GMAT vs. GRE: Which Should You Take?

Should you take the GMAT or GRE? Learn about the format, difficulty level, and scoring for both popular graduate admission exams.

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by Genevieve Carlton, Ph.D.

Updated September 15, 2022

Reviewed by Adam D. Gibbons

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GMAT vs. GRE: Which Should You Take?
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If you're applying to grad school, you'll probably need to take a graduate admission exam. The GRE and GMAT are two of the most popular options. But which one should you take?

Many graduate programs only accept scores from either the GMAT or GRE. But some — especially business programs — accept both.

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Before choosing between these two tests, ensure you understand the format, the difficulty level, and the scoring of each. You can then decide whether the GMAT or GRE will improve your grad school applications.

What Is the GMAT?

The GMAT, or Graduate Management Admission Test, assesses logic, problem-solving, and reasoning skills. Designed to measure skills key for business and management programs, the GMAT is the most-used test for business schools.

The GMAT includes the following sections:

Two of the sections — Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning — are computer-adaptive, meaning they change in difficulty after every question you answer. The Integrated Reasoning and Analytical Writing sections of the GMAT, however, are not computer-adaptive.

Test-takers can choose the order of the sections on the GMAT that best fits their strengths from among three options.

The test provides a total GMAT score between 200 and 800 in 10-point increments. You'll get separate Verbal and Quantitative scores, each on a scale of 6-51, as well as a Writing score out of 6 and an Integrated Reasoning score out of 8.

What Is the GRE?

The GRE, or Graduate Record Examination, measures reasoning, critical thinking, and analytical writing skills. Graduate programs in many fields, including the humanities, the social sciences, natural science, social work, and education, use the GRE.

The GRE includes the following sections:

The Analytical Writing section, which consists of an issue essay and an argument essay, always appears first on the GRE, while the other sections can appear in any order.

You'll get two Verbal and two Quantitative sections. The computer-based, section-adaptive test changes the difficulty of your second Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning sections based on the accuracy of your answers in the first sections.

Your total GRE score ranges from 130-170. You'll also get a separate Analytical Writing score out of 6.

8 Key Differences Between the GMAT and GRE

What's the difference between the GRE and GMAT? While the GMAT is typically used for business programs, the GRE covers many other graduate fields. Understanding the major differences between the two tests can help you choose which exam to take.

1. Structure and Timing

The structures of the GMAT vs. GRE differ in key ways. The following table breaks down the sections, timing, and questions for both tests. Keep in mind that the GMAT also includes two optional 8-minute breaks, whereas the GRE has one-minute breaks between sections and one longer 10-minute break.

Section GMAT GRE
Analytical Writing 1 essay (30 mins) 2 essays (30 mins per essay)
Quantitative Reasoning 31 questions (62 mins) 2 sections of 20 questions each (35 mins per section)
Verbal Reasoning 36 questions (65 mins) 2 sections of 20 questions each (30 mins per section)
Integrated Reasoning 12 questions (30 mins) N/A
Unscored or Research Section N/A Varies, but usually one 30-min Verbal or Quant section
TOTAL 79 questions + 1 essay (about 3 hrs and 30 mins) 80 questions (or 100, if you get a research section) + 2 essays (about 3 hrs and 45 mins)

2. Scoring

The GRE and GMAT use different scoring systems. The overall score ranges do not include the Analytical Writing section for either test, which is listed separately, or the Integrated Reasoning score for the GMAT. Learn more about the GRE scoring system in our guide.

Section GMAT GRE
Analytical Writing 0-6 in half-point increments 0-6 in half-point increments
Quantitative Reasoning 6-51 in 1-point increments 130-170 in 1-point increments
Verbal Reasoning 6-51 in 1-point increments 130-170 in 1-point increments
Integrated Reasoning 1-8 in 1-point increments N/A
TOTAL Scores range from 200-800 Scores range from 260-340

3. Format and Location

Both the GMAT and GRE use a version of a computer-adaptive format. That means test-takers complete the exam on a computer that changes the difficulty level of questions or sections based on their answers. The GMAT adapts difficulty after each question, whereas the GRE adapts difficulty after each section.

While the GMAT only offers a computer-based option, the GRE provides a paper option in locations where the computer test is unavailable. Both tests can be taken remotely or at an official testing center.

