The “GMAT or GRE” decision seems more complicated than it really is. There are a few reasons you might strongly prefer one test over the other, but now that most MBA programs accept both tests, most of us are free to take whichever one is right for us. In this article, we’ll look at the differences between the GMAT and the GRE, and how those differences might change your decision.
GMAT or GRE Dealbreakers
It’s possible that your GMAT vs. GRE dilemma has already been decided for you. There are a handful of situations where you’ll have to take the GMAT and others where only the GRE is acceptable.
A handful of MBA programs still only accept the GMAT. This only affects a small number of schools, and the information should be available on the program’s website. (You can confirm it by checking this list of business programs that accept GRE scores.) Other programs have stated that they prefer the GMAT over the GRE. If you’re applying to one of these programs, you need to take the GMAT; if there’s truly an extenuating circumstance, contact the program directly.
In other situations, you might be required to take the GRE. For instance, there’s a lifetime limit on how many times you can take the GMAT. If you’ve reached that limit, your only option may be to apply with the GRE. Certain dual-degree programs, such as certain MS/MBA programs at Stanford, require the GRE (although others will accept either test). Finally, the GRE is offered (as a paper-based test) in some geographic areas where the GMAT isn’t available. This affects a small number of test-takers, mainly in the Middle East and Africa, and should be discussed with your schools.
Finally, it’s possible (but unusual) to be offered testing accommodations for one test but not the other. If you need accommodations to take the test, and you haven’t yet decided which test to take, consider applying for both as early as possible.
As your next step, check the websites for each of your programs and determine whether they accept both the GMAT and the GRE. While you’re there, check out the average GMAT score and average GRE score for each of those schools, if they’ve been published. Assuming that all of your schools accept both tests and none of the other factors we’ve mentioned affect you, keep reading!
Is the GRE Easier Than the GMAT?
A lot of the anxiety surrounding the GMAT or GRE question comes from a sense that one test might be easier. The most popular rumor is that the Math sections of the GRE are easier. That’s true in some ways, but maybe not in the way that you think.
If you take both the GMAT and the GRE, you’ll almost certainly get more right answers on the GRE. In that sense, the GRE is “easier.” But this comes with a down side. Your GMAT score isn’t based on how many questions you get right, but your GRE score is. You can get a very high GMAT score with a lot of wrong answers, as long as you handle your timing well and don’t miss easy questions. But, to get a very high GRE score, you need to get nearly every question right. (Here’s how the GRE is scored.)
In short, GRE Math is “easier,” but it’s also less forgiving. If you’re a perfectionist but you struggle with the tougher math problems, GRE Math may be easier for you. If you worry more about making careless mistakes on the easy stuff, the GMAT might let you get away with more wrong answers.
Also, consider who you’re being compared to! If the Math section on the GRE is easier, then it’s easier for almost everyone! You might get more questions right, but so will everybody else. Your GRE score, when compared to the scores of other applicants, might not look any stronger than your GMAT score.
The takeaway here is to focus on factors that only affect you, not everybody. If one test is easier for everybody who takes it, that really doesn’t matter (and can even be a problem, if it means that careless mistakes have more impact). However, if one test is much easier for you, that could change your decision. Here’s why that might happen.
The GMAT vs. GRE Test Day Experience
Taking the GRE is very similar to taking the GMAT. Both tests take about the same amount of time, and both are taken in official testing centers in a computer-adaptive format.
However, there is one significant difference. Many test-takers find the GRE less stressful than the GMAT. If you’re very prone to test anxiety, you may have a stronger performance on the GRE. That’s because the GRE lets you mark questions and return to them at the end of each section. (However, test anxiety doesn’t have to hurt your score!)
On both tests, you have very little time to answer each question. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to give all of the time you’d like to every single question. Guessing is a critical part of both tests. If you’re really struggling to implement a guessing strategy on the GMAT, though, it might be easier on the GRE. That’s because you can come back to questions later, which can help you become more confident about guessing.
GMAT or GRE Quant?
The GMAT and the GRE mostly test the same basic math content. There are a few math topics that appear more on one test than the other—but these will represent, at most, a few questions across your entire test.
However, there are differences in the math format between the GMAT and the GRE. For one, you get a calculator on the GRE, but not on the GMAT! GMAT questions usually have easier numbers to work with, but are more likely to include tough logic and tricky wording. Of course, there are plenty of traditional math questions on the GMAT, and there are some tricky logical problems on the GRE. If you’re great at solving equations and crunching numbers, you’ll probably find the GRE easier than the GMAT. But if you’re better at creative thinking and puzzling your way through word problems, the GMAT might appeal to you more.
The GMAT has only two types of Math questions: Problem Solving and Data Sufficiency. Both types of problems are multiple-choice, and you’ll always have to select one answer from five options. Problem Solving problems are in a traditional multiple-choice format, just like the basic Discrete Quant questions on the GRE. Data Sufficiency, however, is exclusive to the GMAT. Here’s a page from the GMAC that shows how Data Sufficiency problems look.
