAT, says that nine out of 10 students accepted to 50 leading schools in the US were enrolled using a GMAT score.

Differences between the GMAT and GRE

With 'management' forming part of its acronym, you might expect the GMAT to hold some sway over its GRE counterpart, if MBA admissions and related business master’s programs are the main goal. The test does place a heavier focus on quantitative and analytical skills - interpreting data presented in text, charts and tables to solve complex problems, for example. Tasks are therefore customized to evaluate skills seen as being specific to business managers.

The GRE, as a more versatile test, has less of a focus of math and includes a calculator for its quantitative problems. However, for those for whom English is not their first language, the verbal section may be more challenging than the GMAT's, as it places an emphasis on vocabulary rather than on grammar.

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test - this means that the questions you answer correctly, or incorrectly, determine the difficulty level of the questions that follow. During the GMAT, students can't go back and review their previous answers. The GRE, meanwhile, is not a computer-adaptive test and allows students to check their previous answers. 

Here is a table that outlines the principal differences between the GMAT and GRE:




ContentAnalytical Writing Assessment: 30 mins
Integrated Reasoning: 30 mins
Quantitative: 75 mins
Verbal: 75 mins

GMAT verbal places greater emphasis on grammar, logic and reasoning. GMAT quant is harder if math is not your strength.
Analytical Writing: 2x30 mins
Verbal Reasoning: 2x30 mins
Quantitative Reasoning: 2x35 mins (computer-delivered version: timings vary slightly in the paper-delivered test)

GRE places more focus on vocabulary, making it easier for native versus non-native English speakers.

If math is not your forte, the GRE could be more suited to you.

FormatComputer-adaptive testComputer delivered or paper delivered
Test time3 hours 30 minutes3 hours 45 minutes
How it's scoredTotal scores range from 200-800. The mean score among 750k test takers between 2013 and 2015 was 552, while a score of 700 would have put you in the 89th percentileScores from 130-170 in 1 point increments for verbal and quantitative reasoning sections; scores from 0-6 in analytical writing
Score validity5 years5 years
Source: GMAT and ETS (GRE) websites

Top schools take a holistic approach to the MBA admissions process

Most business schools opt to accept GRE scores as an alternative to the GMAT so as to widen their pool of applicants, and bring in students from backgrounds outside of the ‘traditional’ norm – those with backgrounds in finance, accounting, economics and so on. Diversity, in all of its forms, matters and is therefore positively encouraged at top business schools.

'Holistic' is a word commonly used by institutions to describe their approach to reviewing MBA applications, and one which manifests itself frequently in our MBA Admissions Q&A series. The GMAT and the GRE are therefore just one element of the evaluation process - academic background, personality, experience, and the effort you invest in the application process are all just as important.

The key to choosing the GMAT or GRE for MBA admission is to first identify which of your chosen schools require which test. If you think a school might accept both, but could prefer one test over the other, email, phone, or chat online to find out.

Playing to your strengths is also a factor. If your dream school can confirm that it values both tests equally, simply choose the one you think you'll do best in. Lastly, whether you’re taking the GMAT or GRE for MBA admission, make sure you go into the test fully prepared!    

Karen Turtle
Written by Karen Turtle

A content writer with a background in higher education, Karen holds an MA in modern languages from the University of St Andrews. Her interests include languages and literature, current affairs and film. ​

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