4. Content Difficulty

In general, both the GRE and GMAT challenge students. However, test-takers typically rank the GRE Verbal sections as more challenging than the GMAT Verbal section, while the GMAT Quantitative section often ranks harder than the GRE Quantitative sections.

The GRE tends to ask more challenging Verbal questions with more obscure vocabulary, while the GMAT Quantitative section often has harder math questions and does not allow you to use a calculator. Nonnative English speakers with strong math skills will generally find the GMAT to be less difficult than the GRE.

5. Cost

In the U.S., test-takers pay $275 for the GMAT, plus $30 for an enhanced score report and $35 for each additional score report. The GRE costs $205 in most parts of the world, with each additional score report costing $27.

6. Test Focus

The GMAT specifically measures skills related to graduate-level business programs. As a result, the test's focus emphasizes data analysis, reasoning, and problem-solving skills. The GRE, in contrast, focuses on broader graduate-level skills.

Applicants considering graduate programs outside the field of business will likely need to take the GRE, while business students can often choose either test. Test-takers applying to multiple types of graduate programs may benefit from taking the GRE.

7. Testing Style

On the GMAT, you must answer each question in order. The test's computer-adaptive style means you can't skip questions.

In contrast, the GRE allows you to mark questions to review during your remaining time in the section. You can complete questions within a section in any order, which can be very beneficial. While the GRE doesn't penalize wrong answers, the GMAT has a penalty for guessing incorrectly.

8. Score Reporting

You can list up to five schools to send your score report on the GMAT. Meanwhile, the GRE includes four free score reports.

When applicants submit GMAT scores, schools receive all scores from the past five years, whereas GRE test-takers can choose one specific score to send to schools.

GMAT vs. GRE: Which Test Should You Take?

Should you take the GMAT or GRE? The answer depends on your academic goals.

If you're applying to non-business graduate programs, you'll likely need to take the GRE. However, if you're applying to business school, you can often choose between the GMAT and GRE.

Before deciding, check whether your prospective programs accept both exams. Research whether programs prefer one test over the other — some heavily quantitative programs may prefer the GMAT, for example.

Then consider taking both practice GMAT and GRE tests. The difficulty level of these tests depends on your individual strengths. If you have strong logic and math skills, the GMAT might be a better match. If you are a strong writer, are an avid reader, and have an extensive vocabulary, you might score higher on the GRE.

Finally, consider whether you need to take a standardized test at all. Many programs today offer test-optional admissions.

Frequently Asked Questions About the GMAT and GRE

Is the GMAT or GRE easier?

Many test-takers rank both the GMAT and GRE as challenging tests. Whether one exam is easier for you will depend on your strengths. The GRE tends to ask more difficult Verbal questions, particularly ones that require a strong vocabulary. For test-takers with strong verbal skills, the GRE can showcase their strengths.

In contrast, the GMAT asks challenging Quantitative questions in areas like logic, data sufficiency, and mathematical reasoning. Test-takers with exceptional math and logic skills can stand out on the GMAT.

Before choosing a test, consider taking practice tests for both the GRE and GMAT. Practice tests can help you decide which exam you find easier, as well as which will better highlight your strengths to admissions committees.

How long are GRE and GMAT scores valid for?

Both GRE and GMAT scores are valid for five years. That means you can submit scores that are up to five years old when applying to graduate programs. That said, the score reports differ between the GMAT vs. GRE.

When applicants submit a GMAT score report, the school receives scores from all GMAT tests taken within the past five years. This excludes scores canceled within 72 hours of taking the GMAT.

In contrast, applicants can choose a specific GRE score to send to schools. That means schools will not receive all GRE scores but scores from only one test.

Is it better to take the GRE or the GMAT?

Many grad school applicants ask themselves, "Should I take the GMAT or GRE?" The answer depends on your goals. If you're applying to a non-business program, you'll likely need to take the GRE. Many business schools accept scores from both the GRE and GMAT. This means business school applicants can often decide which test to take.

First, check whether your programs accept both tests. Then find out whether programs state a preference for one test over the other. Next, research both options and take practice tests.

If you perform equally well on the GRE and GMAT practice tests, consider whether one test will boost your graduate admission chances. Around 4 out of 5 MBA applicants take the GMAT, for example, according to a May 2021 survey by the Graduate Management Admission Council.

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