The GRE also has a few unique Math question types. “Numeric Entry” questions ask you to calculate an exact answer to a question and type it into a box. Quantitative Comparison questions ask you to compare two values and determine which is bigger. There are also multiple-selection problems, in which more than one answer can be correct. Finally, the GRE includes a question type called Data Interpretation, in which you read and interpret graphs. The GMAT has a similar problem type, but it doesn’t appear on the Quant section. Instead, you’ll only need to interpret graphs during the separate, Integrated Reasoning portion of the GMAT.
It’s unlikely that the differences in GMAT vs. GRE problem types will make one test much harder for you. Any specific problem type makes up only a fraction of the entire test, after all, and many of the problems will be similar across both tests. However, if you really struggle with your timing on the Math section, or with logic and story problems, GRE Math might be easier.
GMAT or GRE Verbal?
Two types of Verbal problems appear on both tests: Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning (which is usually called Logical Reading Comprehension on the GRE). In addition, the GMAT has one exclusive Verbal problem type and the GRE has two.
The GMAT’s unique problem type is called Sentence Correction, and it tests your knowledge of grammar. The GRE includes two exclusive problem types, Text Completion and Sentence Equivalence, which test vocabulary. A broad vocabulary and a strong sense of grammar will help you on both tests. However, grammar is much more important on the GMAT and vocabulary is much more important on the GRE.
How Does this Affect You?
You shouldn’t make the GMAT or GRE decision solely based on the information above. Instead, here’s a step-by-step guide to making your choice, assuming that you haven’t started studying already.
- Decide on a GMAT goal score and a GRE goal score. This will help you put your performance in context.
- Get familiar with the problem types on both tests. This is just so you won’t be thrown off by the unusual problem types. The best place to start is with this page about GMAT question types and this page about GRE question types.
- Take a free practice GMAT and a free practice GRE. Don’t take them on the same day (or even during the same weekend)! Try to take them at the same time of day, when you’re well-rested and feeling alert. Taking them on consecutive weekends is a good idea.
- Write down what you scored on each practice test, including your overall score and your Quant and Verbal subscores. Then, read on…
GMAT vs. GRE Scoring
Now that you’ve taken both practice tests, here are a few possible scenarios.
- The tests felt pretty similar and your scores were similar. Also, your GMAT score was within about 100 points of your goal score.
- The tests felt pretty similar and your scores were similar. However, your GMAT score was over 100 points from your goal score, and/or the material felt extremely difficult.
- There was a dramatic difference between the two tests: either you scored much higher on one than the other, or you scored similarly, but the material or format of one test seemed much easier to learn.
In scenario 1, you should go ahead and get started with the GMAT. Check out our article on how to study for the GMAT for more advice!
In scenario 2, you have a harder choice to make. As of 2018, there’s a small but significant difference in the scores of GRE applicants and GMAT applicants at top b-schools. Relatively speaking, successful applicants tend to score lower on the GRE than on the GMAT. Taking the GRE could help you get accepted with a slightly lower score, especially if you have a non-traditional background. In this situation, you might consider taking the GRE instead. That’s particularly true if you have limited time to study and improve your score, or if you’ve struggled to improve your test scores in the past.
Finally, if one of your practice test scores was much closer to your goal score, that’s the right test to start with. Bear in mind that your GMAT and GRE goal scores might not be the same! In both cases, your goal score should be based on the average scores of students at your target schools.
What If You’ve Already Started Studying?
Switching to the other test won’t necessarily make things easier. But if you’re really struggling with one test, switching tests could shake things up enough to get you moving forward again. If you’ve been studying for a while, you already know most of the content you need, since there’s a lot of overlap. Your first move should be to read about the basic problem types on the other test, take a practice test, and compare both of your scores to your schools’ averages.
The differences between the GMAT and the GRE aren’t massive, and many schools have explicitly stated that they treat the two tests identically. The GMAT is still the traditional route for business school, and it does still represent the majority of applicants. If the tests are otherwise the same for you, there’s no reason not to move forward with the GMAT. However, if your GRE performance is much stronger, don’t hesitate to take advantage of it! In some cases, schools may even be more willing to admit lower-scoring GRE applicants when compared to GMAT applicants.
If this information didn’t help you make your decision, get in touch with an admissions counseling service, such as mbaMission. They’ll be able to take all of your specific concerns into account. Once you’ve chosen a test, why not sign up for a free trial session in one of our GMAT or GRE classes?
Want more guidance from our GMAT gurus? You can attend the first session of any of our online or in-person GMAT courses absolutely free! We’re not kidding. Check out our upcoming courses here.
Chelsey Cooley is a Manhattan Prep instructor based in Seattle, Washington. Chelsey always followed her heart when it came to her education. Luckily, her heart led her straight to the perfect background for GMAT and GRE teaching: she has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and history, a master’s degree in linguistics, a 790 on the GMAT, and a perfect 170/170 on the GRE. Check out Chelsey’s upcoming GMAT prep offerings here.