Should I take the GMAT or the GRE?

by

GMAT vs. GRE

Applying to business school? Many schools, including Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton, accept either the GMAT or the GRE. Which one should you take, and how can you decide? We’ve talked about this topic before, but we’re revisiting it because the launch of the Next Generation GMAT is imminent (there’s a good GRE word for you).

There are two aspects to consider: whether you would have a significant scoring advantage on one test versus the other, and whether certain schools have shown a preference for one exam over the other. We’re going to address the first aspect in this article; we’ll leave the second consideration for the admissions consultants.

Both exams consist of multiple-choice quantitative and verbal sections, as well as an essay-writing section. The GMAT also includes an Integrated Reasoning section. Let’s take a look at the structures of the tests and discuss what is tested.

Quant

The two exams test high-school level math (including number properties, algebra, geometry, and statistics) and have some similar question types. Both tests have standard problem-solving questions “ the basic math multiple choice questions that appear on any multiple-choice math test. The tests also have questions that combine elements of quant content and mathematical logic; on the GMAT, these are called Data Sufficiency and, on the GRE, these are called Quantitative Comparisons. Within its quant section, the GRE also includes a small number of Data Interpretation questions, which include a table or graph, as well as some pick all that apply and fill in the blank question formats.

The general consensus is that GRE quant is more straightforward than GMAT quant; I’ve taken both exams and agree. If math is your weaker area, then put a plus in the GRE column. (This is especially true if we also take into account the new Integrated Reasoning section on the GMAT; more on this topic down below.)

Verbal

The Reading Comprehension questions on the GRE correspond fairly well to the Reading Comprehension and Critical Reasoning questions on the GMAT. The rest of the GMAT verbal section, though, tests grammar (via sentence correction questions) while the GRE tests vocabulary (via text completion and sentence equivalence questions).

If verbal in general is your weaker area, then decide based on this. Is your grammar great? The GMAT may be easier for you. Is your vocabulary so awesome that your friends regard you as their personal dictionary? The GRE is your test.

Integrated Reasoning

This section is specific to the GMAT. It consists of a cross between quantitative and verbal reasoning skills “ one question may ask us to infer something, similar to Critical Reasoning or Reading Comp, while another may ask us to calculate two values, x and y, given various parameters. The actual material tested (math formulas and rules, reasoning skills, etc.) is the same as on the quant and verbal portions of the test, but the question formats are quite different both from what is currently on the test and from typical standardized test questions that you’ve seen in the past.

If you haven’t taken a look at these yet, you may want to do so before you make up your mind. Do you like this kind of question structure? Are your executive reasoning skills strong? Or do the questions hurt your brain? (Note: expect them to hurt your brain at first: you haven’t studied these yet, so you shouldn’t find them super-easy. If, on the other hand, after examining them a bit, you continue to find them bewildering, you might decide to take the GRE.)

Essays

Of course, nobody cares as much about the essays (because the schools don’t). The GMAT requires one essay while the GRE requires two. Other than that, the only thing I have to say about the essays is this: you aren’t going to base your decision (about which test to take) on the essays, so there’s nothing else for us to discuss!

Take-aways

As a general rule, GRE quant is somewhat easier than GMAT quant. On the verbal side, the GMAT is better for those whose grammar skills are stronger, while the GRE is better for those with a big vocabulary.

Still not sure what to do? Take a practice test! Two, actually. Take both a GMAT and a GRE under 100% official conditions, including the essays. Take them several days apart; don’t give yourself an artificial handicap on one by taking it later in the same day.

Take either the official practice tests provided by the official test writers, or take two tests made by the same company (so that you don’t introduce the possibility that you’ve happened to take a much harder or easier version of one). If there’s a significant difference in your starting percentile ranking, your question has been answered.

Let us know what you decide and how you decided; your fellow students will appreciate your insight. Good luck!

 

  1. Manhattan Prep May 17, 2016 at 2:57 pm

    Hi, Muna. It depends on whether or not you want an MBA or a master’s degree in another subject area. If you want to pursue your MBA, the GMAT is your best bet. If you want a master’s degree in, say, psychology, then the GRE makes the most sense for you. If you’re not quite sure, then the GRE offers you the most flexibility, as you can use it to apply to most master’s programs and business schools. Hope that helps!

  2. Muna May 17, 2016 at 9:57 am

    Hello,I am a business graduate but I want to change my study track.I find pure social science arena more fascinating. Which test will be better for me?

  3. Dale March 2, 2013 at 4:13 am

    Excellent advice, thanks so much! Decided to go for GRE as need to score above 85% on Quant. thanks!!!

  4. Stacey Koprince October 7, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Hi, Omer – it doesn’t matter whether you’re an international student, actually. It depends upon the school itself.

    You’ll have to contact any schools in which you’re interested (or check their web sites) to see whether they allow both tests and, if so, whether they indicate a preference for one over the other.

  5. Omer October 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    thanks for the great info above. As an international student, which exam could be appropriate ?

    thanks again

  6. Stacey Koprince September 6, 2012 at 11:08 am

    Good questions, Frank. Every admissions department can have its own opinion on this topic and there are probably as many opinions as there are b-schools. 🙂

    I have heard several admissions folks state off the record that they think the GRE quant is easier than GMAT quant and so they will “discount” the GRE quant somewhat. They don’t quantify what they mean by “discount” so I can’t tell you how much of an impact that has. I haven’t heard the same comments about the verbal side of things – my guess there is that they consider the verbal equally challenging.

    I have also, though, heard some admissions folks say that they use the two equally and they don’t have a preference for one vs. the other. The takeaway: it really depends on the school, and the school may not tell you what they really think.

    Finally, the GRE is actually a few years older than the GMAT; they’ve both been around a long time. 🙂 So I don’t think there will be any issues with respect to a lack of “history.”

  7. frank September 6, 2012 at 12:22 am

    thanks for the information.

    admissions directors like to talk about the great history behind the gmat and its ability to be an effective predictor of business school performance.

    two questions.

    1. will the gre score not be esteemed as highly because of this lack of ‘history’?

    2. do business schools also believe that the gre is the easier test and thus not esteem those scores as highly?