Business Administration

The Key Differences Between the GRE and the GMAT

The Key Differences Between the GRE and the GMAT
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Matthew Creegan July 30, 2014

As with most standardized tests, neither of the GRE nor the GMAT measures how much you know. They measure how well you can take an exam. Explore the key differences between these two standardized tests.

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As with most standardized tests, neither of the GRE nor the GMAT measures how much you know. They measure how well you can take an exam.



The general Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is the entrance exam for most graduate schools. Each year, hundreds of thousands of people who want to pursue a master’s degree or go to business school take the GRE.

The GRE is offered in a computer-adaptive format only; you must go to an ETS test center and take this test online. A computer-adaptive test is one that selects each question based on your performance on the previous question. If you answer a question correctly, the computer will likely give you a slightly more difficult question next. If you answer incorrectly, you get an easier question. The test continues until the test algorithm determines your score.

Test-takers are allowed three hours and 45 minutes to finish the exam, excluding short breaks in between sections. This is fifteen minutes longer than the three and a half hours allotted for the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

The GRE math section tests students on basic arithmetic including algebra, geometry, data interpretation, ratios, and word problems. Some people opt for the GRE because it’s the only exam out of the two that allows for test takers to use a calculator.

The GRE’s verbal section focuses mostly on vocabulary, so brush up on those thesaurus skills. The exam poses questions involving text completion, sentence equivalence, and reading comprehension in this section.

GRE scores for the math and verbal sections are reported separately. Each section is graded on a 130 to 170 scale, in 1-point increments. A GRE verbal score of 170 typically places you in the 90th percentile of all test takers; a 157 should place you in the 75th percentile. To place in the 90th percentile on the GRE quantitative section requires a much higher score of 167; a 161 should place you in the 75th percentile. As you have likely deduced, the GRE quantitative section is easier than the GRE verbal section. The math skills tested on the GRE are high-school level.

The analytical section consists of two open essays. The first asks for you to pick one of two given stances and make an argument defending your choice. The second essay asks for a written evaluation of a given argument. The analytical portion of the GRE is graded from 0-6 on a half-point scale. A score of 5.0 places you roughly in the 92nd percentile; a score of 4.0 places you in the 55th percentile.

You can access GRE prep material and even free GRE practice tests on the ETS website. ETS also publishes an official GRE guide, which is not free.


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The Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) is a test strictly for business schools, as opposed to the GRE which is a general graduate school admissions test. Not all MBA programs require the GMAT, but many do, including most of the top b-schools. The exam is administered by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). Like the GRE, the GMAT is only offered in a computer-adaptive format.

You will receive a single GMAT score within a score range of 200 and 800. That test score combines your performances on the GMAT verbal section and GMAT quantitative section. A 650 or higher is considered a good score; it puts you in roughly the 75th percentile of all GMAT test takers. You typically need a total score of 700 or higher to rank in the 90th percentile on this exam.

The GMAT has four sections. Test takers are allotted three and a half hours to complete the exam.

Your GMAT score will also report four subscores for your Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) (scored on a 0 to 6 scale), integrated reasoning skills (1 to 8), verbal skills (0 to 60), and quantitative skills (0 to 60). Many MBA admissions committees consider your quantitative score more important than the other three.

The analytical section of the GMAT calls for students to analyze an argument they are given and submit a written response.

The Integrated Reasoning section of the GMAT includes multi-source reasoning, graphics interpretation, two-part analysis and table analysis.

The quantitative portion of the GMAT tests students on data sufficiency and problem solving. This part of the test is known for being harder than its GRE counterpart, and you’re not allowed to use a calculator.

The verbal section of the GMAT focuses on reading comprehension, critical reasoning, and sentence correction. As opposed to the GRE, the GMAT focuses on grammar instead of vocabulary.

Applying to business school doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll have to take the GMAT–the GRE is accepted most places unless indicated otherwise. Less than half the number of people that take the GRE take the GMAT.

It would be wise to verify with your prospective schools which exam is preferred. According to the Princeton Review, close to 700 business schools accept the GRE and that number is growing.

The GMAT has a different format from the GRE, and it’s generally more expensive. Both exams’ scores are valid for five years. Taking the GRE would be a suitable option for those who are considering a wide variety of graduate programs, and an MBA is one of the options that they have in mind.

Whichever test you decide to take, it’s always a good idea to seek out some help preparing for the test. Luckily both the GRE
and GMAT
practice tests are free. When you decide which test fits you best, consider test prep from testing centers such as Kaplan
or Princeton Review

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