GRE or GMAT?: How to Decide

GRE or GMAT

Prospective MBA students have the choice to submit either GMAT or GRE scores for their business school application. Both tests are accepted at many business schools, however, it’s worth researching the schools you're interested in to make sure both test scores are permitted. But what are the differences between the GMAT and the GRE? How do you decide which test to take? Read on for answers.

The GRE

The GRE test is required to gain admission to most graduate schools and a growing number of business schools.

It consists of a 60-minute Analytical Writing section, with two 30-minute essays. There are two 30-minute Verbal Reasoning sections; two 35-minute Quantitative Reasoning sections; a 30-35-minute experimental section that can be either math or verbal.

The GRE is offered as a computer adaptive by section exam (with paper versions offered in areas of the world where computer-delivered testing isn’t available). The verbal and quantitative scores marked from 130 to 170 in 1-point increments.

Test-takers have 3.75 hours to complete the test which is valid for five years.

The GMAT

The GMAT is required to gain admission at most business schools. It consists of a 30-minute Analytical Writing section with one essay, a 30-minute Integrated Reasoning section, a 62-minute Quantitative section and a 65-minute Verbal section.

The GMAT is a computer-adaptive test. The overall, or composite GMAT score ranges from 200 to 800 in 10-point increments. It takes 3.5 hours to complete the test, and the GMAT is valid for five years.

Differences between the GRE & GMAT

Business schools began accepting GRE scores instead of GMAT schools starting with the Stanford School of Business in 2005. Stanford made the decision to allow business school applicants to submit their GRE scores, because they thought it made sense given that their PhD applicants could submit GRE scores. Many schools accept the GRE because it widens their applicant pool, opening it up to people who are considering other degrees in addition to the MBA.

GRE v. GMAT

Two logistical advantages the GRE has over the GMAT are cost and location. The GRE General Test costs $205 worldwide or the GRE Subject test is $150 globally, compared to the GMAT at $250. While $45 may not seem like a big deal, the price difference may become an issue if you need to retake the GMAT. The GRE is also offered at more locations than the GMAT.

There are also differences in the verbal and math content of the GRE and GMAT. The verbal section of the GRE is focused more on vocabulary. The GMAT verbal puts more emphasis on grammar, logic and reasoning skills. While both the GRE and GMAT are designed for native English speakers, the GRE favors those with a strong knowledge of English. That's why non-native English speakers may find the GMATs verbal section easier.

The biggest content difference, however, is the one between the GMAT and GRE math. GRE math emphasizes quick number sense and number manipulation. GMAT math, however, requires you to create a systematic approach to answer word problems. To gain admission into business school, you need to demonstrate you have a quantitative background. So, if you come from a weaker quantitative background such as non-profit or the military, you will have to rely on the GMAT or GRE to show your quantitative skills. That's why your math abilities may be the deciding factor of what test you choose to take. 

If you're a confident test taker, it's best to stick with the tried and tested GMAT. But if you're seeking a dual degree, such as a MBA/Master of Public Policy degree, the GRE may be the better choice as you only need to take one test. 

GRE or GMAT for MBA

Still not sure which test you should choose? Here's a course of action that will help you decide:

  1. Make a list of schools you want to apply to: There are some business schools that strongly prefer the GMAT, so it’s important for applicants to investigate whether that’s the case for one of their desired schools.
  2. Contact the school to see if they accept the GRE. Ask if taking one test over another gives you an advantage. Most likely, they will say no.
  3. Math skills: Experts say the quantitative questions on the GMAT are generally more difficult that those on the GRE.
  4. Language skills: Experts say the GRE features more obscure words on it than the GMAT verbal section.
  5. Career goals: MBA applicants planning to work for management consulting firms or investment banking firms after business school should be warned that some firms ask for applicants to submit GMAT scores for the role, so keep that in mind.
  6. Test fear: The GRE – unlike the GMAT – allows test-takers to save and return to questions within each section, which can reduce stress levels when completing the test.
  7. Take a practice test for both the GMAT and the GRE. Download free gmat prep software from mba.com to take a free practice GMAT test. To take a practice GRE, download POWERPREP software from ets.org. Get familiar with the content of each test and see how you score.

While you may end up applying to schools with several different testing options, you need to focus on the test taking strategy that will serve you best during the application process.

Written by Niamh Ollerton

Niamh is Assistant Editor of TopMBA.com, creating and editing content for an international MBA student audience. Having gained her journalism qualification at the Press Association, London and since written for different international publications, she's now enjoying telling the stories of the business world.  

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