The graduate or business school you want to attend accepts both GMAT and GRE. Which one should you take? Well, if we assume that either test is equally acceptable to the programs to which you plan on applying, then it really comes down to your strengths and weaknesses as a test taker. This article, written by Richard Carriero of Next Step Test Prep, will take a look at the major differences between tests and what you should consider in deciding whether to take the GMAT or GRE.

Math Struggles?

If you have a harder time with math, you’ll find the GRE to be the easier test. Both the GRE and GMAT test the same math concepts (though in somewhat different proportions) but the format of the GRE is much friendlier. First, the GRE has an onscreen calculator that you can use for tougher computations. Despite this addition to the test in 2011, however, the math has not gotten any harder and you could still do the entire GRE by hand if you had to. You can also skip around within a GRE quantitative section, unlike the GMAT, which adapts by question and only allows you to do one question at a time—a facet of the test that can pose major timing challenges. Both tests have multiple choice questions with no wrong answer penalty but a significant difference is that the GRE contains quantitative comparison questions while the GMAT has data sufficiency. The former requires you to recognize which of two quantities is larger while the latter tasks you with finding what combination of two pieces of data is needed to solve a problem. Data sufficiency weakness is one of the most common complaints of GMAT prep students while GRE students tend to have an easier time navigating quantitative comparisons, mainly because the task is simpler, faster and requires less of a mental adjustment. One other difference between tests is somewhat intangible, but the GMAT tends to be, for lack of a better word, a meaner test. Answers to math questions on the GMAT more often tend to contain ugly numbers like decimals and square roots or weird combinations of variables whereas problems on the GRE often have neat integer solutions.

Not Verbally Inclined?

Back in 2011 when the GRE still had antonym and analogy questions, the GMAT was a more obvious choice for math dominant students who struggled with vocabulary. These days the overlap between the two tests is significant, however. Both have reading comprehension sections of equivalent difficulty. Both also contain logical reasoning questions, though the GMAT has far more of these. The biggest difference is sentence completions vs. sentence corrections: vocabulary vs grammar. If you are worried about vocabulary, than you may be leaning toward the GMAT but you should know that sentence completions are the easiest vocab-oriented questions to work through or work around with a weak vocabulary since there is so much context from which to figure out what you’re looking for. If grammar scares you, on the other hand, you should know that you’re not tested on your knowledge of grammar rules but only asked to choose the best version of a sentence and if you’re a native English speaker, your ear for the language will answer many of these questions for you. The argument essay on both tests is exactly the same but the GRE retains the issue essay (more of a pure writing sample based on a generic agree/disagree prompt), while the GMAT ditched this essay in 2012 in favor of the integrated reasoning section. IR is still a bit of a wild card in that schools have not given clear indication of how weight they give to this separately scored section when evaluating a candidate.

International Students

Many international applicants to business school opt for the GMAT for a few reasons. The GMAT doesn’t test vocabulary; instead sentence correction tests rules of grammar and written English that international students have had to learn more recently than native speakers and in greater detail. Reading comprehension also makes up a smaller fraction of GMAT verbal than it does of GRE verbal–this can be the hardest section for students who struggle with English. Many foreign students are accustomed to more rigorous math programs and thus are less likely to be dissuaded from taking the GMAT by a harder quantitative section.

Parting Advice

When all things are equal, I advise more people to take the GRE than the GMAT. In fact, I’ve had students switch from GMAT to GRE because they couldn’t reach the median score of their chosen programs on the former but could on the latter. I’ve had very few students switch the other way. That said, this is a big decision, so do your research and make the choice that is right for you. Look up the 25th and 75th percentile scores for both tests of accepted applicants to the schools to which you plan on applying. Take a free test to see where you stand: ETS and GMAC offer free GRE and GMAT tests (respectively) on their websites. Consider carefully how your strengths and weaknesses mesh with the preferences of your preferred programs. Above all, whichever test you decide on, commit to your success on that test.


This post was written by Richard Carriero, who is Next Step’s Academic Manager overseeing their team of GMAT and GRE instructors. 

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Karen Marks

Karen has more than 12 years of experience evaluating candidates for admission to Dartmouth College and to the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Since founding North Star Admissions Consulting in 2012, she has helped applicants gain admission to the nation’s top schools, including Stanford, Harvard, Yale, Wharton, MIT, Tuck, Columbia, Kellogg, Booth, Haas, Duke, Johnson, Ross, NYU, UNC, UCLA, Georgetown and more. Clients have been awarded more than 20 million dollars in scholarships, and more than 97% have gotten into one of their top choice schools.